The Pleasant Ridge neighborhood of Charlestown, Ind., is a family community. Neighbors look out for one another and kids grow up playing in each other’s yards. But this blue-collar enclave was just at the center of the nation’s largest and most contentious eminent domain fight, and its residents proved that you can take on the government and win.
For almost a year, homeowners lived in fear that their homes would be lost. Although Indiana law bans eminent domain for private development, Charlestown’s mayor was determined to bulldoze all 354 Pleasant Ridge homes, forcing hundreds of veterans, retirees and long-time residents out into the cold. The mayor wanted to replace the homes with new development and even applied for state funding to do it. IJ worked with the community to mobilize opposition to the plan, helping residents collect signatures and hosting community events to encourage homeowners to stand up for their rights and draw media attention to their plight. Good news came days before Christmas when the city council rejected the mayor’s illegal plan. This meant residents celebrated the holidays without fear of the government knocking on their door.
These are the stories of some of the many residents who were brave enough to stand up to this outrageous threat.
Tina (top left), like many Pleasant Ridge residents, works hard to provide for her family. She is a medical receptionist raising two granddaughters on her own. Her home is a duplex, which allows her adult, handicapped daughter, Kasie, to live in an independent environment on one side while Tina and her granddaughters live on the other.
Barb, a widowed resident of Pleasant Ridge for more than 35 years, is an avid baker and quilter. She also collects salt and pepper shakers and has approximately 1,000 in her collection. Her home continues to be agathering place for her extended family. Victory means living out her golden years in peace with the family and friends she loves so dearly.
David stands well over six feet tall, and his perfectly manicured yard is just as hard to miss. His backyard includes an irrigation system to water the flowers when he and his wife are off fishing in Kentucky. When he purchased the home in 1968, it was what David describes as a “dump.” Over the years, he renovated it into a beautiful home. David intends to give it to his daughter, who is raising two children on her own after her husband passed away.
Even in their 70s, these three sisters of Pleasant Ridge exude energy and youth. In fact, Julia and Sue practice Zumba twice a week. Julia and Sue are neighbors and their children would race back and forth between the two homes. Sue’s home is perfectly white, including her carpet, couch and cat. She has filled her home with Depression glass and colorful quilts. Victory means that, although she will live nearby, she will not be forced to share a room with her sisters ever again, like she did growing up.
Brenda is a fighter. Although battling breast cancer, she was never too tired to take on Mayor Bob Hall. Brenda’s modest apartment is home to three generations and a small dog, but Brenda could not be more grateful for what she has. She grew up in Pleasant Ridge and moved away after joining the Army. Everything was going well until the financial crisis hit in 2008. She lost her job and tragedy struck. Without anywhere to go, Brenda moved back to Pleasant Ridge, where she was able to rent a small apartment. “When you don’t have anywhere to go, you go home,” she said. Now she knows she can stay.