Sitting on a hill overlooking Cincinnati's Mill Creek Valley, the Evergreen Retirement Community West Galbraith Road has a history as rich as that of the nearly 400 senior citizens who call the upscale complex home.

The limestone Greek Revival mansion, once part of the Meyers estate, was the focal point of a thriving vineyard and winery in the mid-19th century when Cincinnati was heralded as "the Rhine of America" for its prowess growing Catawba grapes for wine.

The historic mansion at the heart of the 65-acre retirement community sits on a massive 142-foot long wine cellar, 25 feet below ground, with seven-foot walls where the crushed grapes were stored and aged into wine.

Formerly Hartwell Heights

At its peak in the early 1850s, the estate, then known as Hartwell Heights and owned by German immigrants George and Peter Bogen, produced about 7,500 gallons of wine annually, according to a history written by Ellen Corwin Cangi and commissioned by Philip Meyers Jr., who grew up on the estate.

The Bogen brothers, who operated a hog-butchering plant on Hamilton Road, assembled 159 acres overlooking the community of Hartwell and had stone quarried from a nearby hill for the mansion's exterior.

The region's viticulture, which traced its root to Nicholas Longworth in the 1820s, was eventually done in by the unfriendly climate. The property was converted to farming and changed hands several times over the next century.

Preserving History

Cincinnati businessman Philip Meyers, who converted the property to a retirement community after developing the adjoining the Williamsburg Apartments in the late 1960s, took a lot of care in maintaining its historic nature, says Kristi Guilfoyle, Evergreen's director of sales and marketing.

For example, several of the connecting buildings were designed to preserve many of the 200-year-old trees that are on the property.

Today, Evergreen and adjacent Wellspring, a memory care and skilled nursing facility, retain that early history as one of the largest and most complete retirement communities in the region.

Care OFFERINGS

The community's continuum of care includes 42 two-bedroom condo-like country cottages and 147 one- and two-bedroom apartments for independent living; 103 one- and two-bedroom assisted living apartments; a 33-unit memory care unit for seniors dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia, and a 76-bed skilled nursing center. One-bedroom apartments start at $2,400 a month.

Director Jeremy Yates leads Evergreen's 300-person staff. Janie Krechting is administrator of Wellspring.

The 30-year-old retirement community, acquired in the late 1990s by Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp., underwent a nearly $1 million renovation a year ago in some of the older sections to create a more modern and open feel. More renovations are planned in the Wellspring portion of the complex this year.

The facilities are tied together by nearly a quarter-mile of wide interior hallways that allow residents to go from their apartment to one of the four dining rooms, visit the beauty/barbershop or branch bank on the premises, attend an exercise class or catch a movie in the auditorium without stepping outside.

Amenities are more like a resort than a retirement community. They include a three-hole golf course with three sets of tees creating an executive nine-hole course, heated outdoor pool (the nearby Drake Center pool is used in winter), greenhouse for gardening, bocce court and billiards room.

Trips to Florida and Alaska

The multitude of educational and entertainment options include two annual trips for residents: Florida in winter and an Alaskan cruise in the fall.

Other services include an adult day service for non-residents of the memory care unit, temporary respite care for caregivers needing a break, and three bedrooms in the mansion that are available for family members so they can visit residents.

Part of Evergreen's approach is known as Wellness Everyday and advocates activity every day. That encompasses physical activity, intellectual challenge, socialization, spirituality and quiet contemplation contributing to a quality life, according to Guilfoyle.

"Our philosophy is pretty simple. We want to make the lives of our residents as good as it can be," she says.

"The perception of a retirement community as a place to end your life is changing. Increasingly, it's being seen as a place where seniors can really live life by being free of the hassles of day-to-day living."

It's also a place where seniors can make new friends who share their interests or reconnect with old friends.

"We recently had a breakfast where eight ladies discovered they had all attended the same elementary school at different times. You should have heard them tell stories," Guilfoyle says.

In another instance, two men who served together in World War II and hadn't seen each other in 60 years reconnected at the center.

"They recognized each other immed- iately despite all that time," she says.