Life in peace at Zion Hill

ZION HILL — Along Zion Hill Lane, it's quiet. Very quiet.

”It's too quiet,“ resident Peggy Harris, 65, said while watching her husband, Fred, 67, strip copper wires in the couple's two-car garage. Fred Harris likes how peaceful the quiet is: the birds and crickets chirping, a dog barking now and then, rarely the sound of a loud engine racing past horse farms outside the community along Weisenberger Mill Road. But when his wife says she doesn't like how quiet the neighborhood has become, Fred Harris concedes that Zion Hill's activity level has died down throughout the years.

”I do miss the school bus going by,“ he said. ”The kids grew up and it's a lot of senior citizens around here now.“

Peggy and Fred Harris have been married for 44 years and have spent more than 30 of those years in their modest home in Zion Hill. The historically black community in unincorporated Scott County was founded in the late 1800s.

Zion Hill, originally called Lenerson, was founded on land given to freed slaves by a farm and slave owner. It eventually expanded to a population of about 250 and included about 45 homes on more than 200 acres, according to the University of Kentucky Notable Kentucky African Americans Web site. The Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church was founded in the community in 1869.

Zion Hill's history is important to Fred Harris. His grandparents raised his mother here; more than 30 years ago, his grandfather sold Fred and Peggy Harris the land for their home.

”We thought it was peaceful, and it was real cheap, so we decided to come back to the country,“ Peggy Harris said.

The Harrises spend much of their post-retirement days working around the house — Peggy inside, Fred in the garage with his copper wires. At a table occupying the space for a second car that's parked outside, Fred Harris meticulously pulls colorful plastic casing off copper wires that are wound into a giant ball.

”There's nothing else to do here,“ he said, grabbing another wire.

It takes a village

Isaac Hughes was raised not only by his parents, but also by his Zion Hill neighbors. Now 47, Hughes has spent all but five years of his life — when he moved to Texas for college – in Zion Hill. He owes a lot to Zion Hill and is excited that the community's history will be honored with a historical marker from the commonwealth. The marker will be unveiled at the corner of Zion Hill Lane and Weisenberger Mill Road on Aug. 16.

Hughes is the Zion Hill Neighborhood Association president and has worked with past and present community members to get the marker. He said it's important that people remember not only the freed slaves who founded the community, but also the countless residents throughout the past century and a half who have worked together to raise families and thrive.

It didn't matter what a person's age was; the young respected the old, and it wasn't uncommon for the elders to help their neighbors well into their 90s, Hughes said.

”It was one of those kind of communities that as a child growing up, other people made sure you stayed in line,“ he said. ”Growing up around elderly people, you had to respect them. They pretty much kept me in line.

”After hearing their tales and stories, you saw it as you grew older and understand the things they told you. It was like before you went to school, you had school.“

After spending the past year raising $1,850 to fund the historical marker, Zion Hill ”family and friends“ will celebrate the marker's unveiling at the second annual Zion Hill Day picnic. Between 400 and 500 people attended the first picnic last year; Hughes expects there to be at least twice as many this year.

”People are planning their vacations around coming back for this,“ he said.

It's a giving community — because of donations, the picnic is free to all.

”Everybody looks out for everybody,“ Hughes said. ”Zion Hill's been good to us.“

Peggy Harris is looking forward to the excitement.

”People came out from all around last year,“ she said. ”It was a great time.“

At home and at peace

Dora Cerventes has heard stories about Zion Hill's history, but she doesn't know the details. She knows history is important to her neighbors, but to her, Zion Hill is a safe haven where she can raise her children.

On muggy summer afternoons, Dora and Eric Cerventes can be seen with their three sons playing and fishing in South Elkhorn Creek, just down the winding Weisenberger Mill Road. Dora Cerventes said she takes her kids there at least twice a week because it keeps them out of trouble.

”I like the country; it's more peaceful than the city,“ she said. ”In Houston, there were gangs. We wanted a better future for our kids.“

The Cerventes family, who moved to Zion Hill 13 years ago, is comparatively new to the neighborhood. Dora and Eric Cerventes willingly moved when Eric's job offered them a chance to escape city life in Texas and move to the country.

Dora Cerventes likes that her neighbors in the tightknit community look out for one another.

”If something bad were to happen, they'd all get together,“ she said.

Preserving the legacy

Hughes said newer families like the Cerventeses keep Zion Hill alive, and the neighborhood association has discussed how to attract younger families to ensure the community continues to survive. The neighborhood has aged as kids grow up and move on.

”We need to make sure we're not forgotten,“ he said. ”We want to preserve its legacy and see it growing back up.“