I’m Melissa Hess, a photographer and stay-at-home mom who has been living with my family on the 600 block of Saint Joseph Street for the past 7 years.
A few years ago I started forming an idea about how to tell the visual stories of the people and places in Cabbage Hill, a historic neighborhood in South West Lancaster City where my husband and I bought our first home in the spring of 2012. Supposedly the name comes from the large German immigrant population that grew cabbage on their land here in the early 1900’s. Though today there are not many original “Hillians” left, the narrow one way streets lined with brick row homes and angular intersections still remain a part of this unique neighborhood.
My main motivation for this personal photography project is to give a face to the diverse population of people who live here and bring a positive light to the good things I see happening in our neighborhood. Despite being pictured in several LNP articles as one of the city’s “aging and increasingly distressed neighborhoods”, I think there are a lot of treasures to be found in this historic part of town.
First, it is probably one of the most culturally diverse areas of the city. My neighbors are a mix of people; blacks, Latinos, “Hillians” who have lived here their whole lives, urban Mennonites and recently resettled refugees from Somalia, Iraq and Nepal to name a few.
Soon after we moved here my husband and I started the Cabbage Hill Supper Club in order to get to know more folks in the neighborhood through potlucks hosted in neighbors’ homes. It has been a great way to build community.
There are non-profits such as the Lancaster Housing Opportunity Partnership (LHOP), Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity who are doing great work in our neighborhood. There is also the newly formed SoWe neighborhood organization that has various committees that residents can become involved in from housing to parks and recreation to education. LHOP and local partners have refurbished and sold several formerly blight houses to first-time home buyers and with a grant from Wells Fargo they plan to continue this work. Since we moved here, I know of more than a dozen families who have purchased their first home in Cabbage Hill.
There are churches who are invested in the neighborhood, hosting block parties, teaching ESL classes to refugees, and providing a space to hold community meetings. There are businesses who contribute to the neighborhood such as Two Dudes Painting Company who have beautified the area with several murals over the years. Most recently Two Dudes organized a mini mural project where a dozen or more artists (including myself) designed and painted murals around the neighborhood.
In the coming months and beyond, I plan to create a series of blog posts called “Who’s Who on the Hill” featuring photo essays of local residents and businesses who are making a difference in the community. To kick off this project, I’ve decided to share some images that I’ve taken around the neighborhood over the years. I wanted to capture the images of Cabbage Hill that stand out to me as unique and beautiful, whether it be interesting architecture or the way light falls through the colorful autumn trees. Stay tuned for the first “Who’s Who on the Hill” post. If you live in the neighborhood, feel free to nominate someone to feature in this series or send me your ideas. I want to spread the SoWe pride! You can email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org