THE WATKINS FAMILY FINDS COMMUNITY CULTURE IN THE HISTORIC WEST END

To understand the character and history of a neighborhood, the stories of those who lived there are important to hear. For one Historic West End resident, the sense of community found in the neighborhood of Seversville has always been an important characteristic that makes the Historic West End special.

Long time resident Annetta Watkins grew up in the Historic West End neighborhood of Seversville on State Street. The Watkins family moved from the Southside Homes housing project to Seversville in the late 1960’s. The home still remains in the Watkins family possession to this day. Annetta Watkins explained, “My parents decided they wanted a home for their family and this (State Street) is where we moved.” The move to State Street placed the Watkins family in a diverse neighborhood. “Our neighbors were black, they were white, they were young people, they were old people. Our neighborhood looked like how a community should look.”

The neighborhood not only looked the part, it felt like a place with a strong sense of community. “Growing up in the neighborhood we had the same neighbors for years. The neighbor on the right, moved in a few years after we move here. She lived there until she passed away. The house is still owned by the family and her grandson lives there now.” Watkins’ mother, Rosa Watkins, connected with those neighbors. Watkins reminisces, “I remember the gathering of neighbors. My mother loved to garden and plant flowers and so did our neighbors to the right. So, that was our bond.

Bonding with neighbors one-on-one was not the only means that created a sense of community in Seversville. Pulling together neighbors to achieve the shared goal of bringing assets like the Biddle Point Medical Center to the community was another way to build a sense of community. A couple of houses down from the Watkins Family home is the Pruitt residents. Wallace Pruitt, known as the unofficial mayor of Seversville, has the ability to bring many neighbors together under a shared vision for the neighborhood. Watkins explained, “Neighborhoods could benefit from having that one person with a vision for how people should live and what a neighborhood should look like. Wallace Pruitt has that.”

This sense of community remained as the neighborhood changed over the years. “The neighborhood changed from the mix of black and white neighbors to all African-American neighbors,” said Watkins. “As people started to move out, black families started to move in.” Another change over the years was the crime rate. “I don’t remember the neighborhood being riddled with crime. I know there were break-ins. But, for the most part, people walked up and down the street and everyone knew everybody because it was just community,” said Watkins. Fast forward to the more recent years and the neighborhood has changed again. “We saw the properties diminishing and new buildings being built. It was the start of gentrification before it was given a name,” said Watkins.

For the Watkins family, staying in the neighborhood as it changes is important. It was just 6 months ago that 90 year old Rosa Watkins was removed from the State Street home due to medical reasons. Before her memory started to fail due to Alzheimer’s she always said she wanted to stay home. “She liked her house and she wanted to stay here. This was based on the good memories she had being here,” said Watkins. Rosa’s son Timmy Watkins now lives in the home and the family has impressed upon him the importance of not selling the house.

For the Watkins family, the Historic West End has always had that special something that makes staying in the neighborhood worthwhile. Watkins explained, “Historic West End is doing a great job of letting people in to see who we are and our culture. It is not black culture or white culture, it’s a community culture.” That community culture is what has kept the Watkins family rooted in the Historic West End neighborhood of Seversville for over 50 years.