WINTERSVILLE - Think of Wintersville's Morningside Woods as a leap of faith. A big, expensive leap of faith that's already paying off for longtime contractor/developer Ralph Freshwater.
Freshwater ponied up more than $200,000 to develop infrastructure to portions of a 33-acre parcel he'd purchased decades ago off Longvue Drive. By the time he and daughter Dianna Vadeborne decided it was time to do something with the acreage, the economy was in shambles and the nation was in the depths of a housing crisis. The market was flooded with foreclosures, and money for new constructions was hard - if not impossible - to come by. While conditions have improved somewhat, they're still not where they ought to be. Still, Freshwater and his daughter pressed ahead, mapping out 10 good-sized building lots.
"Back in the 1970s, I bought most of this land, 33 acres here and 22 acres later on," he said. "I'd hoped to develop it, and I did build 30 townhomes. Then recently, around 2009, I talked it over with my family and we decided to lay out some lots, take a chance."
CONSTRUCTION — Morningside Woods, a new subdivision in Wintersville, features level lots and a wooded, scenic view. Houses are up or under construction on five of the 10 lots in the subdivision. A crew from Davis Homes works on a house in the subdivision. -- Linda Harris
Houses are up or under construction already on five of the 10 lots in the subdivision: Three are occupied, another is under roof with the exterior almost complete and construction on the fifth is in progress.
"It was a huge investment, an enormous amount of work," Vandeborne concedes. "But we've already sold five, and we'll sell the other five sooner or later."
Freshwater's grandson, Don Vandeborne, concedes that spending that kind of money in this economy is a gamble, pointing out the goal on a project like this is, obviously, to at least break even. He said it's his grandfather who deserves credit for taking a chance.
"Hopefully, his investment pays off," he said. "He's developed, I think, probably eight subdivisions in his lifetime. ... In his mind, I'm sure he could justify the (price tag) because of his experience. In his mind, he's confident it will pay off in the end, that the lots will be sold."
Don Vandeborne, who served as foreman at the Morningside Woods worksite, and his wife built the first house in the subdivision. He said they'd shopped for a building site for about seven years before the subdivision opened up. "There was nothing, really, around," he said.
Morningside Woods features level lots and a wooded, scenic area, qualities that are hard to come by in the Upper Ohio Valley.
"We have the country setting, but we're still a couple minutes from town," Don Vandebourne said.
The lots cost around $45,000, and the minimum price for a house in Morningside Woods is $120,000 plus the price of the lot.
Freshwater got his start in the building business after World War II when he joined the carpenter's union local.
"After a couple of years I left and started my own contracting and developing company," he said. "Over the years I've probably built six or seven subdivisions, not just in Jefferson County but also in Belmont and Columbiana counties. I've built several hundred apartments, I've built churches and warehouses. I've built subdivisions and I've built homes, too. But I didn't want to get into homebuilding again, so I'm just selling the lots and people get to choose their own contrator. I like to think I'm retired, but I'm still involved."
Vandeborne and her sons, Don and Kurt, now own and operate the family business.