Hide-A-Way Hills Makes the Dispatch!

50 years of leisure
Residents of Hide-A-Way Hills celebrate the community's casual lifestyle

Sunday, July 17, 2011 03:12 AM

The Columbus Dispatch

Hide-A-Way Hills celebrates 50 years of casual lifestyle
To set the record straight: Hide-A-Way Hills, the resort-style community southeast of Lancaster, does not offer a shopping center, city water and sewer, a ski and toboggan run, a teen club, a children's zoo, a motel or snake-free lots. That didn't stop its developers, however, from promoting those and other features when they launched the "leisure-living" community a half-century ago.

"Some of the stories they told were fantastic," recalled Lee Thomas, a retired logistics consultant from Canal Winchester who bought his first Hide-A-Way Hills lot in 1965 with his wife, Mary. "There were free golf clubs at the golf course, snowmobiles in basements. It got to the point where it became a joke."

Thomas and other Hide-A-Way Hills veterans laugh about phantom amenities offered by overzealous salesmen during the community's early days.

But they are just as quick to mention all of the features that the 1,650-acre private development does have: a nine-hole golf course, an airport, a security gate staffed round-the-clock, a lake with a marina, a swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts, a beach, a horse barn, two post offices, a lodge, a shooting range and an outdoor church.

As appealing as such amenities might be, the most common lure isn't man-made.

"The biggest reason I hear from people moving in would probably be the nature setting," said Bucky Childers, a retired Anchor Hocking executive who moved into Hide-A-Way Hills in 1992. "I can sit here in the morning and see the bass feeding 20 feet into the lake and the ducks floating by, and foxes that run and deer that come up from the water. It's just a really special setting."

Hide-A-Way Hills members are in a reflective mood this summer. The community, against some odds, is in the midst of a 50th-anniversary celebration. Festivities started July 8 with an art show and conclude today with a time-capsule ceremony and party.

The celebrations also included the Dam Jam, a community-wide potluck and hog roast. Few communities would attempt a potluck for almost 700 households, but the undertaking symbolizes the friendly nature of the residents.

Hide-A-Way Hills has grown substantially since its 1961 founding but retains the feel of a 1960s cottage-in-the-woods vacation destination.

The development contains 1,470 parcels, many of which were combined from two or three original lots. Many of the homes remain the original small one- or two-bedroom weekend cabins, now nestled under deep foliage.

But ever-so leisurely - the way much seems to work in this community - those homes are giving way to larger, conventional year-round homes whose owners might work in Lancaster or an hour away in Columbus.

An estimated 65 percent of the homes are occupied year-round, compared with 25 percent two decades ago, said Childers, president of the Hide-A-Way Hills Club, which governs the community.

The change explains the wide range of prices for Hide-A-Way Hills homes - from $75,000 for some of the original cabins to close to a half-million dollars for newer lakefront homes.

Hide-A-Way Hills was the brainchild of developer F.M. "Don" Donelson, who assembled the original 1,500 acres of fields and forests straddling Fairfield and Hocking counties. He built some of the original amenities, including the lodge, golf course and horse barn, and began selling lots for "$39 a month" on which his company could build cabins.

Donelson sold the development in 1965, the year workers began damming a tributary of Rush Creek to create the 110-acre Lake of Four Seasons, which has remained the centerpiece of the community.

Hide-A-Way Hills passed through at least one other owner, Equity Capital Corp., before Donelson regained control in 1970. Despite his efforts to stimulate sales with new amenities, Hide-A-Way Hills fell into bankruptcy in 1974.

By that time, residents had formed the Hide-A-Way Hills Club, which assumed control of the community and has successfully operated it since. Members pay a monthly fee, now $146, along with a $200 annual road assessment.

The governing body has put some of that money into the development, paving all the roads and buying a 54-acre adjacent farm for future development.

Hide-A-Way Hills is one of about two dozen private lake associations in the state and is distinguished from the others by its long list of conveniences, residents say. George Rowe noticed the difference at meetings of the Ohio Lake Communities Association, over which he presided for 20 years.

"When we would talk about amenities and I'd mention the airstrip and brewery and restaurant and swimming pool, the room would get quiet because no one else had those," said Rowe, who moved into Hide-A-Way Hills in 1973.

The community is the only member of the lake association to offer a landing strip, and one of only three to feature a golf course or restaurant, said Paul Clouse, executive director of the association and a Hide-A-Way Hills resident.

"One of the biggest differences is the terrain and environment," Clouse added. "The other lakes that I have visited are largely flat areas, with limited wooded areas. Hide-A-Way Hills is the only community located in the southeast, hilly and wooded area of Ohio."

Such amenities aside, Hide-A-Way Hills remains as it was 50 years ago - an easygoing retreat tucked into the woods 8 miles southeast of Lancaster. On a recent day, a few golfers pounded the links, a handful of children splashed in the pool and retirees traversed the 33 miles of roads on golf carts.

Lake activity is dominated by leisurely boat saunters and impromptu parties on anchored pontoons, which greatly outnumber speedboats.

The community functions on the backs of more than 20 committees, all staffed by volunteers. Ginger Reed is co-chairing the anniversary festivities.

Seven years ago, after retiring, Reed and her husband, Dave, moved from Piqua to Hide-A-Way Hills to be closer to their daughter and grandchildren in Laurelville.

"After we moved here, my husband asked how I liked it," Ginger Reed recalled. "I said I didn't like it because now that I live here I can't imagine living anyplace else."


Enclave's history

1961: Hide-A-Way Hills Inc., operated by F.H. "Don" Do-nelson, begins selling lots in the 1,500-acre resort-style subdivision southeast of Lancaster. Developers build a lodge, horse barn and golf course.
1965: Construction begins on a dam to create the 110-acre Lake of Four Seasons, the centerpiece of the development.
1967: Equity Capital Corp. buys Hide-A-Way Hills Inc. for $1.4 million and announces that the community will expand by almost 100 acres.
1970: Donelson regains control of the development.
1971: A marina, beach and playground are built on the north end of Lake of Four Seasons.
1972: Residents form the nonprofit Hide-A-Way Hills Club, which assumes control of the community after developers file bankruptcy in 1974. A board of trustees operates the club.
1991: Members approve a $200-a-year assessment to chip and seal community roads.
1993: To obtain a liquor permit, the club installs a microbrewery in the Lodge to brew Rushcreek Lager and Pale Ale. The restaurant is opened to nonmembers.
2004: Hide-A-Way Hills buys a 54-acre estate, putting total acreage at 1,650.