The property at 8400 Willow Run Court, historically known as “Arrowhead Hill,” was built in 1904 to serve as the summer residence of a prominent oculist, Dr. Wylie Ayres. Ayres took respite from his inner-city medical practices during the summer months to focus on his hobby of hybridizing irises.
The original plot contained 75 acres, with the house set on a bluff to take advantage of the panoramic views of the Little Miami river valley. In 1931, the grounds were developed to include a formal garden, various tiered gardens and borders, a stone terrace with a pond, a small greenhouse and a charming stone folly. The formal garden, which contains a collection of 1940s peonies, is currently being documented for the Smithsonian archives.
When the current owners purchased the home in 1995, becoming the fourth owners, the property had been reduced to six acres. They donated three to the Village of Indian Hill Green Belt program and set about excavating the gardens. Buried beneath nearly two feet of dirt were brick walkways and terraces as well as the outlines of the formal garden and other planting areas. John Bentley, a well-respected local landscape architect, undertook the project in stages, both resurrecting the property and adding to its beauty with new plantings.
It took three years to clear away the debris and honeysuckle vines and to begin the planting of many specimen trees that join the old growth trees, including a very rare 200-year-old white oak near the house. In 2001, the current owners added a stone garage, adjoining covered terrace and an integral water garden, along with numerous flower beds and borders. An octagonal vegetable garden is a much-loved spot in the summer, and, like all of the gardens, has been personally maintained by the family.
Architectural touches, including carved red sandstone pieces at the entrance that were once part of an important building in downtown Cincinnati, add to the beauty of the property. A delightful two-bedroom guest cottage on the property has been used by family and friends, as well as to house visiting performers from the Cincinnati Opera.
From the gravel drive to the stone walls that frame the spectacular river view, the house on Willow Run continues to enchant. It is not unusual to find local artists painting away on a beautiful day in the gardens!