Community History – Covington – Garden of Hope

West End
Garden of Hope

The Garden of Hope was the dream of the Reverend Morris H. Coers, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Covington. Coers was inspired by a 1938 visit to the Holy Land. He knew that many in the Greater Cincinnati area would never have the opportunity to visit oversees, so he decided to bring a bit of the Holy Land to Northern Kentucky. In 1956, he publicly declared his intention to build a replica of Jesus’ tomb. A 2.5-acre plot of land was found on Edgecliff Avenue in Covington’s west end. The site not only offered a private refuge for meditation, but also a spectacular view of Covington and downtown Cincinnati.

In the late fall of 1956, work began on the Garden of Hope. The services of A.H. Armbruster were acquired to design the complex. The centerpiece of the garden was the replica of Jesus tomb in Jerusalem (45 x 22’). Another feature of the garden was the carpenter’s shop. The shop contained historic carpenter’s tools that were donated to the Garden of Hope by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. The interior of the carpenter’s shop was decorated with a mural executed by local artist LeRoy Coastes. The mural depicted the lives of carpenters in Palestine. The upper floor of the building contained a gift shop that sold items from the Holy land. The third building on the site was called the Chapel of Dreams. This structure was modeled after a 17th Century Spanish Mission. The interior of the chapel was adorned with a stained glass window from Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnati. The façade of the structure contained three bells. The chapel was open for private prayer and was the site of numerous weddings. The grounds of the garden were planted with thousands of plants and trees, many of which were native to the Holy Land. Other features of the garden included an Italian marble statue of Jesus delivering the “Sermon on the Mount” and a large stone from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. The Garden of Hope was officially open to the public on Palm Sunday 1958.

In the early days of operation, the Garden of Hope was open to the public. The Chapel of Dreams became a popular site for weddings and the tomb was used by various denominations for religious events and sunrise Easter services.

The Garden of Hope, however, lost its greatest supporter in 1960 with the death of Reverend Morris Coers. Reverend Coers died on February 24th at the age of 52. Coers was laid to rest in the garden. Without Coers’ guidance, the Garden of Hope lost its driving force. A committee was established at Immanuel Baptist Church to maintain and operate the garden. Immanuel Baptist, however, was suffering from declining enrollment due to urban flight. The church simply could not provide the funds to properly maintain the site. In addition, the garden was located in a remote area of the city and was prone to vandalism. The vandalism became so severe, that Reverend Coers’ window, Vernice, had his body disinterred and moved to Highland Cemetery in Fort Mitchell.

By the mid-1960s, Immanuel Baptist began discussing ways to provide better funding for the garden. Initially, they looked into turning over the garden to the Commonwealth of Kentucky as a tourist attraction. The state showed some interest but declined the offer due to the conflict of church and state. In 1967, a nonprofit group was established to maintain and operate the Garden of Hope. The group, however, was not successful. Another non-profit group was established in 1970 with similar goals. This group too proved ineffective. In February 1971, the garden reverted to Immanuel Baptist. At that time, the garden maintained an indebtedness of $50,000.

During 1993, several Northern Kentucky families took interest in restoring the Garden of Hope. These individuals included Ted and Jean Padgett, Donna and Mike Sheehy, Wanda and Ed Hodge and Bill McMillan. Much of the vandalism was repaired and the garden was weeded and maintained. In 1996, a Christmas program was held in the Garden. The garden was rededicated on Palm Sunday 1998. The activities included several sermons and musical selections performed by the choir of St. Patrick Catholic Church of Taylor Mill, Kentucky. At this time, the Garden of Hope was again open on a daily basis for private prayer and tourism.

Kentucky Post, May 22, 1971, January 1, 1993, p. 4K, March 25, 1998, p. 1KK; Western Recorder, September 15, 1998, p. 1; Cincinnati Enquirer, May 23, 1971, and a Brochure in the files of the Kenton County Public Library.

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