By Rick Palsgrove
It was quite a birthday party!
The city of Groveport celebrated the 175th anniversary of its founding on June 11 with self-guided historical tours, hot dogs (officials estimated 400 to 500 hot dogs were consumed by attendees), ice cream, a birthday cake, and free t-shirts.
“I think this is wonderful,” Groveport Police Chief Casey Adams said of the event as he helped serve hot dogs in Heritage Park. “It’s like it is a big family reunion or picnic. It’s nice to see lots of people gathering together and talking and also walking around town to see historic sites.”
Visitors participating in the self-guided historic tour collected picture postcards with historical information about each tour site. When they collected all six postcards they received a free 175th anniversary t-shirt.
The self-guided tour sites were: Ohio and Erie Canal Lock 22, located in Groveport Park 7370 Groveport Road; the historic school complex, located at 715 and 751 Main St. where the Elmont Hotel once stood and where two schools are located that are on the National Register of Historic Places; the Log House, located in Heritage Park, 551 Wirt Road; Groveport Cemetery, located along Wirt Road by Heritage Park; the Sharp’s Landing canal era building, located across from the Groveport Cemetery at 536 Wirt Road; and Groveport Town Hall, 648 Main St.
“It was a very good day in Groveport,” said Groveport City Administrator B. J. King.
At a reception at Town Hall, Mayor Lance Westcamp, who is the longest serving mayor in Groveport history, welcomed back and recognized several past city council members and city administrators.
“They helped us make Groveport what it is today,” said Westcamp.
A re-enactment of the founding
A highlight of the event was short play, performed by the Groveport Heritage Society at Town Hall. The play was a re-enactment how Groveport got its unique name.
Pioneers began settling the area that would become Groveport in the early 1800s. By 1831, with the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal, two small settlements – Wert’s Grove and Rarey’s Port – began to form side by side (separated only by College Street).
A rivalry developed between the two towns’ founders, Jacob Wert and William Rarey, both of whom were successful businessmen and landowners.
The play began with actors depicting William Rarey (who founded Rarey’s Port) and Jacob Wert (who founded Wert’s Grove) vigorously lobbying to have the town named after their respective villages.
The performance included touches of humor, such as when “Mrs. Rarey,” weary of the debate, suggested she and “William” take a break stating, “Let’s go to the Birch!”
The two rival businessmen were intent on leaving their imprints on the town.
Wert, who was also postmaster, changed the address from Rarey’s Port to Wert’s Grove on mail coming to town. Rarey encouraged residents and businesses to list Rarey’s Port as their address. Wert’s Grove had the Post Office and the main stagecoach stop. Rarey’s Port was listed as the landing point on canal boat passenger packet and canal boat shipping timetables.
Official street plats for Wert’s Grove and Rarey’s Port were filed by the two rivals with Franklin County in the 1840s.
Citizens tired of the Wert and Rarey friction and the confusion caused by having two towns side by side. Residents decided to hold a meeting (without inviting Wert or Rarey) to merge the two towns into one entity in 1847. A citizen suggested naming the town Palo Alto, after a recent American victory in the Mexican War, but it was not a popular choice. Then Dr. Abel Clark (played by John Hougland in the play) suggested the name “Groveport,” combining the two suffixes of the formerly competing villages.
Want to learn more Groveport history?
•Two documentary films on the history of Groveport, produced by the Groveport Heritage Society and Midnet Media, are available for viewing online on YouTube. The films are: “Groveport: A Town and Its People” and “The Story of John S. Rarey and Cruiser.”
•The Groveport Heritage Museum, located in Groveport Town Hall, 648 Main St., contains photographs, artifacts, and documents about Groveport’s history. It is open during Town Hall’s operating hours. Call 614-836-3333.
•Books on Groveport history available at the Columbus Metropolitan Library include: “The Changing Village,” by Richard Palsgrove; “Groveport and Madison Township Ohio,” by Richard Palsgrove; “History of Madison Township: Including Canal Winchester and Groveport,” by George Bareis; and “Life Along the Ohio Canal: Licking Reservoir to Lockbourne and the Columbus Feeder,” by David Meyer.