Jacob Wert helped Groveport grow

Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove
Jacob Wert is buried in the Obetz Cemetery. His tombstone is enscribed, "Jacob B. Wert, Born in the state of Pa., Aug. 11, 1804, Died Oct. 11, 1850.

I can picture it…

It’s a December morning in 1840 and Jacob Wert is emerging from the front door of his home near the intersection of East Street (now College Street) and Main Street of what was then Wert’s Grove and is now Groveport. He watches his step as he eyes the sea of mud that was Main Street during wet times. Across the street he can see travelers stirring at the Campbell Hotel getting ready to take the stagecoach to Columbus. Diagonally across the street is the Methodist Church, which watches over the street. It was another day and time to do business.

Doing business is what Wert did well. Born in 1804 in Pennyslvania, Wert came to Rarey’s Port in 1832 and immediately plunged into business.

At the age of 28 Wert was a go getter with a knack for commerce. Soon after arriving in town he formed a partnership with J.D. Cox. The pair leased some land from Adam Rarey and established a grain warehouse that fronted the Ohio and Erie Canal and had an accessible storeroom facing the Columbus-Lancaster Road (now Main Street). Within the next year Wert’s warehouse became a major center of grain shipping in the area and made him prosperous. He began purchasing more properties and businesses including a dry goods store.

Then, he no doubt looked around and saw a four legged potential for profit – hogs. In the 19th century Ohio was hog country. Hogs are tough and have the fortitude to survive Ohio’s weather. Plus, in those days, hogs were easy to keep as folks let their hogs loose in the forests and rolling meadows to forage and grow fat. Wert realized a local outlet was needed for butchering and shipping pork and so he set up a slaughterhouse.

The slaughterhouse, located somewhere near what is now south Center and West streets and situated near the canal, proved wildly successful. During the winter of 1834-35 Wert’s workers slaughtered 35,000 hogs, packed the meat, and shipped it out on the canal. According to historian George Bareis, in November 1834 nearly 500 hogs per day were slaughtered at Wert’s facility. The offals, or waste parts of the hogs, "were sold by the wagon loads to persons who peddled them over the country."
Bareis noted Wert’s business sense helped the community thrive as he "furnished employment to quite a number of persons, as besides the large number required in slaughtering and packing, many others found employment in making the pork barrels, etc."

The 35,000 butchered hogs in 1834-35 was comparable to what larger communities at the time were shipping. The hogs Wert slaughtered came from a wide ranging area including Madison Township as well as Franklin, Fairfield, Licking, and Pickaway counties.

Success and rivalry

Wert’s business success enabled him to become a prominent figure in the fledgling town of what would become Groveport. He used his profits to acquire more and more land west along the Columbus-Lancaster Road (Main Street).

In the mid 1830s he also built two fine brick houses on Main Street near East Street (now College Street), which still stand today.

By 1836 he established a post office on the southwest corner of East and Main streets and set himself up as postmaster of a new town just west of Rarey’s Port with the two towns separated only by East Street. He called the new town Wert’s Grove and Bareis notes its name was most likely inspired by the large maple sugar camp located nearby.

Wert’s new town gained recognition when it became the site for Madison Township elections and stagecoach lines listed Wert’s Grove on their schedules.

To further cement its growing status, Wert, along with another business partner Jacob Weaver, had a plat surveyed for Wert’s Grove in 1843, but they were slow to act and did not file it with the county until 1845, a year after Wert’s rival William Rarey filed his official plat for Rarey’s Port.

Wert’s Grove was bounded on the east by East Street, on the west by West Street, on the south by the Ohio and Erie Canal, and to north by a line of lots on the north side of Main Street. The plat consisted of Main Street, West Street, East Street (now College Street), Church Street (now Cherry Street), Canal Street, and three alleys named B, C, and D.

Rarey’s Port was bordered by the Ohio and Erie Canal on the south and east, East Street on the west, and Elm Street on the north. Its streets included Cherry Street, Canal Street, Main Street, Elm Street, Front Street, and Hickory Alley.

In a curious bit of evidence of the rivalry between Wert and Rarey, none of the platted cross streets match up exactly at each intersection at East Street.

Rarey’s Port had the advantages of deeper roots as people began settling what would become its boundaries as early as the days of Ohio statehood in 1803. Rarey’s Port was also bigger as it had more platted lots and much more frontage on the Ohio and Erie Canal. Additionally it was listed on the canal boat timetables instead of Wert’s Grove. The Rareys were also one of the original families to settle in the area.

None of this deterred Wert. As postmaster, a position he held until 1848, he had some power to wield and he began requiring all mail in the area be addressed to "Wert’s Grove," not "Rarey’s Port."
Rarey countered this by insisting all homes and businesses in the area continue to use "Rarey’s Port."

The confusion proved too much for the townspeople who merged the two towns in 1847 into "Groveport." Citizens did not seek either of the feuding businessmen for any positions in the new government.

Last days

Wert would stay on as postmaster until 1848 and continue to operate his many businesses. But then, in 1850, at the age of 46, Jacob Wert passed away. How he died is not known, but it is most likely he fell prey to illness as, in the mid-19th century, there were many sicknesses that would extinguish a life that today we can combat with modern medical care. He is buried in the Obetz Cemetery.

His widow, Julia, married Heath Ware, an attorney, on May 24, 1853 and moved to Columbus. His rival, William Rarey, lived on until 1877, dying at the age of 65. He is buried in the Groveport Cemetery.

I think of Wert as a dynamic individual who saw promise in a little Ohio frontier town situated along a canal. Dying at a relatively young age and not leaving a family legacy has unfortunately left much about Wert’s life folded in the shadows of time and out of our view. He remains a bit of an enigma to us. There’s not even a picture of him known to exist. But it is clear his efforts helped make Groveport what it is today.

Bareis probably summed up Wert best when he wrote in 1902, "Mr. Wert was a prosperous and enterprising citizen."

(Sources: "History of Madison Township," by George Bareis and the Groveport Heritage Museum.)

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