By Rick Palsgrove
Sometimes, when we get swept up in our busy modern lives, it’s interesting to look back at what things looked like at a particular place and time, so I did a bit of time traveling to Groveport in 1875.
Groveport in that year had a population of around 627 (compared to the more than 5,000 who live in town today). The railroad had just come to town seven years earlier. The electric interurban railway was still 29 years away. Boat traffic on the Ohio and Erie Canal that passed through town was beginning to fade from its mid-19th century heyday.
The town’s streets were dirt (or mud depending on the season). The town’s borders were the railroad tracks to the north, the Ohio and Erie Canal to the south and east, and West Street to the west.
West Street originally got its name because it was the westernmost street in what was Wert’s Grove, a town that in 1847 merged with Rarey’s Port to become “Groveport.” Center Street is so named because it was in the center of Wert’s Grove and what is now College Street was known in the 19th century as East Street because it was the easternmost street in Wert’s Grove. East Street was renamed College Street once the new Groveport School was built on what is now Naomi Court in 1884 (it replaced a smaller school at Walnut and Elm streets). East Street wasn’t the only street to change names as North Alley became Buckeye Alley.
There was a spaciousness to Groveport in 1875. There were many open property lots in town. For instance, only 12 houses stood on Elm Street from Front Street to College Street. There were lots of open lots between those dozen abodes. Other streets were similar. Northwest of Hickory Alley and West Street and west of West Street were farm fields and orchards.
However, all this open space did not mean the town lacked activity. Many businesses existed in town in those days. The variety of businesses shows the town was self-sufficient in filling the needs of the residents and the farmers in the surrounding township.
A sampling of the businesses include the wagon shop at Hilly Alley and Main Street, the Campbell Hotel on the northwest corner of Main and College streets, a harness shop, general store, hardware, warehouses, cooper shop, stables, blacksmith, grainers, grocers, lumber dealers, taverns, canal boat dry dock, dry goods store, post office, druggist, shoemaker, carpenter, stone and brick masons, mills, and W. Mason’s brickyard. Seemingly everything one would need or want all in one town!
In 1875 Groveport Town Hall, now a well known landmark, had not yet been built, but a vote to build it was held in 1875 and the building opened in 1876. Prior to that, the building used as the Madison Township Hall stood at Main and Center streets. Churches in town included the Methodist, Presbyterian (original building still in use), Catholic, and Baptist congregations.
Government actions, 1875
What was Groveport City Council up to in 1875? Council enacted a ban on bathing or swimming in the canal, but one wonders if this ban was ever enforced. Plus, canal water was probably not the most pleasant to substance to immerse oneself in anyway.
City Council in 1875 was also concerned about the condition of the Groveport Cemetery. Council meeting minutes from the time describe the cemetery as the “graveyard” and that it was “in a very bad condition.” Council moved to put the cemetery “in good repair” and enacted “a special tax of one mill for the cemetery on the taxable property of the corporation.” The minutes do not elaborate on what specifically was in poor condition at the cemetery, but one thing might have been the old fence that originally surrounded it.
Council approved replacing the cemetery’s wooden fence. The description of the new wooden fence approved by council in 1875 is “60 panels more or less 5 ft. fence 12 in. baseboard panels 12 ft long white or burr oak railing 2 x 4 in well spiked 101 locust posts 3 ft. in ground, good pine pickets 1 x 6 in. plain points with four 8 penny nails in each picket. Two good 10 ft. gates on north side one 4 ft gate on west side. As much of the old lumber to be used on east and west sides as fit for use. L. T. Sims proposal for building new fence at $245 per panel, and old fence for $165 was accepted.”
Today the cemetery is surrounded by a beautiful, gated wrought iron fence.
Council spent a lot of time in 1875 on dealing with the ditch at Brook Alley. There are many references in the meeting minutes to cleaning the ditch and its banks. Council approved a contract for $43.40 to W. R. Kauffman for work and material to build bridge across Brook Alley ditch on Main Street. The “ditch” is still there today, but the water it carries is in a tile that runs under Brook Alley.
Speaking of bridges, being a canal town Groveport needed bridges to span the canal and it was important to keep them and the roads near them in good repair. Apparently, council in 1875 was annoyed with the “tardiness” of a contractor who was working on the road approaches to the canal bridges on Main Street and College Street and notified “the county commissioners to take such action as will secure its speedy completion.”
When one thinks about the money spent in the 21st century on heating and cooling, it’s interesting to see that in 1875 council spent $65.80 for the purchase of three stoves from the Bigelow Hardware, once located on Main Street.
Groveport in 1875 may have been a small farming community, but it also seems like it was a bustling place. People of that time probably felt, just like we do today, that life can be hectic.
An icon passes away, July 1875
One last thing from 1875 in Groveport.
The famed horse Cruiser, who is the mascot for Groveport Madison Schools, passed away at age 23 on a rainy day in July 1875 in his barn behind the Rarey mansion on Main Street. In her book, “John Rarey: Horse Tamer,” author Nancy Bowker described Cruiser’s passing this way: “As the raindrops drummed on the barn roof, the celebrated stallion lay down for the last time.”
Rick Palsgrove is editor of the Southeast Messenger.