by Suzy Millar Miller
Part #1 Video filmed by #ThisIsReynoldsburg featuring Mark Myers and Cornelia M. Parkinson
Part #2 Video filmed by #ThisIsReynoldsburg featuring Mark Myers and Cornelia M. Parkinson
by Cornelia M. Parkinson
Reynoldsburg was named for James C. Reynolds who was born in 1806. He arrived in the area around 1831 where he initially boarded with John French. He then built a cabin and opened a sutler's store for the road gang building the Cumberland Road. While selling work clothes, whisky, molasses, calico and general provisions, Reynolds provided a central gathering place and was the first merchant in the area. It is possible the town was named "Reynolds Burgh" because the mail was delivered to his store. Reynolds, a Whig, served as a Brigadier General in the Ohio Militia and a Representative in the Ohio General Assembly. He died of complications from malaria in 1854.
The Cumberland Road, better known as the National Road, was one of the main reasons that Reynoldsburg grew into the thriving city it has become. Before the National Road was built there was a trail which had its beginnings as an animal and Indian trail. The arriving settlers laid down logs and posts on the trail and built the road that was known as, "Old Corduroy." We know this road as Main Street or Route 40. The National Road contracts called for the road to be 30 feet wide with 18 feet of cleared space on each side with a roadbed 20 feet wide covered with 12-18 inches of stone. The Underground Railroad ran through Reynoldsburg between 1840 and the spring of 1865. The date this type of activity began in the town is unknown, but people associated with the National Road were often involved.
Within six years of the National Road starting through Reynoldsburg, four taverns were built, two churches established, two additions to the village were platted and registered, a school started and a post office begun. Reynoldsburg was incorporated in March of 1839.
Another reason for growth in the area was the establishment of the Reynoldsburg Union Academy in 1868. This was the major public high school in Franklin County. Students came from other counties and states and paid tuition for the privilege of studying under Dr. Darlington J. Snyder. While school was in session the students needed food, clothing, shelter and entertainment, which Reynoldsburg residents provided causing commerce growth in the township.
The first known pioneer family, James & Martha Crawford, arrived in the area around 1802. Their children settled in Reynoldsburg, including a daughter, Margaret, who married James Graham. Thomas Palmer arrived in 1803 and later built a grist mill with William Dean. John & Jane French settled in the area in the fall of 1816 and owned much of the land in what we now call "Old Reynoldsburg." John French had his land surveyed and platted out a town that was registered in Nov. 1831. Tradition says that he named the town "French Town" after his family, but it was listed as "Reynoldsburgh" in Aug. 1832 and there are no known official records listing the name as "French Town".
Reynoldsburg is a community located at the geographical center of Ohio and is 12 miles from Columbus, the state capital. The city is within 500 miles of over 50 percent of the United States population. Port Columbus Airport is 15 minutes from the center of Reynoldsburg. Interstate Highway I-70 runs through Reynoldsburg connecting it with Indianapolis, Indiana and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Reynoldsburg is most noted as the "Birthplace of the Tomato." On his farm in Reynoldsburg, internationally recognized horticulturist Alexander W. Livingston (1821-1898) was the first to develop the tomato for commercial use. He introduced the Paragon tomato in 1870 which became the first commercially grown tomato.
The Reynoldsburg Tomato Festival is a community event that started in 1965. The festival was originally called the Tomato Fair in recognition of Alexander W. Livingston. The Tomato Festival is still held every year, usually on the 3rd Fri./Sat. of August at Huber Park.”
Compiled by Suzy Millar Miller referencing the book, "History of Reynoldsburg and Truro Township, Ohio" by Cornelia M. Parkinson, copyrighted October 1981.
The Spring Water Creamery on Waggoner Road just north of Main Street
Part #1 of the Underground Railroad filmed by #ThisIsReynoldsburg featuring Mark Myers and Cornelia M. Parkinson
Part #2 of the Underground Railroad filmed by #ThisIsReynoldsburg featuring Mark Myers and Cornelia M. Parkinson
Everybody has heard the term “underground railroad.” What does it mean?
The so-called underground railroad was the system by which a person helped another person to freedom. Usually this meant a white man or woman helping black men/women/children get out of slavery. The South usually meant slavery, Northern free states and Canada could mean freedom. All those of any color who took a part in emancipation were also risking their lives. Here in town we had many of all colors who undertook that risk simply to help another human being live free from the frequent cruelty of slavery.
The master may have treated his people well enough, especially house servants, who were often loved and respected – and at need catered to – like family. But the white overseer, whose job it was to get a full day’s work out of “ever’ mizzable black critter in them-thar fields,” did not have to be kind about it. He had free rein to punish at will, and in his own way. If he grew a dislike for anyone, they were more apt to be punished.
Escape routes were called “underground” because runaway slaves could seem to vanish, even when pursuers were close on the trail. “Bounty hunters” or “slave catchers” were equipped for the job with pistols and whips and ropes to bind – plus 90-to-110-pound bloodhounds whose noses you couldn’t fool, or 165-to-185-pound mastiffs, fierce dogs three feet high. These mighty and powerful dogs were trained not to attack, but to catch and hold, so that the hunter could return a live specimen in reasonable condition to his master for the hunter’s reward.
The essence of the Underground Railroad was heroism. Men who helped fugitives risked heavy fines, jail sentences, and their very lives. Runaway slaves risked even more: most were used to being supervised at all hours; most were not allowed schooling, and certainly were not taught what to expect in the outside world; so how could they manage on their own? Some did, going back to help others escape. Some didn’t, couldn’t, learn.
Slavery as an institution is older than civilization. Wealthy and powerful men of all nations throughout time have owned slaves. The American Civil War was fought, in part, over the right for one person to have absolute control over the life, love, work, goals, even death of another person. Indentured servants and apprentices agreed to work for a certain time, at the end of which their master was obliged to free them. Native Americans made poor slaves, because they expected their women to do the work. In any master-servant situation, those having power too often misused it. Slavery itself was intolerable.
Slaves were possessions. They represented real monetary outlay. They were bought and they were sold, paid for in cash or credit. Husbands could be sold; so could wives, children, newborn babies, at the master’s displeasure. Slaves weren’t given a choice. Slave laws favored the owner. From those laws that outlined the punishment for helping escaping slaves came the terrible risks the abolitionist slave-haulers took when they escorted runaways to a free state. Nevertheless, the Underground Railroad covered the United States, and its regular routes were numerous. A map of the eastern United States shows thousands of little lines drawn between points where slaves could be kept for a short time before being taken farther along the freedom trail. Slave-hauling was a monumental volunteer operation that would make today’s businessman wealthy.
Ohio was never a slave-holding state. Its importance in abolitionism came from its geographically abutting the slave states of Kentucky and Virginia (now West Virginia.) Any slave who could cross the Ohio River would still be in peril, but be in a free state where help was nearby. One popular route went out East Friend Street (now Main) in Columbus toward Reynoldsburg, then 20 miles northeast to Granville. One of the earliest Franklin County abolitionists was Williams Noe, who from his home near Hibernia, was able to give shelter, food, rest, and further transportation. (Hibernia was a settlement, never platted, at Main Street and Noe-Bixby Road; later on, at an Arcodel Bus stop, the driver called out, “Hibernia!”)
The best-known station in The Burg was the David Graham house, at now 1312 Epworth. Families living in the house have told of digging noises in the cellar (rumor holds two slave catchers were buried there) and nighttime voices in the hallway. Other stations were in a cave off Main Street near Waggoner Road; under the Primitive Baptist Church at the Y of Jackson and SR 256; the home of Joseph German on Main; and Viola McCray May’s house which was near the site of the present Masonic Lodge. James C. Reynolds’s general store, a log structure built 1839/1840 at now 7374 East Main Street, had a cellar hiding place about 7X15 feet, with airholes on three sides and a trapdoor on the west. A prominent man in a little town dare not travel nights too often, so James and his wife Minerva made their contribution as they could. No one let on that they knew.
Another prominent abolitionist was Alexander W. Livingston, on whose seed farm were outbuildings, lofts, and other hiding places that could be used for days at a time when necessary. A. W. owned a long wagon called The Ark, having seats along the sides in which a number of fugitives could be taken to the next station in Granville or Utica. Alex’s employee, Ben Patterson 1836-1914 was one of the slave haulers out of The Burg, transporting run-away slaves to Granville or even the many miles to Mt. Vernon. That trip would take a whole night. Eliza Patterson’s granddaughter Mary Eliza Durant told that when Ben was gone, his wife was afraid to be alone, so she stuck a big wooden mush paddle through staples in the door and doorframe, and felt safer.
Harrison “Hack” Long was “a man of do or die,” a carpenter, served during the Civil War and later worked for William Forrester in his stone quarry. In Hack’s house, said historian Fay May, a brick wall raised the house about five feet aboveground, so an outside stairway led up into the living room. Slaves hid in relative safety here, awaiting the hazardous ride to the next station.
Other men in Truro and Jefferson Townships known to have worked with the Underground Railroad are George W. Black, Jason Bull, David Patterson (owner of land a bit east of Waggoner Road and perhaps a relative of Ben), Daniel Thompson, and John W. Thompson. John was a wagon maker. Both Presbyterians and Seceders were strong for abolition. First Presbyterian Reverend Jonathan Cable served, and Archibald Cooper, carpenter, one of the church founders and original elders, who also served on the First Board of Trustees, Borough of Reynoldsburg. On behalf of Seceders were “Uncle Billy” Connell (possibly buried in Seceder Cemetery; where his wife, Janet Strang, was buried), Samuel Gillett, and William G. Graham. Graham 1803-1854 was described as a “pioneer.”
Ten years after the Civil War, when fear of capture had passed, the Black Prince from Africa once again lent Reynoldsburg his awesome presence. He had sheltered here before, and was described as “six feet six inches in height, broad shouldered and with the strength of a horse, eight times the power of an ordinary man. . . blessed with more than ordinary [intelligence]. . . very valuable to any farm.”
Men and women of the area – many not named here – were brave, doing the fear-engendering job with qualms, but doing it anyway because it was part of their belief system. And those they aided to freedom met fates varying from no improvement to vast improvement over the unfair institution of slavery. Some people did not win; but others did win.
Several sources have been used for this article. 1. Parkinson: History of Reynoldsburg and Truro Township, Ohio, ch 62. 2. Siebert: Mysteries of Ohio’s Underground Railroads and The Underground Railroad. 3. Hetty Graham Evans: several souvenir booklets for Reynoldsburg’s Homecomings. 4. Fay May: Boots and Saddles columns, Canal Winchester News-Gazette.