As it were

Whitehall owes its success to wars

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Columbus Metropolitan Library – David E. Lucas Collection
An aerial view of Whitehall from 1986 shows the Town and Country Shopping Center and what is now the Defense Supply Center Columbus.

Whitehall is one of those places that has seemed for many years to many people to be just the place to be.

As an example, let’s note the case of one Robert Brotherton. Arriving from England in the 19th century, Brotherton came late enough to have missed the various conflicts with the French, the British and several of their diverse American Indian allies. He came to a land that was rapidly being cleared for settlement, where whole forests were yielding to the axe and the plow.

But while the new country was a place of good land, good water and good prospects, good roads were lacking. Most of the roads in central Ohio were little more than dirt paths – dusty in the summer, muddy in the winter and virtually impassable year-round.

But then Robert Brotherton and his acquaintances heard that a new road was coming – a wide, year-round highway – with stone bridges, no less. Begun in 1811, the National Road arrived in Ohio in the 1830s.

It did not take Brotherton long to realize that near that road is where he wished to be. So he bought 156 acres about five miles east of Broad and High streets in downtown Columbus between Alum and Big Darby creeks.

Coming from a place called White Hall in England, Robert Brotherton called his new home White Hall Farm. In time, a large inn along the National Road on his property came to be called the White Hall Tavern.

It became a popular stop for travelers on the National Road.

In time, the Brotherton farm passed into the hands of one Abram Doney. He laid out lots on part of the property near the National Road and the little village that followed came to be called White Hall as well. By 1910, Abram Doney’s son, Samuel, felt confident enough of the continued success of the village that he laid out the rest of the family farm in one-acre lots.

And there this story might have ended – a small village that owed its success to the nearby National Road. We can still find many tiny communities along U.S. Route 40 owing their success, such as it is, to the National Road.

Whitehall is not one of them.

Instead, Whitehall is a thriving suburban community near Columbus – the largest city in population and land area in the state. To understand how this happened, one need look no farther than the United States Army.

By early 1917, the world had been at war for three years. The United States had avoided the conflict to this point, but it was looking more and more likely that President Woodrow Wilson – the man who “kept us out of war” – would soon ask Americans to “make the world safe for democracy.” And when he did, the Army would have an embarrassing problem. With jammed warehouses and limited transportation, it would be very difficult to quickly clothe, feed and arm several million men.

Clearly, a new supply terminal was needed. But where should it be located?

In relatively short order, a large expanse of farmland in rural Truro Township in Franklin County was selected. The site was chosen because of its proximity and easy access to three railroads and thereby much of the eastern United States. Over the next year, 280 acres were purchased. As the war came to an end, six warehouses were completed and receiving shipments of one sort or another.

After the war, the Columbus Quartermaster Depot saw its size and operations changed to the maintenance and sale of the large quantities of materials. Then World War II changed everything. The size of the depot was doubled and by the end of the war, more than 10,000 people were working there – including 400 German prisoners of war.

The large number of people working in the area stimulated the growth of the nearby community of Whitehall. Incorporated as the village of Whitehall in 1947, the town saw the construction of the groundbreaking Town and Country Shopping Center in the same year.

Whitehall lay directly in the path of the explosive suburban growth sparked by the construction of nearby Interstate 70 and the Interstate 270 Outerbelt. In 1950, the population of Whitehall was 4,077. By 1960, Whitehall was a city of 20,818.

Today, Whitehall is a city of more than 19,000 people. The name of the Columbus Quartermaster Depot has changed many times over the years, but its general purpose remains the same. Many people living in Whitehall work nearby at the installation now known as the Defense Supply Center Columbus, which continues to supply more than $3 billion of material annually.

But many other residents work across the city and the county in places readily accessible by the roads serving the community. It was those roads that brought people to Whitehall, but it is the pleasant place it was and is that keeps them there.

Local historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek.