As it were

A place of unexpected moment


I have always been impressed by Worthington. Walking through its downtown and village square, one can immediately see the New England heritage of this town in central Ohio. It is a special place which has seen a number of special people. And, unlike Columbus, many of them still reside quite close to the place where they lived.

It is not hard to find the first cemetery in Worthington. It is immediately to the east of St. John’s Episcopal Church on the southeast corner of the village square. Here several hundred members of the first families of the frontier village are buried. It is a quiet place even on the busiest of days. It is also a place with many stories to tell.

But first a bit of digression.

If one looks though the entirety of downtown Columbus, one will not find a trace of an early cemetery near the location of any of the surviving churches around Statehouse Square and the blocks nearby. On Feb. 14, 1812, the Ohio General Assembly accepted the offer of four “Proprietors” to locate the capital city of Ohio on “the High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto known as Wolf’s Ridge.”

Platted soon thereafter by surveyor Joel Wright, there was no provision for a cemetery within the original town plan.

There were probably two reasons for the omission. One was the determination of the Proprietors to recoup their investment by keeping lot sizes small and relatively expensive. More importantly the water table was quite close to the surface. Touted by the Proprietors as being “high and dry and salubrious in climate,” much of the town plat was quite wet and remained undrained for a number of years.

As Columbus grew in size with the War of 1812, local residents felt the need for a cemetery. Proprietor John Kerr gave them one just outside the north city boundary which was then the street we now call Nationwide Boulevard. In 1876, the site was vacated and most of the cemetery’s residents were moved to make way for the North Market.

Most but not all. To this day, Proprietor John Kerr still rests in a lost grave in the cemetery he gave Columbus.

Such is not the case with the principal founder of Worthington. In the cemetery behind St. John’s Church in Worthington lies the family plot of James Kilbourn. Kilbourn and a number of other men formed a company to acquire 16,000 acres in the Northwest Territory acquired by the United States after the American Revolution.

In 1803 several dozen people arrived from Granby, Conn., and points nearby, and began to build what would soon become one of the most southern of the Yankee settlements in Ohio.

Sparked by the energy and enthusiasm of James Kilbourn and his friends, the new village successfully established itself. Worthington made an effort to become the site of the state capital but lost out to the site a few miles south across the river from frontier Franklinton. Undaunted by the loss, James Kilbourn soon located a store and a newspaper in Columbus while attending to his many other ventures in Worthington as well.

One can learn a lot in a well-tended old cemetery simply by wandering about and looking at the inscriptions on the stones.

One prominent marker notes an ultimate change in the spelling of the family name.

“Consecrated to the memory of the HON. JAMES KILBOURNE, And, his family, viz., Himself born in Farmington, Hartford Co., Conn., Oct. 19th, 1770. From low beginning he rose to eminence in business and Science: Exhibited great enterprizes, constancy: Formed the Scioto Company and led the settlement in 1803: Founded Institutions of Learning: Filled many public stations, including state and national legislatures with ABILITY INTEGRITY & Honor: Raised his family to distinction in business & character & died Apr. 24th, 1850. ‘For truth he sought and in her path he trod. Through nature’s works he saw and owned a God.”

Below this inscription are listed the names of his two wives and their 11 children.

Other markers are somewhat less prepossessing and often a bit more poignant.

Dr. Lawrence B. Case died of “consumption” or probably tuberculosis Aug. 4, 1841. “Although suffering extremely from pain and debility for ten years, yet his industrious habits, uncramped perseverance and patience continued to the last day of life.

Still death came suddenly and took him in an unexpected moment. ‘The Son of Man cometh in an hour when you think not.’ ” Lawrence Case was 25 years old.

And then there is the stone marking the grave of the Hon. William Thompson who died on March 22, 1830, at the age of 77. “He was an early emigrant to this Country and lived to see the wilderness ...” The rest of the inscription is illegible.

Perhaps the part that remains says enough as a messa ge of its own about the memorable people in this quiet place.

My thanks to the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the Worthington Historical Society and the website for information used in this column.

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