Powell's appeal lies in its rich history, celebrated at the Powell-Liberty Historical Society and shared by long-term residents who can't imagine living elsewhere
When 87-year-old Marge (Snouffer) Bennett says her Powell roots run deep, she isn’t overstating. She’s a fifth-generation resident of the burgeoning suburb, and her mother was, in 1912, one of six people in Olentangy High School’s first graduating class. Her great-great grandfather Joseph Gardner was the first person ever buried in Powell. At that time, in 1834, the area was known as Middlebury.
According to Sherry Carmichael, Bennett’s daughter and a sixth-generation Powell resident, documentation indicates the first families settled in Liberty Township in 1801. Meanwhile, a Delaware County Historical record written in 1880 indicates a settlement named Middlebury existed by 1813. Bennett’s ancestors moved to the area from New Hampshire in 1819, settling on South Liberty Road. That thoroughfare runs north/south through what was renamed Powell in 1857 to honor the efforts of Delaware County Judge Thomas Powell, who helped secure the area’s first post office, Carmichael says.
Both mother and daughter are active members of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society, where a photo of Bennett’s mother and the other 1912 graduates proudly hangs. Located in the restored 1889 Martin-Perry Homestead on East Olentangy Street, the historical society is open to tours and offers programming throughout the year. On display are period antiques, including a bible replete with a handwritten list of marriages and births dating back to the city’s first days.
Life in Powell
The early days in Middlebury were quiet and quaint, Carmichael says. With a population of less than 350, the town supported millinery, buggy makers, blacksmiths, a general store and, eventually, a post office. Farmers tended to the land, and most churchgoers were Methodist. In the 1870s, the Columbus and Toledo Railroad arrived to town. With that, a prominent resident initiated the surveying and platting of the town proper, culminating with its recordation in 1876. It was incorporated in 1947.
By 1970, chatter about development had begun. The Retreat, the area’s first upscale housing development, welcomed its first residents that year. And when the Parade of Homes was held in Powell for two years—in 1985 and 1987—“people discovered us,” Carmichael says.
In 1990, Powell’s population was 3,000. That number had swollen to nearly 10,000 by 2000, and the 2010 census showed another population increase, to more than 11,000. Today the northern ’burb is known for gracious housing developments complemented by Powell’s quaint downtown, home to requisite antique shops, eateries and other indicia of modern life. A natural consequence of that growth is the bane of existence: traffic. Lots and lots of traffic.
While she is pleased to see Powell prospering, there are definitely downsides to its explosive popularity, Carmichael says.
“There is a loss of a sense of community because [the housing] developments compartmentalize the community,” she says, while also commending city leaders for “trying to preserve the flavor” of Powell by sponsoring bonfires, parades and fireworks.
Jane Van Fossen is a 32-year Powell resident who served as mayor from 1991 to 1995 and sat on the city council for eight years before that. She says while the area’s increased traffic is a nuisance, Powell’s friendliness and beauty override the inconveniences. She also applauds “the exceptional services” residents receive.
The Van Fossens, who raised two children in Powell, chose the Retreat after moving to Powell from Beechwold in 1981. Jane describes the area as “beautiful, very rural.” The couple purchased two adjoining lots of 2.5 acres, upon which they built the custom home where she lives today.
Van Fossen’s home was constructed with natural materials like stone and cedar. Nature abounds—she often spots deer, raccoons, chipmunks, groundhogs and even foxes around her property.
The House that (Almost) Got Away
Bennett is proud to live in a 150-year-old home once owned by her great-grandparents. It’s a home that she inherited—though not in the typical fashion.
The house and its 160 acres “went out of the family in the late 1920s or early 1930s,” Bennett says. First, her grandparents left the home to a single daughter who could not afford its upkeep and sold it. Several people later owned the home, eventually including the mother of Bennett’s late husband’s first wife.
When his first wife passed away, Bennett’s husband inherited the property. And after she was married nearly 40 years ago, Bennett moved into her great-grandparents’ former home.
“My husband always said I married him to get the house back in the family,” she jests.
Bennett inherited the home, the barn and some of the acreage when her husband passed away.
In addition to her familial connection to the home, Bennett enjoys its unusual traits. The property allows her to own and care for eight sheep, “but I’m trying to build that up,” she says. Unless she is ill or out of town, she makes several walks daily to the nearby barn, releasing her sheep to graze. She also carries hay and grain to them while keeping a watchful eye on their whereabouts. Because coyotes have attacked her sheep before, Bennett also returns them to their barn each night. If she’s unable to handle the chores, her son Mike, who lives with her, tends to them.
Every December, Bennett “rents a ram” that stays among the sheep until January. The goal is, of course, springtime babies. She also enjoys that “lots of tourists stop to see the lambs.”
Another favorite spot is Bennett’s bedroom addition. The spacious room is not only her sleeping area, but also boasts her desk and computer and a long couch in front of a gas-powered fireplace. It’s here that she can be found on a cold winter day, cuddled with one of her cats. A generous-sized church pew from a local church offers additional seating, as does the inviting, wooden porch swing, from which Bennett can watch her sheep from the privacy of her home. The south end of the room features her “Lucky 13” windows, which allow natural light to flood into the room. Seven windows encompass the entire south wall, and three more line both the east and west corners of the space. Bennett loves indoor plants and marvels at the orchids blossoming by her windows.
“The first thing in the morning, I look out the window,” she says. “I want to live here. I don’t do winters in Florida. I love to travel, but I love to come back.”
Tami Kamin Meyer is a freelance writer in Bexley.