I visited the Old Franklinton Cemetery recently. I had not been there for some time and was curious to see if it had changed much in the past few years. In some ways, it has. The grounds are well cared for and there is an historic marker in place describing the green space within a waist-high stone wall. Some of the older stones have been replaced with newer ones.

I visited the Old Franklinton Cemetery recently. I had not been there for some time and was curious to see if it had changed much in the past few years. In some ways, it has. The grounds are well cared for and there is an historic marker in place describing the green space within a waist-high stone wall. Some of the older stones have been replaced with newer ones.

I was the only person present that day in one of the oldest cemeteries in the state. And that is too bad because there is a lot of history within the walls of this simple enclosure. But it is not all that hard to understand. The cemetery is in an out of the way place.

Today the area is the home of warehouses and factories, and the passing of nearby freight trains interrupts the quiet of an afternoon. But 200 years ago this place was literally at the center of things in central Ohio.

The cemetery began -- as a lot of things did in central Ohio in those days -- with Lucas Sullivant. Sullivant had laid out a town in the area in 1797 after surveying a lot of the land west of the Scioto in the Virginia Military District. Sullivant took his payment in land and the land he liked best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.

The town was called Franklinton since Sullivant was an admirer of Benjamin Franklin. The village only had a few residents in its first year. And it almost did not have a second year after the Scioto River flooded in the early months of 1798. Since moving a few people was easier than moving a river, Sullivant moved the entire town to somewhat higher ground to the west.

Many people moved to central Ohio in the years that followed and found Franklinton to be a nice place to live. A few also found it to be an appropriate place to die. It appears that as early as 1799, burials began to be made in a small plot of ground near a bend in the river and just north of the center of town.

The graveyard also became a churchyard.

Pioneer Presbyterian minister James Hoge came to central Ohio in the fall of 1805. He returned briefly to the East in the spring of 1806 for health reasons then returned to stay in the fall of 1806. Over the next few years the Presbyterian church moved from place to place until a permanent brick meeting house was provided by Lucas Sullivant in 1811.

The nice new building did not last long. During the War of 1812, the army of Gen. William Henry Harrison used Franklinton as one of its camps. The new meeting house was used to store grain. The roof leaked during a storm in 1813. The grain got wet and expanded. And the walls of the building literally burst apart. A new church building would not be erected until after the conclusion of the War of 1812.

The new church and its adjacent cemetery was a major social as well as religious center for the Franklinton community for the next several years.

But then Columbus came along. The Ohio General Assembly, under some pressure to locate the state capital in the center of the state, accepted an offer to locate on the "High banks opposite Franklinton" in 1812. Not much happened in the town of Columbus until 1816 when the legislature met for the first time in the brick two-story Statehouse at State and High streets. Then Columbus became the place to be.

In 1818, the Rev. James Hoge founded a church in Columbus as well. And by 1830, most if not all of the congregation from Franklinton was meeting in the Columbus church as well. It came to be called the First Presbyterian Church and it celebrated its bicentennial in 2006. The church has moved several times over the years, but it continues to serve the people of Columbus and central Ohio.

So, too, in its own way does the cemetery, which remains where it has always been along the Scioto River.

But over the years, it has had its share of difficulties.

A reporter for the Columbus Sunday Herald toured the cemetery in May of 1886. A later account said the reporter for the Herald described the cemetery as a "tract of about three acres at that time indifferently enclosed and in a distressing state of neglect. Cattle were roaming among the graves, many of the tombstones were broken or prostrated, and the inscriptions with which loving hands had undertaken to perpetuate the memory of friends were in many cases illegible."

It is not hard to see why the cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Prominent people like Lucas Sullivant and his family had once been buried there but had since been moved to Green Lawn or other cemeteries. The church that had once been a center of life in Franklinton was no longer there. And many of the families who had once carefully kept the cemetery had now moved on to other places.

But the attention given the cemetery by the press in 1886 did lead to neighborhood action to clean up and protect the grounds. In 1931 the Franklinton Board of Trade erected a 26-foot high granite monument in the center of the cemetery.

Today a visit to Old Franklinton Cemetery will reveal that the grounds are well cared for and a number of new stones have been erected to replace aged or broken ones. While 71 graves in the cemetery are marked, at least 100 people are presumed to be buried there. And there are probably a lot more than that.

One of the people buried here is Joseph Vance. When Joel Wright laid out the town of Columbus in 1812, Vance was his assistant surveyor and ran most of the chain lines that are now the streets of Columbus. After serving in the War of 1812, his practiced eye and surveying experience led him to acquire a large farm three miles north of Columbus along the road to Worthington.

After his death from fever, Vance's farm was acquired by William Neil, the "Stagecoach King." After Neil's death, it became and still is the main campus of Ohio State University.

I always have thought it interesting that Vance was buried not in the Old North Graveyard of Columbus -- the city he had literally helped bring into being. Rather he was buried, near his friends, in the Old Franklinton Cemetery. And he and they are still there today.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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