Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time in the cemeteries of Columbus and central Ohio -- and more time researching the ones that no longer exist.
Cemeteries are expressions of art and design, and they allow us to see how that design has changed over the years. In many cases, graveyards also act as nature preserves. But every one of them is a history lesson about the people at rest -- and the people who put them there.
Old Worthington and Old Franklinton give us two examples.
Worthington was settled by a number of people from Granby, Connecticut, and points nearby. On the southeast corner of the Village Square, a church was built, and a cemetery was established in the yard east of the church. The church and the cemetery remain there, and both are well-maintained.
The citizens of frontier Franklinton handled matters a bit differently.
Established by Lucas Sullivant in 1797 on the west bank of the Scioto River just below its confluence with the Olentangy, Franklinton also had a town square -- but there was no church there. Instead, the First Presbyterian Church was built on the northern border of the village on a lot near the river. A cemetery was placed in a lot just northwest of the church.
It may say something about life in frontier Franklinton and the relationship between church and state that during the War of 1812, the church's windows and doors were secured, and the entire building was filled with grain to feed troops camped in the town. Unfortunately, the roof leaked. The grain got wet and expanded, and the building exploded.
The church was rebuilt across the river in Columbus. Old First Presbyterian Church still can be found on the east side of the city.
The Franklinton cemetery, the oldest in the city, is on River Street.
While these early cemeteries survived, their immediate successors did not.
When Columbus was established on the "high banks opposite Franklinton" in 1812, there was no place set aside for a cemetery. One reason was the wet ground was deemed unsuitable for burials. In addition, Columbus was established as a real-estate venture by four "proprietors" who offered the state land and money and hoped to recoup their investment with the money from lot sales. A cemetery was not part of that original vision.
Eventually, requests by residents for a cemetery led proprietor John Kerr to donate land just north of the city limits in 1813. In time, more land was acquired and the North Graveyard was established.
It was the only graveyard in the city until the 1830s, when the city acquired land near what is now Nationwide Children's Hospital to create the East Graveyard.
During these same years, cemeteries large and small were created across central Ohio. What is now Union Cemetery, for example, had its origins as a family cemetery in 1806. Most of the towns and villages in the area had graveyards, as well.
A major Roman Catholic cemetery was established near what is now Columbus State Community College.
The notion of what a burial place should be began to change during the early part of the 19th century in America.
In this period, a new generation of Americans -- raised after the American Revolution -- became interested in economic, political and social reform. The interests of the reformers were diverse and included crusades against slavery, advocacy for women's rights and a movement seeking the temperate consumption of alcohol.
Into this era of growth and change, a movement arose to look at American burial practices in a new way. No longer would places of interment be simple graveyards. Rather, they would be park-like environments with water features, curving paths and byways -- places where people might sit and reflect on nature and life while in the presence of the past.
In Columbus, this sort of place was created in 1848 and came to be called Green Lawn Cemetery.
Over the years, the other downtown cemeteries were lost to other uses. The old North Graveyard became the site of the North Market. The East Graveyard became a city park.
As far as we know, most of the bodies buried in the East Graveyard were moved to other places. Many of those in the North Graveyard and the Catholic Cemetery that is now Columbus State were removed, as well.
Many, but not all.
The first two mayors of Columbus are buried somewhere near the North Market. Perhaps the city they helped bring into being is their best monument.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.