The North Market area is in the news again as developers prepare to build a 35-story skyscraper on the site of its parking lot.
The market site, on the north edge of downtown Columbus, is one of those places that has had a remarkable history in its own right. Before the North Market opened in its original site in 1876, where the current North Market parking lot is today, it was the home of the North Graveyard.
The cemetery's story begins with another significant real-estate development. Ohio became a state in 1803 and its first capital was in Chillicothe. Bowing to demands for a more accessible place, the capital briefly was moved to Zanesville before returning to Chillicothe. But the call for a centrally located capital continued.
After a lengthy and complex contest, the Ohio General Assembly accepted the offer in 1812 of four "proprietors" to place the capital on the "High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto." They offered 10 acres for a Statehouse and 10 acres for a penitentiary along with what was then the immense sum of $50,000 to construct buildings on the site. The proprietors appointed John Kerr to be their agent to sell lots and claimed that the site was "high, dry and salubrious in climate."
One of the three was accurate. The place was high and would never be flooded. But the water table was close to the surface. Ponds and marshy areas were present and deep ravines carried streams with rushing water to the Scioto. All that water meant that malarial fevers often were present in a form the locals called the "shaking ague."
The proprietors had given the three major churches in the area -- Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist -- each a small lot in the town plan. The lots were too small to place a cemetery in the churchyard for several reasons, not the least of these was the fact that the water table was so close to the surface that even a shallow grave soon would be a watery one.
Nevertheless, as early as 1813, people began to die. It quickly became clear that Columbus needed a cemetery of its own. Kerr offered a 1.5-acre tract of land immediately north of the town's boundary at what is now Nationwide Boulevard, on the west side of what is now High Street. By 1821, the land had passed from the proprietors to Kerr and his wife. In that year, they conveyed the lot to the borough of Columbus.
The borough appointed a sexton to sell lots and manage the cemetery. Over the next several decades, several different sextons took on the role. The cemetery increased in size with major gifts of land by the Doherty and Brickell families until it encompassed more than 10 acres. The cemetery had a protective wooden fence to keep animals out and ran south from Spruce Street between Front and High streets to the railroad tracks.
Hundreds of people were buried in the cemetery, which seems to have been well-maintained for its first 30 years. But in time, there was competition. In 1834, the city acquired what is now Livingston Park near Nationwide Children's Hospital and established it as the East Graveyard. Then, in 1848, Green Lawn Cemetery was laid out south of the city. To the north, Union Cemetery had opened in 1806 and was growing.
All these cemeteries provided a restful, rural alternative to the urban bustle of a growing city. In time, the North Graveyard began to be ignored. A newspaper in 1864 noted the fence was down in places and animals were running loose among the graves.
The city passed more than one ordinance prohibiting burials, but people continued to be interred in the North Graveyard until the early 1870s. Many people took an offer from Green Lawn Cemetery to trade a lot in the old graveyard for a place in the new cemetery. Hundreds of people were moved from the old graveyard.
But many people were not.
In time, the North Market and other commercial structures were built on the site of the graveyard.
In 1885 and in 1913, graves were uncovered as new buildings were being built. As late as 2001, a sewer excavation near Spruce Street uncovered several dozen graves.
The records of the cemetery are lost, so we do not know where people remaining in the cemetery are buried. But we do know who some of them are.
Jarvis Pike was the first mayor of Columbus. He died in 1836 and is presumed to be buried in the North Graveyard. Kerr, the proprietors' agent and the second mayor of Columbus, is buried there. His grave is lost as well.
New development will continue to take place in the North Market area as it has for two centuries. But as it does, we should be mindful of what lies beneath.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.