The classic question, "What's in a name?" that Shakespeare's Juliet poses to Romeo would not find an easy answer if asked about our city. The origin of the city's name continues to elude us in the 21st century, and only speculation can point us to possibilities.
In the late 1700s, the area upon which the city sprang initially was among lands the federal government gave to Canadian refugees who fought for the colonies, as a reward for their service.
Among them was Robert Taylor, from Nova Scotia, who in 1810 received land in central Ohio between the Scioto River and Big Walnut Creek. The township that was incorporated on land east of Alum Creek was named Truro, apparently after Taylor's home in Nova Scotia.
In 1820, a 156-acre tract in the township was transferred, by decree of President James Monroe, to John Long. He and his wife, Elizabeth, transferred the land in 1821 to John M. Walcutt and his wife, Marilla, who in turn transferred it to George Spencer in 1836, for the sum of $5,000.
The transfer document refers to the parcel "White Hall, and occupied by J. M. Walcutt." It appears to be the first reference to the area as "White Hall."
While the reason for its naming is uncertain, it could relate to the Palace of Whitehall in the Westminster area of central London. It was the main residence of the English monarchs from 1530 to 1698, when most of its structures were destroyed by fire.
Also possible is that Walcutt and his wife, migrating from Virginia, adopted it from multiple places there with that name.
Numerous municipalities and institutions around the country are named Whitehall. Just an hour's drive west of Columbus near the village of Yellow Springs is Whitehall Farm, encompassing some 940 acres. The land was purchased in 1808 by leading Cincinnati resident Martin Baum, which by the time of his death in 1831 had acquired the name "Whitehall."
The 1846 mansion on the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is perhaps best known for its annual display each September of dozens of acres of sunflowers.
In central Ohio's Whitehall, the build date of the original "five-over-four" house that was on the property at 3570 E. Main St. is unknown. It was expanded at some point with an addition to the rear that approximated the size of the original, and a covered porch was added to its front and east elevations.
It has been traditionally understood that it served as an inn and tavern for travelers on the National Road, which was extended through the area in the early 1830s.
It also is said to have been known unofficially as "Ye Olde Whitehall Inn" or "Whitehall Tavern."
The farm and the area around it came to be unofficially known as Whitehall, and a township school built across from the farm in 1923 was named the Whitehall School. The long association of the area to that name led to it being chosen for the village when it incorporated in 1947.
Subsequent owners of bordering farmland bought the initial 156 acres of the farm to substantially expand it. In the late 19th century, the White Hall inn and farm were sold to Abram Doney. The interurban railway (1902-29) established a stop at the inn, and early maps refer to the stop there as "Doney." At least one other map shows the stop's name as "Crumms," reflecting the name of a later owner of the house named Krumm (and apparently misspelled on the map).
Abram's son, Samuel "Squire" Doney, inherited the entire farm in 1910, and soon had much of it platted into, and sold as, 1-acre lots, as the Lowrie Brothers East Broad Street Allotment.
The neighborhood that developed was named "Cedarhurst," and a township elementary school built at its northern edge in 1923 was called Cedar Hurst School. It later was renamed East Broad Street Elementary when it transitioned from the Truro Township School Board to Whitehall City Schools around 1955.
The house passed through several owners as a private residence, one of whom converted it to the Whitehall Motel with the addition of cabins around 1950 -- thus coming full circle, once again serving the many travelers on the National Road, now called U.S. Route 40.
The city's growing population, however, made the property more suited to housing than as an independent motel. The house was razed in 1963 to make way for two apartment buildings.
After some 130 years, the house had served its purpose as a shelter for generations, and its name will live in perpetuity.
Steve McLoughlin is past president of the Whitehall Historical Society.