The United States has been called "the great melting pot" of those who left their homelands to find a better life.
Whitehall was part of that movement, claiming among its early residents a number of German immigrants, including Michael and Barbara Tornes.
They arrived near the turn of the 20th century by flatboat in Marietta and settled in the nearby farming community of Churchtown, having emigrated from Trier, Germany's oldest city.
Greater job opportunities in Columbus, however, later drew them to the south Columbus neighborhood of Merion Village. Their home near the northwest corner of Thurman and Washington avenues eventually was taken by eminent domain for construction of the third location of South High School, which later became Barrett Junior High School on completion of the current South High School.
The Torneses moved then to a 20-acre farm at the southeast corner of Barnett Road and East Main Street.
Among their six children were Nora, who operated the area's only general store near the house, and brothers Alex and Clem. The brothers married two sisters -- Margaret and Mary Seigman, respectively -- whose family's nearby farm fronted Yearling Road.
In the photo we see (from left) Clem Tornes and Mary Seigman, who married in 1914 and appear to be the best man and maid of honor; and Ida Tornes and John Wagner, who married that day in 1916. The view is from the southeast corner of Barnett (formerly Jewell) Road and East Main Street, in front of the Tornes home. (It was moved to Maplewood Avenue in 1948.)
The Toledo and Ohio Central Railroad tracks in the background mark what became Whitehall's western border.
In 1943, the brothers and their wives began parceling off portions of the Seigman farm into building lots, which an early 1950s city map calls the Tornes Addition.
Two intersecting streets in the neighborhood, just north of Yearling Road, were named for the Seigman and Tornes families. Interestingly, Seigman Street initially was designated as Etna Road, and was apparently intended to be a western extension of it from its intersection with Yearling Road. Established at a later date was Etna Street, one block south of Seigman Street.
Another son, Frank, raised his family on Maplewood Avenue near Main Street, including his son, James, who enjoyed a long career owning and operating the Burwell's Nursery on Main Street.
After his high school graduation in 1948, he began working part time at Burwell's while attending Ohio State University to study horticulture and landscape architecture. The company initially was started by George Walter Burwell , who was raised in a farmhouse toward the rear of the property at 4040 E. Main St. His father deeded to him 6 acres of the property in 1922, on which he established a nursery and landscape business.
Facing financial challenges in the early years, he partnered with Bert H. Kleinmaier to successfully expand into one of the first such large-scale businesses in Central Ohio.
By 1950, Burwell and Kleinmaier had observed the success of retail garden-center operations, including Siebenthaler's of Dayton, Natorp's of Cincinnati, and Hillenmeyer's of Lexington, Kentucky. They decided to introduce to central Ohio the area's first retail garden center on the property -- one that quickly established itself as a destination point for customers, many of whom traveled from outside the region to shop there.
An additional draw to the center came through its well-known annual indoor Christmas tree and decorations display that was set up from mid-November to mid-January.
A 1960 reorganization of the business added James as a partner, along with Fred Fisher, who actively managed the operations. James in 1970 bought out the interests of the three other partners and operated the business until 1990. It transferred to a family member, who by then was competing with a host of other such businesses in the area, and elected to close and liquidate the business within a few years.
However, James continued, under the Burwell's name, to provide landscape design services beyond central Ohio, including with two sons, operating in Chicago and San Francisco.
Although the family name was not used for the business, its recognition continues in perpetuity, honored alongside other early families such as Yearling, Bernhard, Wolfe, Poth and Lamby, whose names grace the streets of Whitehall.
Steve McLoughlin is past president of the Whitehall Historical Society.