After acquiring the Ozem Gardner House two years ago, Flint Cemetery officials are preparing to start restoring the historic property for use by the cemetery.
In the mid-1800s, Ozem Gardner was a conductor on the Underground Railroad and was a brick mason, according to Elaine Russell, office manager for the cemetery.
Gardner opened his home to fugitive slaves seeking asylum and reportedly helped more than 200 runaway slaves, she said.
Russell said the house, 8221 Flint Road in Columbus, north of Worthington and Interstate 270, was built by Gardner in the 1850s and was near the Gardner Family Cemetery, which now is Flint Cemetery, 8187 Flint Road.
She said after Gardner died in 1880, the Gardner Family Cemetery was sold to become Flint Cemetery, but the house stayed with private owners.
Flint Cemetery became a "union cemetery" – a cemetery run by a municipal corporation and a township – when it partnered in 1969 with Walnut Grove Cemetery, which is owned by the city of Worthington, according to Russell. The two cemeteries are operated together and are governed by Worthington council representatives, Sharon Township trustees and a resident of either Sharon Township or Worthington, she said
Russell said the Walnut Grove and Flint cemeteries board of trustees purchased the house and property in 2017 for just under $150,000. She said the cemetery was interested in turning the house into office space and a meeting area for families.
She said the total cost of the restoration project has not been determined.
The cemetery board has hired Hardlines Design Co. to work on the project and restore the property to its original appearance, Russell said. The company is being paid $17,000 for a site plan and phasing and $34,900 for an office plan and construction drawings, she said.
Charissa Durst, principal architect and owner of Hardlines Design Co., said the goal is to restore the house to its original appearance without spending too much money.
"They purchased it, and it was in pretty bad shape," she said.
Durst said plans include the creation of storage space for maintenance crews instead of having to transport equipment rom Walnut Grove Cemetery at 5561 Milton Ave. in Worthington to be used at Flint Cemetery.
"They would like to be able to put up a large garage building to be able to hold the backhoes," Durst said.
She said the house's large living room also would be opened to the public to be rented for meetings.
Durst said the first order of business is to fix the house's roof and then move on to other repairs outside.
Russell said the cemetery trustees have had conversations about the funding for the project and are "looking at all avenues."
She said the project has no set timeline.