Upper Arlington Schools officials will recognize a portion of Upper Arlington history that has been ignored in the classrooms when it unveils a new high school building in fall 2021.
As part of both a major school reconstruction project and the district's pledge to honor the community's history, district officials intend to integrate lessons about Pleasant Litchford into classroom curriculum.
According to accounts from the Upper Arlington Historical Society, UA Schools Superintendent Paul Imhoff and local authors Diane Kelly Runyon and Kim Shoemaker Starr, Litchford was an African American former slave who bought his freedom.
He also was a master blacksmith who migrated from Virginia to Ohio, purchasing land in Perry Township sometime before 1842.
According to the historical society, Litchford's land, which included a graveyard, was annexed into Upper Arlington in the 1940s and '50s. A portion of it became the site of Upper Arlington High School, 1650 Ridgeview Road.
"Pleasant Litchford was a former slave from the state of Virginia who settled here and became a very successful blacksmith and was one of the major landowners in what is now UA," Imhoff said. "He owned the land that we are on now (at UAHS) and the land that Northam Park is on and the land that St. Agatha's on and the land of Tremont (Elementary).
"He was an amazing leader. But you know what, he is not a person that we have ever talked about as we teach UA history in our schools."
Imhoff said the district is developing lessons to "honor our entire history."
Additionally, as the project to build a new high school moves forward, crews will be doing land scans to determine if there are any remains from the Litchford cemetery under the current high school.
"As we teach the history of Upper Arlington, we have to make sure that we teach the entire history of UA," Imhoff said. "So as a school district, we are coming together and working with our staff and members of our community to make sure that our history units are updated and we do, indeed, teach the entire history of our community.
"We are going to find out what is there, and we're going to make sure that we do things the right way and that we honor the people who were buried here."
Imhoff said he learned of Litchford after Runyon and Starr released of "Secrets Under the Parking Lot: The True Story of Upper Arlington, Ohio, and the History of Perry Township in the Nineteenth Century" in 2017.
The book explores what Runyon calls "the hidden history" of Perry Township, part of which is now Upper Arlington.
It focuses on the story of Litchford, his wife and five sons.
"He was an amazing person," Runyon told ThisWeek Tri-Village News in October 2017.
"Pleasant went from being a slave to being a millionaire. By 1860, he was the fourth-largest landowner in Perry Township.
"It shows you how accepted he was in the community."
The book also states that many cemeteries at the time would accept only white people for burial, so Litchford established his cemetery. According to Runyon and Starr, records indicate the last burial at the cemetery occurred in 1925.
"It's about a half-acre in size and it's located beneath the science wing of the high school, a portion of the parking lot and the ball field," she said.
In 1955, the school district allocated funds to remove the cemetery, which was believed to contain 10 graves.
In fact, the school district moved 27 graves to Union Cemetery, Runyon said, including the Litchford family's graves, which have no headstones.
"We do plan to recognize the importance of the cemetery site with historical markers and signage," Imhoff said. "We also plan to include Mr. Litchford's contributions to our community in historical displays in the school. In addition, we are beginning the work to expand our local history curriculum in order to tell a more complete version of how our community became what it is today."
ThisWeek staff writer Alan Froman contributed to this story.