As It Were: Peace has longstanding place in Gahanna

ED LENTZ
The Gahanna Sanctuary, 82 N. High St. in Gahanna, will mark its 125th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 27. Go to gahannasanctuary.org for more information.
Ed Lentz

Gahanna is an interesting town, with its interest beginning in the name itself.

There is some evidence to suggest that Gahanna is a Native American word of Wyandot origin loosely meaning "three in one." The term is used to describe the place where three local creeks join together to form the stream now called Big Walnut Creek.

People have been living near the creek for a long time. Before the Wyandots arrived, the prehistoric Mound Builders made their homes there and left behind burial mounds nearby. Later, Native Americans not only named the local stream but lived near it, as well.

This area in what is now Jefferson and Mifflin townships was settled early in the years after the opening of the Ohio Country after the American Revolution. The dense forests, wide prairies and extraordinarily rich and deep topsoil lured settlers from the east.

One of those settlers was Joseph Clark, who bought 800 acres along Big Walnut Creek from Gov. Thomas Worthington in 1814. John Clark, son of Joseph Clark, made some of that land his own and called it the Gahanna Plantations.

The original settlers of Mifflin and Jefferson townships mainly were from settled parts of the country. By the 1830s, they were joined by newcomers from Europe. Some were Irish and had helped build Ohio's elaborate canal system. Others were from the many and diverse states that one day would become modern Germany.

The German immigrants worked the land, and there were no nearby towns. But they still built schools, churches and other community buildings.

In 1838, some of the new people built a small one-room brick church and called it the "Friedens" or "Peace" Lutheran Church. Services alternated between German and English.

In 1849, John Clark decided that Mifflin Township needed a town, and he would provide one on land he owned near the place where the "Three Became One." He laid out a town site there and called it Gahanna after his Gahanna Plantations.

All would have been well and John Clark would have done well building his town -- if it had not been for Jesse Baughman.

Baughman was a former Franklin County commissioner and an owner of land north of and adjacent to John Clark's land. He and John Clark -- to put it politely -- did not see eye to eye. In due course, Baughman founded his own town north of John Clark's and called it Bridgeport.

The two small country villages competed vigorously with each other but eventually decided to merge. Seeking to file a name with the U.S. Postal Service, it was discovered that the favored name -- Bridgeport -- already was in use. With some haste, the name Gahanna was substituted and accepted.

In 1881, the residents of Gahanna applied to the Ohio Secretary of State to be recognized as a village. Upon acceptance, the village of Gahanna, with a population of 235, was born.

In 1895, the members of the Peace Lutheran Church decided that the church was too small and built a Gothic Revival masterpiece in the heart of downtown Gahanna.

Gahanna grew in size and complexity over the next several decades industrially and commercially and as an increasingly desirable suburban residential area. The residents of Gahanna and Mifflin and Jefferson townships built roads, schools and other community institutions to meet the needs of its increasing population.

In 1964, Peace Lutheran Church decided to build another new church. Members left their old church and moved to the new one.

It was at this point that Gahanna might have lost a landmark.

But that did not happen.

A group of residents came together, and aided by private contributions and grants and with the aid of a recently formed Gahanna Foundation, the building was saved, rehabilitated and given to the community as an event center called the Gahanna Sanctuary, 82 N. High St.

Work is underway to add a garden and outdoor event area to the church grounds, and the building will mark its 125th anniversary Sunday, Sept. 27.

It is a good and fitting reuse for a great building in a community that continues to grow in northeast Franklin County.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.