Hilliard park named for Merchants, one of area's first Black families

KEVIN CORVO
kcorvo@thisweeknews.com
This park at the entrance to the Heritage Rail Trail had no name until Hilliard City Council on Aug. 24 christened it Merchant Park. Merchant is the surname of the first Black family believed to have settled in Norwich Township and what is now Hilliard.

A Hilliard city park now bears the surname of the first Black family believed to have settled in Norwich Township.

Hilliard City Council on Aug. 24 voted 6-0, with council member Kelly McGivern absent, in favor of a resolution to christen a formerly unnamed park as Merchant Park.

The park is adjacent to the Makoy Center, 5462 Center St., and nestled between it and the trailhead of the Heritage Rail Trail.

“It is exciting and exhilarating,” said Westerville resident Evonne Grant, 64, whose paternal great-great-grandparents were Yammer and Tabitha Merchant.

The 1850 U.S. Census listed Yammer and Tabitha Merchant, with their seven children, as a Black family living in Norwich Township, according to the administrative memorandum explaining the request to City Council.

Grant said she has researched her descendants and learned that while living in Norwich Township, the Merchants attended the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a son of Yammer and Tabitha, John Merchant, was a pastor.

“I have learned so much about my family (but) am still putting some of the pieces together,” Grant said.

According to Dawn Steele, a staff attorney for Hilliard, records indicated the Merchants were the first known Black family to own land and settle in 1850 in what is now Hilliard.

The Merchant family arrived from Virginia as part of a movement of previously enslaved persons who received freedom upon the death of slave owners. The family settled in what is present-day Brookfield Village, according to the city’s research.

The Merchants became landowners and neighbors with the Fisher, Frazell, Roberts and Thomas families, according to the city.

The Merchant surname also provides a coincidental double meaning, as the goods of merchants were delivered at the train depot associated with Hilliard’s founding, Steele said. Hilliard’s history as a community started in 1852, when John Reed Hilliard bought the farmland on which the tracks of the Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad appeared about a year later, according to the Hilliard Ohio Historical Society.

City officials plan to celebrate the naming and dedication of Merchant Park in February 2021 as part of Black History Month, City Manager Michelle Crandall said.

They will work with the Hilliard Public Arts Commission to explore possibilities for artwork in conjunction with the park dedication, she said.

“City staff is excited about this project that will honor the Merchant family as early settlers, educate the community about Black history and celebrate inclusion and diversity,” Crandall said.

“Minimal costs” will be associated with the signs and the dedication; estimated costs will be brought forward as part of the operating budget, according to the administrative memorandum.

City officials recommended the name of Merchant Park.

“City staff has been exploring an appropriate name for the area of parkland,” Crandall said.

Crandall, who began serving as Hilliard’s first city manager in January after the city switched from a strong-mayor form of government, had expressed interest in naming the park upon learning it had none.

“It originated after a discussion (with the general manager for the Makoy Center) about better wayfinding to their business,” she said. “I mentioned directional signage to the park, and that is when I realized it did not have a name.”

The city received the park from Hilliard City Schools in 1997, but it never received an official name, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo