Starting in the 1950s, Orange Township land was coveted by developers and needed by state and federal agencies. Land was acquired for a Columbus Metro Park, U.S. Rt. 71, Alum Creek Dam, and the Polaris shopping mecca. Long gone farms, villages and stories of settlers give glimpses of the early days while two hundred years later, residential growth is soaring and parks and services are being developed to keep up with the changes.
The 1914 Archaeological Atlas of Ohio shows 6 mounds and 1 enclosure in Orange Township. Unlike any other township in Delaware County, two mounds and prehistoric earthworks have been preserved in Highbanks Metro Park and are accessible to the public by trail. These three sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of their importance. The mounds are from the Adena period (1000-200 B.C.) and the earthworks from the Cole culture (800-1330 A.D.). Later Indian cultures found this area a prime spot for lookouts from the high bluffs of the Olentangy River.
When it was still parts of other townships, Orange was surveyed into farm lots by James Kilbourne in 1804. Ohio had just become a state, and pioneers were moving in from the east while Indians were being driven west. Joab Norton, a tanner from Connecticut, came in 1807 and built the first log cabin. In 1809 Norton and others applied for permission to form a rifle company due to the unrest leading up to the War of 1812. Norton rose to the rank of Captain, and after some time in Sandusky, he contracted an illness and passed away in 1813. The Village of Norton was named for him although he had land both in Delaware and Orange townships.
Some pioneers came early but didn’t stay very long. On the heels of Norton and also from Connecticut came Eliaphlet Ludington, but his wife died within two years and he returned east with their baby. The notorious Higgins family came around this same time. Joseph Higgins could do “marvelous things in counterfeiting others’ writing” which led to arrests and escape. Nahum King came in 1810 but didn’t stay long – and after some time in Madison County he left Ohio for the Oregon Trail and a valley now named for his family.
Jeremiah Macomber also arrived in Orange Township early on with his wife Susannah and stepson Collins “CP” Elsbre who was just 11 at the time. Elsbre would later marry Joab Norton’s daughter, Matilda, and become a prominent citizen. For a time he operated a distillery that produced about two barrels of whiskey a day. Sadly, in 1880 Collins was gored to death by one of his bulls.
In 1816, Alpha Frisbey led the petition efforts to establish the township by taking part of Liberty and part of Berkshire, and to name it “Virgil”. Not everyone was keen on living in Virgil Township, and only six days after this petition was granted, another petition came through asking for the name to be changed to “Orange”.
As the township lived into its new name and borders, Pennsylvanian Samuel Ferson came in 1819 with siblings James, Paul, John, and Sallie. Cyrus Chambers was noted as being the first teacher in the township and also said to have cleared the most timber in the county. James and Polly Clauson Fowler, John and Fanny George, Thomas McCloud, and Nelson Skeels were also among the early settlers. Samuel Kenyon came about 1814 and his family was prominent in the township. His sons, Perry, James and Frank, were noted in the 1880 History of Delaware County.
Bishop Philander Chase wanted to build a seminary in Orange Township for the purpose of training Episcopalian ministers. His proposed site was on 10 acres of what later became the Bale family farm. In 1818, with the help of some residents, he cleared the land to make way for this college. While in Delaware, he was instrumental in starting St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Chase traveled to England to solicit financial support and through Lord Gambier was introduced to Lord Kenyon and Lady Rosse. Returning to Ohio in 1824 with funding secured, he decided he needed more land and bought 8,000 acres in Knox County. Eventually Chase would become the first president of Kenyon College.
Whether the Orange Township Kenyons were any relation to Lord Kenyon is uncertain, but Bale Kenyon Road was more likely named for the local Kenyon and Bale family farms. On the 1875 map, Perry Kenyon’s land was adjacent to that of James and Jonas Bale. James Bale built several mills along Alum Creek, and there was also a covered bridge on Bale Kenyon Road. The 1866 map also shows Lee Hurlbut’s land, which is where the 2003 Bicentennial Barn is located.
In 1820 if you wanted to travel from Delaware to Worthington, taking the “Mud Pike” was a direct but messy route. It was created as a state road that year, but later chartered as part of the Columbus and Sandusky Turnpike Company. There were toll gates every 10 miles, with a fare of 7 cents per mile, which angered a lot of travelers to the point of vandalism because the road was so awful. The road was eventually improved and made a public highway in 1845. It wasn’t until 1926 that it became a part of the U.S. highway system.
1849 was the year the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati railroad company started construction. Most of the workers were Irish, such as Patrick Shanahan who at 25 immigrated to New Orleans with 5 shillings in his pocket. He made his way to Ohio, and eventually moved to Orange Township to work on the railroad. After about ten years he bought property and settled down with his wife and their six children. The 1850 census showed 150 Irish laborers in Lewis Center, but by the next census most of them had moved on.
George Gooding Sr. came to the township in 1818, married Phoebe T. Williams, bought small pieces of land and kept adding on until he died in 1856 with 1300 acres. The 1880 History of Delaware County recounted that he “kept public house for several years, at which place the stage lines made one of their stopping-places, and many a weary traveler has refreshed the inner man with toothsome edibles furnished by the hand of the landlady, Mrs. Gooding.” Guests at the Gooding Inn included William Henry Harrison, Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman and Charles Dickens. Dickens even wrote about the horrible road conditions of the time.
Along the early mud pike, Anson Williams (not that one) bought a thousand acres and laid out the village of Williamsville in 1836. It was at Orange Road and U.S. 23, and while a few people settled and some businesses opened up, the competition from the Gooding Tavern, a few miles to the north, was tough. George Gooding pulled more business away from Anson when he supported the development of Orange Station by donating land there for the purpose of a new depot and town in 1852. That railroad town was at Orange Road and the railroad tracks, and lasted about 25 years. There were residences, a post office, and grocery store.
Samuel Patterson was most known for his activities supporting the Underground Railroad. He was born in 1803 and came to Ohio as a young boy. In 1824 he settled in Orange Township on the east side of Alum Creek and married Hannah Nettleton. He was a farmer who also made brick and potash. The home he built was made from his own brick, as well as black walnut wood from his own land. At the time the area was known as the East Orange post office, but later was called Africa.
In 1859, thirty freed slaves were sent from North Carolina to Ohio to find safety and new homes. After considering stopping in Portsmouth, they heard about the Patterson family and made their way further north to East Orange. These men and women were freed from the Alston plantation by their mistress in her will. They lived and worked here until sometime after the Civil War when they moved on to larger communities such as Delaware and Westerville. East Orange had a blacksmith, school, church and two grocery stores in addition to the post office.
Due to the construction of Alum Creek, Africa Cemetery was relocated from Africa & Lewis Center roads to South Old State Road behind the Berlin Presbyterian Church. Many of the very first settlers of Orange Township and buried here, including Samuel and Hannah Patterson. There are more Pattersons in the Patterson (McCloud) Cemetery, which was relocated from Bale Kenyon and Lewis Center Roads to the Williamsville Cemetery. This cemetery is hidden in plain sight right next to GFS on Rt. 23.
In the Lewis Center area, the first settler was John Johnson who built a cabin in 1823. Like many of Delaware County’s towns and villages, Lewis Center was born on the promise of railroad prosperity and grew larger during the railroad’s heyday. In 1847 there were 167 voters in the whole township, but by 1884 there were 350 people living in Lewis Center alone.
The village got its real start in 1850 when Sarah and William Lewis donated land for the railroad station and right of way. They also donated land for the Methodist Episcopal Church and parsonage, as well as the schoolhouse. Eventually there would also be a country store, grocery, warehouse, shoe shop, two blacksmiths, a cooper shop, a saloon, and a Catholic church. There was even a branch of the Delaware Farmer’s Exchange. The post office was kept in the store for many years, changed hands over time and was only recently relocated to Orange Road. In downtown Lewis Center today, the Alum Creek Market is open for business in the historical building.
Not too far south of the county line, the Village of Flint also thrived during the mid 1800s and some of the Orange Township residents like the Kenyons got their mail there and were buried in Flint Cemetery. Fast forward about fifteen decades and these towns are either completely gone or barely holding on to remnants of yesteryear.
Like many other townships, education grew up out of log homes, church buildings and the usual one-room school house. In 1868 the first brick schoolhouse was built and by 1880 there were about 7 of these in the township, each one built at a cost of around $1000. Eventually in 1916 they consolidated into one building, which was the Orange Township School at South Old State and East Orange Roads. Further consolidation happened with the opening of the first Olentangy High School in 1953 and the Orange Township school was torn down in 1969. Today the Olentangy School District serves six townships and has 23 schools.
Township growth was an impetus for the changing school system, and during the 1950s development was on an uptick. As more residents and business moved in, the township governance and scope grew as well. The first township hall was built in 1871 for about $825. Today a 70,000 square foot community center is being considered. Orange Township has upgraded their township hall and parks in the past several years and the new hall is surrounded by a beautiful park at the corner of South Old State and Orange Roads. There are also parks located within some of the large subdivisions, such as Glen Oak, and hidden in plain sight, such as North Orange Park.
Just north on Rt. 23 near the new Menards you might have seen the perplexing sign about an upcoming pedestrian bridge over the highway. For residents on the east side of route 23, the bridge would be a safe way for cyclists and walkers to cross the highway to reach the parks, pool, and library on the west side. It would also link with existing and future bike trails. The project has been met with some controversy but fits in with the township’s greenways plan.
Shale Hollow Preserve is the newest of the Preservation Parks family, and contains the usual hallmarks of this great park system: nice trails, beautiful scenery, ample parking, and clean restrooms. What makes it stand out are the geological features of shale cliffs and concretions. It will remind you of some parts of Highbanks, or even Hocking Hills. Covering a total of 190 acres, the park opened in late 2013, although the land acquisition occurred over the past 10 years. The one-mile Great Horned Owl trail is pet friendly, and an overlook trail provides great views. Recently retired park director Rita Au certainly went out with a bang – Shale Hollow is my new favorite local park! Future development of this area is already in the planning stages.
With over 1100 acres and more than 10 miles of trails, Highbanks is the mother of all Delaware County parks. Although it is in the Columbus Metro Parks system, it is located in the southwest corner of Orange Township along the Olentangy River. The park system started acquiring land as early as 1948, but the park wasn’t finished and open until 1973. There was a farm and mansion on the property that dated back to 1909. The barn is still standing and visible from Powell Road.
Highbanks park offers picnic shelters, fishing, pet-friendly trails, inline skating, biking, sledding, cross-country skiing, and regular nature programming. The nature center has a great exhibit that explains the science behind concretions found at both Highbanks and Shale Hollow. Also in the nature center is a library with great windows for bird watching. The variety of trails makes the park both accessible by ADA guidelines but also challenging enough for runners and hikers. Currently there are eagles nesting at Highbanks, so check with the nature center for best viewing times. And if you are lucky, maybe you’ll even see Bigfoot.
So if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of the Polaris area, take a trip through the rest of Orange Township. With prime parkland on 3 of the 4 corners, this part of our county is ripe with recreation!
(For an extensive look back, find Luella Martin Yarnell’s history of the township in the library. Many thanks to all who work so hard to preserve our local history!)