Westerville, Ohio

From Ohio History Central

Westerville is a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, located to the northeastern corner of Franklin County. The first settlers to the area came from Connecticut in 1806. Soon many other people arrived. Among these settlers were the Westervelt brothers, who traveled from New York in 1816. By 1838, the population of Blendon Township had grown to approximately nine hundred people. The Westervelts donated land to build a new school, which was named the Blendon Young Men's Seminary. By 1840, the community had grown to the point that it had its own post office, which was named Westerville in the Westervelts's honor.

The seminary did not survive long, but in 1847, Otterbein University, now known as Otterbein College, opened on the site of the defunct school. By this time, Westerville was growing rapidly. In addition, the townspeople had a reputation for their abolitionist sentiments and a number of residents participated in the Underground Railroad. Westerville resident Benjamin Hanby became known for his song, "Darling Nelly Gray," which referred to signals used on the Underground Railroad. Westerville was connected to the capital of Columbus by way of a plank toll road. Travelers paid ten cents to travel on the road. Westerville formally incorporated in 1858.

During the late 1850s, Westerville residents began to earn a reputation for opposing the sale and consumption of alcohol. The town voters passed a law that banned the sale of "fermented spirits," becoming one of the first communities in Ohio to do so. In 1875, saloon keeper Henry Corbin attempted to ignore the law. Many citizens of Westerville organized protests against the saloon. When Corbin refused to listen to the townspeople's complaints, someone set off gunpowder in the saloon and destroyed the business. Another saloonkeeper experienced a similar result in 1879. These events were known as the "Whiskey War."

By the 1870s, Westerville was developing into a more modern community. Streetcars ran along the major streets, and a railroad connected Westerville to Columbus. The first telephone line reached Westerville in the following decade, and by the early twentieth century the community boasted electric street lights, water and sewage plants, and brick streets.

Westerville appeared on the national stage in 1909, when the Anti-Saloon League moved its headquarters to the town from Washington, DC. Westerville's long history of support for prohibition persuaded the organization's leadership to relocate. As a result of its association with the Anti-Saloon League, the community earned the nickname of the "Dry Capital of the World." The league opened up the American Issue Publishing Company in Westerville as well. The company sent out so much mail in the early twentieth century that Westerville became the smallest town in the United States to have a first class post office. Many of the leaders in the Prohibition movement moved to Westerville during this time period. The citizens of Westerville celebrated with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment at the end of World War I, and they were disappointed when that amendment was repealed in the 1930s. Unlike many other parts of the country, Westerville chose to remain dry after Prohibition was repealed.

Aside from the time period of the Great Depression, Westerville grew steadily throughout the twentieth century. One of the most significant businesses was the Kilgore Manufacturing Company, which employed more than 175 people in the 1920s and was the world's largest producers of play guns during that era. During World War II, Kilgore shifted its manufacturing efforts to wartime supplies, such as hand grenades, flares, and land mines. Westerville continued to grow after World War II, officially becoming a city in 1960.

Automobiles and the freeway system that was built throughout the Columbus area in the last decades of the twentieth century have served to link the two communities more closely together in recent years, although Westerville still strives to hold on to its own separate identity.

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