Thanks to the work of local historians and authors, Diane Kelly Runyon and Kim Shoemaker Starr, awareness has been raised in the community about a former slave, Pleasant Litchford, who lived in the area and made great contributions to the Central Ohio community in the 1800s. Litchford made his way to what was then Perry Township in the early 1800s with his wife and young children. A blacksmith by trade, he became a landowner of more than 227 acres, including the area that today is home to the Upper Arlington High School and portions of Northam Park. Secrets Under the Parking Lot, published in 2017, traces the history of the era and of Litchford, including his establishment of a “Colored School” and a private cemetery for people of color.
Today, a broader group of community representatives and area historians are working collaboratively to further research and appropriately recognize this previously little-known part of our community’s history. This includes the above-mentioned authors, representatives from the Upper Arlington Schools, City of Upper Arlington, Upper Arlington Historical Society, Equal UA, the Ohio Historical Society, Ohio History Connection, Second Baptist Church and the James Poindexter Foundation.
In the mid 1950s, the Board of Education acquired several parcels of land in order to build a high school. One of those parcels included the private cemetery started by Pleasant Litchford. The remains of 28 people were moved to either Greenlawn Cemetery or Union Cemetery. Over time the site of the cemetery was covered by an addition to the existing high school building and an adjacent parking lot. Now that construction is underway on a new high school, demolition of the existing building is scheduled to begin in 2021, which will allow the district to further investigate the cemetery site in cooperation with the descendant community.
This is an incredible learning opportunity for UA Schools students and the community. In the coming years, teachers will expand the existing history curriculum to include the events and figures that helped shape our area prior to the founding of Upper Arlington in 1918. A subcommittee of the community group is working to further research milestone dates and identify primary source documentation that the Upper Arlington Public Library can add to the UA Archives.
Plans are also developing for installing historic markers designed to inform the broader community and visitors about Pleasant Litchford and his place in UA’s history. This will likely include a marker at the site of the former Colored School, where the Senior Center and Tremont Elementary School reside today. An additional marker or markers are tentatively planned for a site at the High School, possibly as part of a broader History Trail project the City plans to launch in partnership with the Upper Arlington Historical Society.
The committee anticipates working together over the course of many months to bring these various projects to a successful conclusion, timed with the Schools construction schedule and other considerations. Other members of the community are welcome to get involved as this process unfolds. To express interest, please contact Catherine Kennedy, by clicking here.
We encourage you to watch for updates in the months ahead.
Front Row, From Left: Sandra Jamison (Second Baptist Church Historian), John Schweikart (Ohio History Connection), Catherine Kennedy (Equal UA), Karen Truett (UA Schools), Nic Fortkamp (Equal UA)
Back Row: Jennifer Rigney-Carroll (Equal UA), Kim Shoemaker Starr (author), Seyla Kramer and Lisa Wilson (Equal UA), Kristin Greenberg (UA Historical Society), Emma Speight (City of UA), Marianne Mitchell (Equal UA), Melanie Circle Brown (UA Historical Society), Jeff Anderson (City of UA), Chris Potts (UA Schools)
Not Pictured: Diane Kelly Runyon (author), Reita Smith (James Poindexter Foundation), Jared Nyhart (City of UA), Paul Imhoff, Keith Pomeroy, Andy Hatton (UA Schools), Gerald Moore (Equal UA), Krista Horrocks and Diana Welling (Ohio Historical Society)