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History of Granville

Evidence of Ancient and Native Settlements

There is evidence of ancient settlement in the Village and Township as represented by the historic mounds in the region. Alligator Mound lies within the boundaries of the Village,  another small mound is located in Salt Run Park, and an early settlement site has been conserved by the Granville Township Trustees in Raccoon Valley Park.  Infirmary Mound Park, which is located just south of the Village and managed by the Licking Park District, is named for the prehistoric "Infirmary Mound" located on the grounds. The “Moundbuilders” were thought to inhabit this area of Ohio centuries before any Native American settlement in the area.

At the time the first white European settlers arrived, approximately in 1800, there was only one sizeable Native-American settlement remaining in the county.  It was a Wyandotte settlement located near Johnstown in Monroe Township, in the northwestern section of the county. 

Establishment and Settlement of Granville

Granville Township was surveyed in 1797 as part of the U.S. Military District.  These were lands set aside for those who had served in the Revolutionary War.  Land was acquired, according to an act of Congress in 1796, in units of 4,000 acres.  This stipulation may explain why Granville Township was laid out in a five-mile square of 16,000 acres instead of a six-mile square, which is far more common in Ohio.

There were two groups of people who settled in the Granville area during the first decade of the 19th century and they left a lasting imprint on the physical character that defines Granville's distinctive sense of place. 

The first to arrive were the Welsh, as 4,000 acres in the northeast quadrant of the township were sold to Sampson Davis, a Welshman living in Philadelphia.  In 1801, he sold 1,800 of his acres to Thomas Philipps and Theophilus Rees, two men who left homes in Wales in 1795 and settled briefly in Philadelphia before moving to Beulah, in Cambria County, Pennsylvania (about eighty miles east of Pittsburgh).  Prior to the earliest Welsh settlers arriving in the township in 1802, there were squatters on land, but the Welsh were the first settlers to own the deeds to the land that they occupied.  Most of the population of Beulah eventually followed Philipps and Rees to Ohio.  This area of the township still bears the imprint of the early settlers by the Welsh names given to the roads – Jones Road, Welsh Hills Road, Marker Describing the Founding of Granville (click on image for larger picture)Cambria Mills Road, Philipps Road, and Philipps Glen Road.  The Welsh Hills Cemetery and the Philipps Cemetery are both located in this area of the township and contain a number of the graves of the early Welsh settlers.

The second significant group of settlers, from Granville, Massachusetts and Granby, Connecticut (neighboring New England communities), were responsible for the establishment of the Village of Granville. People from both communities came together to send a scouting party to Ohio to identify and evaluate property for future settlement.  The returning party recommended the purchase of 12,000 acres or the remaining three quarters of what would become Granville Township, as well as other land nearby.  As a result, the Licking Company was formed in 1804 with 107 subscribers to purchase more then 29,000 acres of land.  They acted quickly. Advance parties came westward early in 1805 to survey and map the site for the Village, to erect a mill for sawing lumber and grinding corn, and to plant grain. Before leaving New England, the Village design was planned in great detail. Marker Depicting Selection of Granville Site and Plat for Village (click on image for larger picture)The company planned a public square, a school, library, burying ground, and property for the support of churches. In November and December 1805, some 150 settlers arrived from New England in ox-drawn wagons and built temporary shelters on the designated public square.    

Granville was planned to closely resemble a "New England town" set down in the middle of Ohio.  The plan began with two main and wide thoroughfares that intersected at the town square with churches on its corners. The plat continued with 24 blocks of 288 rectangular lots on the original plateau situated a safe 70 feet above the Raccoon Creek floodplain to the south.  Nestled there between the three hills (Sugar Loaf rising 55 feet above the plateau on the west; College Hill at 135 feet high to the north; and Mt. Parnassus at 105 feet high on the east); these New Englanders constructed the main thoroughfare streets called Broad Way, Water and Bowery (now West and East College), as well as Fair and Equality (now West and East Elm).

The settlement at Granville quickly took on the character of a Village as permanent buildings, constructed in the styles common in New England during the period, appeared along the regular grid pattern of streets.  A number of buildings from the first decades of Granville’s history survive today, especially some of the houses, St. Luke’s Church, and the Buxton Inn, all along Broadway.

The Influence of Education

Granville was the home to five schools in the early 1830s.  Two of them, the Granville Female Seminary and the Granville Literary and Theological Institution (it later became Denison University), were both located in the area west of the Village green with Denison located on college hill
above the Village center.  Although the Granville Female Seminary ceased to exist by the 1890s, Denison University continues today to exert a major influence on the character of the Village.  It’s historic campus is included in the Granville Historic District that is listed on the National Register.

The Influence of the Canal System

The Village of Granville and the surrounding township continued to grow, although at a relatively slow pace.  In 1825, the Ohio Legislature authorized the construction of a canal system joining Lake Erie to the Ohio River.  The eastern section would join Cleveland, Zanesville and Marietta; the western section would join Toledo, Dayton and Cincinnati; and a third section would connect the eastern system of the Muskingum valley with the Scioto River at a point south of Columbus.  This third section of the canal would use the valley of the Liking River and would transform an area known as the “Great Swamp” into a reservoir for the canal later known as Buckeye Lake.  A special celebration marking the construction of the canal system was held at Licking Summit near Newark.  Granville businessmen seized upon the opportunity of the canal passing through the center of Newark to create a feeder canal into Granville. By 1830, the canal from Newark to Cleveland was completed and the section to the south a few years later.  The Granville feeder canal was completed in 1833, which allowed Granville to send and receive shipments to both the east coast and New Orleans, the isolation of the pioneer era ended.

Within a few decades after the completion of Ohio’s canal system, railroads began to have a dramatic impact on many Ohio communities and usage of the canal waned.  Although Ohio’s railroads began to transform communities by the mid-19th century, the first railroad didn’t reach Granville until 1880 and by that time had little impact on the course of the Village’s development. The introduction of the interurban lines connecting Granville to Newark, and later Columbus, did have a greater impact on the commercial development in Granville by introducing greater    
competition for local businesses.  As a result of the interurban, and later automobiles, that offered increasing mobility to the local population, the commercial center of the Village remains relatively small even today.   

Granville Today

Just as the history of the Village of Granville and Granville Township are intertwined, so is the present.  Although the Village is incorporated, it is still part of Granville Township and its citizens vote for Township Trustees and other township issues on the ballot. Today, nearly 200 years after the first permanent settlers arrived, Granville Township has a population of slightly over 9,000 with 3,500 of the residents living within the Village boundaries.  The proximity of the Village and Township to the Columbus metropolitan area have increased development pressures on both. In spite of this increased pressure, the Village and Township have managed to retain their distinctive small town/rural character without the suburban sprawl so common throughout central Ohio.  To ensure that the small town/rural character is preserved, voters in the Village and Township passed three recent open space levies to generate funding to purchase land to preserve as green space.  The expenditure of this money has already resulted in the purchase of land slated for development that will now be preserved as open space.  Village and Township citizens have also worked cooperatively to adopt and update a comprehensive plan that will manage growth while preserving the historic and rural character of the Village and the surrounding Township.

Primary source: Scenic Byways of Granville and Granville Township Management Plan prepared by Benjamin D. Rickey & Company, Columbus, July, 2007. 

Additional Information

The Granville Historical Society
Inventory of Historic Homes