History of Grove City

William Foster Breck may not be a household name but it is a name every person should recognize. He is the individual who had a vision to create a settlement in Jackson Township that we know today as Grove City.

Grove City first appeared on a map in 1852 when a plat created by Breck, his brother-in-law Jeremiah Smith and two other early settlers was accepted by the Franklin County Commissioners. The other men who help plot the 19 original lots were William Sibray, a brick mason and plasterer and George Weygandt, a carpenter.

Grove City, Ohio

Many histories state William F. Breck and his brother-in-law Jeremiah Smith purchased 15¼ acres of land from Hugh Grant Jr. but according to the 1846 History of Franklin and Pickaway County and other sources, that land was actually owned by Deacon John Smith, Breck’s father-in-law.

Grove City, OH - Brick House

This was once the home of William F. Breck, founder of Grove City.

In 1847, Breck was still living in Carroll, Ohio and had been appointed the first postmaster of that village on Oct. 27, 1847, according to the U. S. Appointments of Postmasters. According to research by local historian Earl Nicholson, Breck began construction of a two story brick home in Grove City in 1848 on land he and his wife had obtained title to Oct. 8, 1847 from Breck’s father-in-law.

According to an old Columbus newspaper, Breck’s brick home was on the west side of what is now Broadway and was set back a “distance” from the turnpike. His porch had a clear view of the horse drawn buggies, wagons and coaches that passed by daily.

In 1852, Breck and others created a plat with 19 lots for a village on the original 15¼ acres of land on the east side of the Columbus and Harrisburg Turnpike. They made plans for the village in Breck’s home. Others involved in planning the village included Jeremiah Smith, William Sibray and George Weygandt.

March 5, 1866 was another important day in Grove City’s history. On that date, 37 early residents signed a petition and presented it to the Franklin County Commissioners and the State of Ohio seeking incorporation of the Village of Grove City.

The Columbus and Harrisburg Turnpike made this possible. Constructed in 1848-49 at a cost of $35,602, it opened Jackson Township and Grove City to new markets. That turnpike today is known as the 3-C Highway and U. S. Route 62.

Two other turnpikes opened a few years later. They included the Cottage Mills and Harrisburg Turnpike (today Rt. 665) built in 1852 that was seven and one-half miles long running from Shadeville to Harrisburg. The Franklin and Jackson Turnpike (Rt. 104), also built in 1852, ran 10 miles adjacent to the Scioto River from Columbus connecting with the Cottage Mills and Harrisburg Turnpike. It cost about $8,000 to build.

William F. Breck visited the western front of the township one year before the turnpike company was formed. The new road connected Columbus to Harrisburg. That road was later extended to Washington, Ohio, now known as Washington Court House.

William Foster Breck

Breck was born April 27, 1806 at Marietta, Washington County, Ohio on the Ohio River. Some accounts say he was born in Belpre which is about 15 miles downriver from Marietta. His father was John Breck and his mother, Mahalia Foster, was a decedent of the Ephraim Foster family of Dover, Massachusetts.

He was described, by local historian Harold Windsor, as being medium height, muscular, well proportioned, quick and active in his movements and standing erect. Breck had a broad and high forehead, blue gray eyes, a firm mouth and a square chin and an aquiline nose with a prominent bridge giving it the appearance of being curved or slightly bent.

Breck, at the age of 16, is reported to have worked as a merchant in Carroll, a small town in Fairfield County. According to a Genealogy of the Breck Family, William left Carroll and lived for a time in Newport, New Hampshire with another uncle, James Breck. While there, he was a merchant apprentice learning more about the trade from his uncle.

Grove City, OH - Blacksmith Shop

This blacksmith shop was located on Dutch Pike (Grove City Road) near Broadway.

Sometime before age 19, William returned to Carroll where he became a prosperous merchant with the help of his Uncle Frederic, a merchant and trader. Breck would eventually own not only a grist mill but also a hotel and general store in Carroll before relocating to Grove City.

William was 24 years old when he married Elizabeth Campbell Smith, 21, on Jan. 1, 1840 in her hometown of Worthington. After their wedding, Elizabeth moved to William’s home at Carroll. Elizabeth’s father was Deacon John Smith and her mother was Olive Wilson Smith from Cooperstown, New York. They were parents of six children.

Her father owned 273 acres in Jackson Township including the 15¼ acres where Breck created his new town of Grove City. In 1847, Breck and Elizabeth purchased 273 acres from her father for $1,911.

Breck’s first business was to purchase and relocate a grist mill that was located about two miles west of Grove City. He removed the power plant and stones to the village. Breck would eventually operate numerous businesses including a brick and tile factory and was named Grove City’s first postmaster.

Breck wasn’t the first to settle in what is now identified as Jackson Township. There were at least 27 other families who arrived before Breck first visited the township in 1846. The first brick house built in Jackson Township was by William Brown in 1814, a year before Jackson Township was created.

Most of the brick for these early homes was made from clay soil near the construction site. Bricks were formed by hand, then dipped in water and allowed to dry and harden in the sun, according to a 1932 article by Harold Windsor. Many interiors of the older homes were finished in walnut and oak.

Grove City, OH - Steam Train - 1892

A commuter train ran for a brief period in the late 1800s between Columbus and Grove City. It provided transportation for many local residents who worked at the Columbus Buggy Works, the largest buggy manufacturer in the world at the time.

Transportation

The Columbus and Harrisburg Turnpike, completed in 1849, allowed Jackson Township residents easier access to Columbus and Harrisburg. Before that road through Grove City opened, Breck was taking full advantage of the first mass transportation route in the state, the Ohio and Erie Canal. The canal, even though it didn’t intersect with Grove City, it did impact local farmers. A feeder canal at Shadeville and the Scioto River gave farmers and businesses access to the new trade route.

It’s not known exactly when stage coaches first ran through Jackson Township but they made their way in several directions. The best known stage coach stop in the area became Plank’s On Broadway. That business, established about the same time the town was established, was a popular stopping point between Columbus and Cincinnati. Another stop was the Schoch house located at Big Run and Holt Road. This route connected Columbus and London, Ohio. Another is believed to have been on Jackson Pike near present day Stringtown Road.

The coaches were horse drawn vehicles that carried not only passengers but also mail and some freight. Most fares were about six cents a mile. The stage stops were also known as taverns and were gathering places for locals. Patrons could get a warm beer and sandwich for a nickel. Stage coaches and later trains captured the passenger service that once rode on canal boats.

Grove City, OH - Interurban Park Street to Broadway

An Interurban operator stands on top of his traction car to change electric service for a new direction of travel.

The Cincinnati, Midland and Columbus Railroad completed construction of a new rail line and the Grove City Depot in 1884. Competition for passengers and freight was underway. The arrival of the railroad encouraged farmers to produce more crops because they could now be easily shipped to markets outside Central Ohio. About 10 years later in 1894, a daily commuter steam powered engine and passenger car ran between Columbus and Grove City. Housed in Grove City, its sole responsibility was to transport workers to the Columbus Buggy Works. The commuter rail service ended in 1898 when the Interurban began operation.

In 1898, Adam Grant had completed construction of an Interurban line better known as the Grove City and Greenlawn Street Railway. This was his second attempt to run service that would connect Columbus and Grove City; the first effort known as the Columbus and Harrisburg Electric Street Railway was never started when Grant found out about reckless spending. The initial run was made Oct. 31, 1898. Grant had hoped to have the line in service in time for the Grove City Fair which was held beginning Oct. 4. Grant’s new line between Greenlawn Cemetery, where it connected with the Columbus railway, and Grove City, a total of six miles. Grant’s company had three motor cars and six trailers for passengers, mail and freight.

Grove City, OH - St. John's Church - 1853

This photo was the old Lutheran Church, located at the northeast corner of Columbus Street and Arbutus Avenue, in 1853. The church was constructed by George Weygandt and still stands today with a modified outward appearance. The building served two Lutheran fellowships for 35 years.

Religious Congregations

On Sept. 5, 1846, Gabriel Diemer and his wife Elizabeth sold a parcel of land, covering about one acre, for the sum of one dollar to Daniel Smith and Hugh Grant Jr., trustees of the Highland Road Free Meeting House. A primitive meeting house with crude log walls was built on the property by early settlers. The building is believed to have been on the east side of the Columbus and Harrisburg Turnpike near present day Kingston Avenue. The first religious services in the immediate area were held at the old mission.

A primary provision in that property transfer was a statement that the premises “shall be kept upon this condition, that there shall be kept thereon a suitable house for the public worship of God, which shall be kept equally free to all white denominations of Christians. The deed wasn’t recorded Sept. 11, 1847. The word “white” was removed during the Civil War era.

The History of Franklin and Pickaway Counties, published in 1880, states the Rev. R. K. Davis was the first minister to preach at the old Mission. Davis, according to the book, was a Protestant Methodist minister; other accounts claim he was a Presbyterian pastor. Davis, a friend of Breck, came to Jackson Township from Fairfield County in 1846 with Breck. The Lutheran, Presbyterian and Methodist church congregations formed out of the Highland Mission.

Racing Heritage

Grove City, OH - Beulah Park Grandstand

Beulah Park was the first thoroughbred race track in Ohio. Thousands of fans flocked to Grove City on race days for entertainment.

Thoroughbred Racing

Grove City is the birthplace for both Thoroughbred and Greyhound racing in Ohio. The Sport of Queens, Greyhound racing, was short lived but attracted thousands to the track once located on the grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School. The Sport of Kings, Thoroughbred racing, lasted 91 years ending in 2014 with the closing of Beulah Park.

Beulah Park, Grove City, OH - Ladies at the Races

Race fans at Beulah Park.

Adam Grant created Beulah Park in 1889 as a community gathering place when he built single family homes in what is known as the Beulah Addition, just west of the railroad tracks in the Grove City Town Center. The park was named in honor of his daughter, Beulah. One of the early attractions was a merry-go-round powered by John Buckholtz’s steam engine. Beulah Park was also once home to the Franklin County Fair and later the Grove City Fair. It operated since 1923 as Beulah Park except for a few years when a new owner changed the name to Darby Downs, a name that never captured favor with race fans

Thoroughbred racing came to Grove City in 1923 when a half mile dirt track opened. It quickly became one of the major entertainment centers in Central Ohio spurred on by the Interurban electric street railway that brought race fans from Columbus and beyond.

It was not unusual for the population of Grove City to double and sometimes triple in size with race fans attending afternoon racing at Beulah Park and night races at the Greyhound track. Residents turned their yards into parking lots especially along Grant Avenue. The closer the main Grant Avenue entrance, the higher the fee to park. Gasoline stations in Grove City could identify winners and losers by the amount of fuel purchased. Losers would often purchase as little as 25-50 cents worth of gas, just enough to get home.

Beulah Park, Grove City, OH - Horse Races - 1926

Thoroughbreds round a corner at Beulah Park.

The popularity of racing began to decline in the late 1960s and with the opening of many casinos, the track was no longer “the place to play” the horses. Just before Beulah Park closed it had become a very popular track for race wagering in England, according to Jim McKinney, the track’s last general manager.

Beulah Park was purchased in 2011 by Penn National Gaming and shortly afterwards announced it would move the racing license to a new facility being built outside Franklin County. This ended the use of the track and its grounds for numerous city sponsored activities such as a balloon festival and Independence Day fireworks and entertainment. Beulah had also been home to high school graduation programs, the Capitol City Music Park, Big Bear Balloon Festival and the Grove City Community Fair.

Grove City, OH - Greyhound Grandstand - 1926

Grove City was also first in Ohio for greyhound racing. The stadium was located where OLPH School stands today.

Greyhound Racing

The Grove City High School Greyhounds are the only remaining evidence there was once a Greyhound race track in Grove City. Construction started in the spring of 1926. It opened and ran its first race in August and, just 43 race days later, in October, the track closed for the season because of inclement weather. The track was a big hit in 1927, but toward the end of the year crowds and betting began to fall off amid a storm of protests about racing regulation. The track shut down the end of that year.

In 1932,Grove City Greyhound Racing Ad the track was revived by a group of businessmen but they weren’t successful. It was around that time the businessmen, hoping to gain public support, approached Grove City High School’s athletic department urging the team assume the name the Greyhounds. Financial support was offered to the school in an effort to promote Greyhound racing, but the new name for the Grove City High School Greyhounds sports team couldn’t deliver. It didn’t breathe new life into the operation of the race track. Greyhound racing officially shut down in 1932 largely because a new state law legalized horse racing in Ohio but made no mention about Greyhound racing.

Bob Dienst, the principal owner at Beulah Park and a stock holder in the Greyhound track, assumed the $200,000 mortgage on the Greyhound property in 1935 and became the sole owner after purchasing the ground for one-twelfth of the outstanding mortgage. For years after the facility closed, neighborhood children used it as a playground. The site today is a Catholic school.

Local Artist David Lane, supported by funding from the Grove City Historical Commission, created a mural honoring Greyhound racing in 2014. It can be seen on Park Street at Broadway.

Grove City Chronology

Grove City, OH - Park Street School 1910

Park Street School, Park Street at Arbutus Avenue

1796 – Franklinton is first settlement north of Chillicothe.
1797 – Hugh Grant Sr., follows Scioto River north.
1803 – Ohio becomes the 17th state.
1804 – Grant moves to Chillicothe from Pittsburgh.
1805 – Grant moves to 450 acres in Jackson Township.
1807 – Hugh Grant Jr. born.
1812 – Columbus is new capital.
1815 – Jackson Township created from Franklin Township.
1815 – First school opens at Borror’s Corners.
1816 – William F. Breck born in Washington County, Ohio.
1816 – Breck’s mother dies.
1820 – Jackson Township population, 310.
1840 – Jackson Township population, 784.
1850 – Jackson Township population, 1,550.
1830 – Methodist circuit riding preachers arrive in area.
1837 – John Smith purchases 273 acres in Jackson Township.
1840 – Breck married Elizabeth Campbell.
1846 – Breck scouts Jackson Township.
1846 – Acre purchased for Highland Road Meeting House.
1847 – Breck, wife purchase 273 acres from her father.
1847 – Breck becomes Carroll, OH postmaster.
1848 – Breck builds brick house now on White Place.
1848 – Investors’ company builds turnpike through village.
1849 – Lutherans organize fellowship.
1850 – First passenger train in Columbus on Feb. 20.
1850 – Breck builds steam powered sawmill.
1852 – Plat with 19 lots created for town of Grove City.
1852 – Lots advertised in the Ohio State Journal.
1852 – Breck opens first mercantile and brick factory.
1853 – Amelia Friederick Miller, first child born in Grove City.
1853 – Jackson Township opens first village school.
1854 – John Smith gifts 600 acres to his daughter, Elizabeth.
1854 – William Blackburn builds hotel and saloon.
1855 – Breck opens grist mill to process grains.
1856 – Presbyterians organize church.
1857 – First post office opens in Jackson Township.
1857 – Breck appointed Grove City postmaster.
1862 – Breck builds 20-room house at Park Street.
1864 – Breck dies in tragic farm accident.
1865 – Elizabeth’s father, John Smith, dies April 9.
1866 – Grove City becomes an incorporated village.
1869 –Grove City Special School District organized.
1884 – Cincinnati, Midland City and Columbus Railroad builit.
1888 – First brick school opens in Grove City.
1886 – Grove City expanded to the west side of Broadway.
1891 – Commuter train between Columbus and Grove City.
1894 – Elizabeth Breck dies in New Jersey.
1895 – High school charter was received.
1896 – First high school class graduates; all girls.
1898 – Students, residents plant maple trees.
1898 – High school colors of crimson and blue selected.
1896 – Interurban operates between Columbus, Grove City.
1900 – Breck’s home becomes the Woodland Hotel.
1906 – Grove City Pioneers Reunion held.
1952 – Centennial Celebration of incorporation held.
1959 – Grove City population reaches 5,000; becomes a city.