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First Automobile – The Okey

Grove City businessman John R. Hooper was president of the Okey Manufacturing Company.  He was a community activist in Grove City in the 1970s and served as a city councilman.  Why is that important?

The company he owned and operated was once owned by Perry Okey, a Columbus master machinist and inventor who built the first motorized vehicle in Central Ohio, according to papers Hooper had in his possession.

Campbell T. Chittenden, a Columbus businessman and hotelier, purchased the first motorized vehicle in 1899 from Winton Motor Carriage in Cleveland, the same year Okey introduced his version of a “horseless carriage”.  Okey continued to make improvements until Jan. 13, 1900, according to Hooper’s papers. 

Little else is known except that he formed the Okey Automobile Company on Feb. 25, 1901 at 7 Frank St., Columbus, to build automobiles.  That’s where Okey’s history ends.

First Comprehensive Plan

In 1969 under Mayor George M. Haughn’s administration, Edward R. Hurley & Associates was hired to develop what is believed to have been Grove City’s first comprehensive development plan.  Hurley’s vision of Grove City in 1985 never developed. 

The proposal showed multi-story buildings, a pedestrian walkway along Park Street east of Broadway and a realigned Grove City Road, something that was under consideration several years ago.

There have been numerous plans for the Town Center since then but none as elaborate as the Hurley vision.

Slow to Grow

Grove City was slow to grow during its first 10 years.  In those early years, William F. Breck constructed the first general store in the community, operated the first post office, and met construction demand by building a brick plant on a tract of land behind the present St. John’s Lutheran Church on Columbus Street.  He also operated a sawmill and grist mill at Broadway and Grant. 

With brick and lumber from his plants, William Sibray, a brick mason and plasterer and George Weygandt, a carpenter, built many of the early homes in the community including a 20-room house on the northwest corner of Broadway and Park.  After Breck’s death, the large house operated many years as the Woodland Hotel.  It was also a one-time home for aged women.  The house was dismantled in 1922.

Two Important Dates

There are two dates important to Grove City.  The first is 1852, which represents the year the original plat for the village was prepared, and 1866, the year the village was incorporated.

Grove City’s original plat included an area east of what is now Broadway.  It was bounded on the south by what is now Civic Drive and north at Columbus Street.  The village limits followed Park Street to a fence line west of what is now Park Street Intermediate School.

William Foster Breck, along with George Weygandt, William Sibray and Jeremiah Smith, Breck’s brother-in-law, created the plat for the village on 15.25 acres.

On March 5, 1866, thirty-seven of the early settlers prepared a petition seeking incorporation of the Village of Grove City.  The request was approved by the Franklin County Commissioners and the Ohio Secretary of State on March 13, 1866.  The settlement was the center of several large groves of trees left standing when the first settlers cleared the ground. 

The petition for incorporation reads as follows: 

The undersigned citizens and legal voters of the village of Grove City, in the township of Jackson, county of Franklin, hereby petition your honorable body for the incorporation of the above-named village.  Said proposed incorporated town is situated in Jackson Township, Franklin County, on the Columbus and Harrisburg Turnpike, six miles southwest of the City of Columbus, and being part of the Virginia Military Survey No. 1388 entered originally by Washington and Morgan, an accurate plat of said village being attached to this petition.  The incorporated name of said town to be ‘Incorporation of Grove City’.”

Do You Know Your History?

Sometimes it is easy to get so involved in community history that family history is overlooked.

Future generations will someday try to find out how people today lived.  Is a family record being preserved for those who come after us?   Personal accounts mean so much more and provide more details than anything found on the internet. 

Most homes have several ways to record both video and audio.   You don’t have to do it all at once.  Record information as it comes to mind.  This can become an ongoing project over years.  At some point, the information should be transcribed into a computer.  Begin as a diary writing down current events, have another section for past events and memories.  Ask for details and full names of relatives.  If you are writing by hand, be sure it is legible.  It is always better to have a typed page.  Consider paying someone to transcribe your story if that is possible. 

Belling Once Common Practice

Belling is a phrase hardly known today but it was once a common practice that may or may not have been a delight for a newly married couple.

After a couple married, neighbors and friends would go to the newlywed’s house late in the evening being very quiet and they would wait for the lights to be turned off.

Then on a signal from the organizer, the crowd would make as much noise as possible by shooting off guns, banging on metal and some would use a horse fiddle, a device placed against one of the house doors.  When cranked, it would give off a loud ratchet sound.

All of these activities were aimed at getting the couple up and awake.  The noise would cease when the newly married couple opened the door allowing everyone in for a party.  The revelers always brought along plenty of food and party items.

Grove City’s First Community Park

Long before there was a Parks and Recreation department that created and managed parks in the community, there was Beulah Park.  A. G. Grant gets credit for the park as part of a promotional effort to sell homes in the town’s first subdivision in 1889.

The park became popular for baseball games, concerts, speeches, medicine shows, picnics and family reunions. A community band and another band from St. John’s Lutheran Church frequently performed concerts at the park. 

In later years, the Franklin County Fair was also held in Grove City at Beulah Park.

Grant called the housing development west of the railroad the Beulah Addition, named for a daughter, Beulah Grant (Campbell).  By 1896, he had built a half-mile horse track for racing.

An old abstract uncovered recently by Grove City Mayor Richard Stage found that county records once identified the Beulah Addition, which was west of the railroad tracks, as the Town of Beulah.

Enjoy History?

New members are critical to any volunteer organization and the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society is no different.  If you enjoy history and want to become involved or just financially support the effort, consider becoming a member for only $15 a year.  Go to  http://grovecityohhistory.org/membership/ for more information.

The Society is involved with the Grove City Welcome Center and Museum in the Town Center, the Grant-Sawyer House on Haughn Road and Century Village Historic Park at Fryer Park.  We also recently began restoring the old B&O caboose that once sat beside the railroad depot.  The caboose is now at a former park near Commercial Point, and is being restored there with plans to move it to Century Village to sit beside the railroad depot.  Won’t you consider joining this effort to preserve Southwest Franklin County history?  Students are also encouraged to join for only $1 a year.

Dr. Les Bostic, Humanitarian

Probably the best-known humanitarian who has ever lived in Grove City was a man by the name of Leslie A. Bostic.  He was honored a few years ago by the local Rotary Club for his civic accomplishments and as a visionary leader. 

Dr. Les Bostic, as he was known throughout the community, is the founding executive director of what is known today as The Buckeye Ranch.  He held that position for 40 years.

Raised on a farm in North Carolina, his work background provided insights into his efforts at The Ranch.  After college, he worked as a prison guard with a shotgun draped over his shoulder.  He also worked for a while as a probation officer and later as a clinical social worker.   

After retirement, he served as the city administrator for the City of Grove City and on many other boards that impacted the community, children and Central Ohio.  His awards over the years are almost too numerous to count including two Governor’s Award; one from Democrat John Gilligan and another from Republican George Voinovich.

Next time you’re in the Grove City Town Center, stop by the municipal building and view his plaque at the southwest corner of Park Street.