© 2005-2017 David K. & Leona L. Gustafson

North Graveyard (aka Old North)
Columbus, Franklin County, Ohio

The first of the four early graveyards serving the city of Columbus was the North Graveyard.  Located between Park Street on the west, High Street on the east, and bordered on the north by Spruce Street the graveyard was north of Columbus (1842 map and 2004 map).  The following is transcribed from the first history of Franklin County.

William Martin, History of Franklin County: A Collection of Reminiscences of the Early Settlement of the County (Columbus, 1858), pages 388-392:

THE NORTH GRAVEYARD, adjoining the north line of the city, was the first [Columbus cemetery].  One and a half acres of this lot was donated by the proprietors of Columbus on the second of July, 1813, for a "burial ground for the use of the citizens of Columbus," and commenced being used for that purpose soon after, though Mr. Kerr, who was authorized to make the deed of conveyance, did not do it until the 21st of April, 1821.  He then conveyed it to the "Mayor and Council of the Borough of Columbus and their successors in office,"--to be used solely as a public burying ground, and for no other purpose, with a proviso, "that if the corporation should cease, or the ground from any cause should cease to be used for that purpose, it should revert to the grantors or their heirs."

In February, 1830, William Doherty and wife conveyed to the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Columbus about ten acres, partly surrounding the above, and making about eleven and a half acres in all.

This purchase was made expressly for the enlargement of the burying ground, (though not so expressed in the deed,) and was, by the Town Council, laid out into lots for that purpose -- pretty uniform in size and shape, and the lots were sold by the town authorities, and a form of receipt and certificate of purchase was adopted and used in lieu of a deed, and signed by the Mayor.

In October, 1845, John Brickell also added a strip of ground, twenty feet in width, along the north side of the above grounds, which he laid out into lots , and conveyed direct to the purchasers -- the corporation having no title to, or control over them.

These three pieces of ground are now all enclosed by a good board fence, embracing near twelve acres, and constitute what is generally called the North Graveyard.  This burying place, with the exception of Brickell's lots, has always been under the control of the Town or City Council, and they have always appointed one of their own body a kind of special committee man, or superintendent, to keep the plat of the grounds, make sale of the lots, and receive the pay therefor, and also a sexton to attend to the digging of graves, his compensation being defined by ordinance.

A part of the ground, however, being set off for that purpose, was free for the use of anyone without charge.  And another part was designated for, and sold to, colored persons on the same terms as to whites.

On the 21st of July, 1856, the City Council attempted to prohibit burials in the graveyard, making it a penal offense to use the lots for the very purpose that they had themselves sold them.  The following is a copy of the ordinance passed on that occasion:

"SEC. 1.  Be it ordained and enacted by the City Council of Columbus, That it shall be unlawful to deposit or bury any dead person in any graveyard within the present corporate limits of said city, or in the enclosure commonly known as the North Graveyard.

"SEC. 2.  Any person or society of persons violating any provision of this ordinance, shall, on conviction thereof, before the Mayor, be fined the sum of twenty-five dollars and the costs of prosecution.

"SEC. 3.  This ordinance to be in force from and after the first day of November, 1856."

This act of the Council created, to say the least of it, a general surprise, and several communications expressive of that surprise immediately appeared in the newspapers of the city; and on the 18th of August, in the same year, the ordinance was repealed.

But that wasn't the end of the problems for North Graveyard.  Things had changed considerably by the time the Williams Bros. published the History of Franklin & Pickaway Counties, Ohio in 1880 (page 533):

. . . It lies on the west side of High Street, about one-eighth of a mile north of the railroad depot.  As the city was expanding around and beyond it, the council, by an ordinance passed July 21, 1856, made it a penal offence to use it any longer for interments.  Such, however, was the clamor against the ordinance, that it was repealed before the day arrived for it to take effect.  The practice of burying in this place was gradually discontinued, however, and when, in May, 1864, the council passed a second prohibitory ordinance, it was merely formal; no interments having been made there for several years.  Many of the bodies buried there have been removed to Green Lawn cemetery; and, though the city authorities have taken means to preserve the grounds, no doubt this city of the dead will, in time, be obliterated, by the steady encroachment of the city of the living.

Eventually the remaining bodies were supposed to have been removed to Green Lawn; the city did, indeed, grow to cover the former graveyard.  In 1876 the North Market was built over the cemetery at 29 Spruce Sreet.  At one time the North Market was included in the "Haunted Columbus" tour as it is said that the body of John Kerr who served as the second mayor of Columbus haunted the site.  Mr. Kerr died 20 July 1823 and he was supposedly buried at North Graveyard, but his body was never removed.  By 1881 only a few of the bodies buried along the north edge of the cemetery remained.  The land along Spruce Street was condemned in 1889 so the city could widen the street.  Today nothing remains to tell the visitor that a cemetery ever existed at that location.

Over time human remains have been located during excavations for various projects.  At present when Federal funds are used during construction or excavation projects the National Historic Preservation Act requires that an archaeologist be on site.  In May 2001 North Graveyard was in the Columbus headlines when work on a sewer project had to be halted when the archaeologist assigned to the site found human bones.  Remains from several bodies were uncovered, including one skeleton that was complete "with buttons from the man's pants."  Excavation was held up for about two weeks while archaeolgists and volunteers unearthed the remains, though no attempt was made to "dig up the entire cemetery site."

Additional sources used & reccommended reading:

For an excellent history of the North Graveyard and other early Columbus cemeteries see, Schlegel, Donald M., The Columbus City Graveyards, (Columbus, 1985); available at the Columbus Metropolitan Library.  Mr. Schlegel has also attempted to reconstruct lists of burials in the early graveyards.

The complete story of the May 2001 findings can be found in the Columbus Dispatch beginning about May 9, 2001.  Brian Williams, Dispatch Staff Reporter, wrote an excellent article, "Past Comes to Life as Burial Site is Combed," that appeared on Sunday, May 20, 2001, page 1A.

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