Why a suburb northeast of Columbus is called Westerville, and what to do about unkempt parking lots.

Westerville is a pretty nice place, with a great downtown area. But it’s in the northeast corner of Franklin County. So why does its name make it sound like it’s somewhere to the west?
The answer is pretty straightforward: Westerville’s name came not from its geographic location but from some of its early citizens. Settlement in the area between Alum and Big Walnut creeks in Blendon Township began around 1806, three years after Ohio became a state and six years before the founding of Columbus. Around 1815, the Westervelt family, of Dutch extraction, arrived from Duchess County, New York, and soon became prominent in local affairs.

The town got its name about 1840, was platted in 1856 as “Wester Ville” (maybe “Westerveltville” was too awkward to pronounce) and was incorporated in 1858. Looking back 200 years, Westerville has a lot of history, and there are several places that tell its story. Otterbein University, for example, began as a seminary in the 1830s and became a college in 1847. The Hanby House, a state memorial, was the home of Benjamin Hanby, the composer of the Christmas song “Up on the Housetop;” he also was active in the Underground Railroad, as were others in town. On Hempstead Road, the Gideon Hart House, the oldest in town, was the home of an early settler. Temperance Row Historic District was headquarters of the Anti-Saloon League, the prohibition organization. And the Everal Barn, an unusual farm structure, memorializes the area’s agricultural past and is an event venue today.

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I see a lot of parking lots around town that don’t look very nice. Aren’t there rules about landscaping, screening and maintenance?
Not long ago, Downtown Columbus was around 50 percent vacant land or parking lots. Fortunately, many have been filled with new buildings. Parking lots are regulated, but maybe not as much as they could be. The Columbus Downtown Commission covers parking in almost the entire area inside the innerbelt freeway, while the city of Columbus governs the rest.

Under the city zoning code, all lots anywhere must have a “hardened” (paved) surface—no dirt, grass or gravel. In Downtown, no new hourly lots are allowed, but existing ones are “grandfathered” and can remain. Private-use lots can be built, but must be screened and landscaped; the Downtown Commission’s website has detailed guidelines.

What about the grandfathered lots? They aren’t forced to make improvements. But let’s say a lot owner has removed landscaping to create more parking spaces, or hasn’t repaired broken or missing pavement. Neither the city of Columbus nor the Downtown Commission looks for problems. Any enforcement action is complaint-driven; someone has to call and point out an issue. CQ recalls a lot on South Third Street that was only gravel-covered for many years but recently was nicely paved. Looks like someone must have complained. As they say, if you see something, say something; start with the City Services 311 call center, 614-645-3111.

Sources: National Register of Historic Places listings; “Westerville,” 2004; “Westerville Heritage 1806–1979,” 1979; city of Westerville website; Columbus Metropolitan Library files; Robert Loversidge, Downtown Commission member; Tony Celebrezze, city of Columbus

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Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus.