Camp Bushnell: Bexley's Spanish-American War Encampment
When we put a new patio in our Bexley backyard a few years ago, the diggers found a cannonball buried in the earth. It turns out Bexley had a large encampment where Ohio soldiers mustered for the Spanish-American War. Can you tell me more about what was called Camp Bushnell?
This was a short-lived military encampment open from April 28 to May 29, 1898, to assemble 15,334 officers and enlisted men of Ohio military units for shipping out to the war with Spain. It was named for the governor at the time, Asa Bushnell, who had lived in Springfield and was involved in a firm that later became the International Harvester Co.
The location was Bullitt Park, just across Alum Creek (the eastern city line of Columbus) along East Broad Street, where Bexley would soon be established. Although some Columbus people had built houses along the creek, the rest of the area was a flat, grassy and treeless plain, ideal for the military tent city that would blossom there. A commemorative photo book shows various units such as the Ohio National Guard and the Ohio Volunteer Infantry marching along Broad Street from Downtown. The photos don’t show cannons, but stacks of cannonballs were a popular ornamental touch in such places, so that’s likely where you got yours.
Other photos show local citizens streaming in to visit the camp and bearing “lunches for the boys.” There also are views of troops marching back west to waiting trains at Union Station. In the front of the book, someone wrote “Remember the Maine” (the U.S. battleship sunk in an explosion in the harbor at Havana, Cuba), the rallying cry urging war against Spain. A historical marker about the camp is at the intersection of East Broad and Drexel Avenue.
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I heard there was a burial mound Downtown on Mound Street that was dismantled in the early 1800s to make bricks to construct the first Statehouse. Is there any truth to that?
Based on multiple accounts in local histories, this is true and is the reason for Mound Street’s name. Flat river valleys and adjacent highlands typical of Ohio topography provided ideal sites for the burial mounds and numerous other mainly ceremonial earthworks of the prehistoric groups known as the Hopewell culture.
There were many in the Columbus area; the one in question stood on a hill at what became Mound and High. It was described as about 40 feet high, a truncated cone with a flat top 100 feet across, and a base estimated at 300 feet wide. As Columbus grew in its early decades, a house was built on the flat top, surrounded by large, ancient trees. High Street looped around the mound, until crews digging from north and south cut a direct path through it to facilitate traffic.
After that, the mound’s clay covering was used to make bricks for the first Ohio Statehouse (built in 1814 and then burned in 1852 while the current one was nearing completion), while human bones were, in the words of one account, “scattered to the winds.” Another history noted that “expansion of the city demanded its demolition.”
Sources: Camp Bushnell historical marker; Bexley Historical Society website; commemorative photo book at Columbus Metropolitan Library; Columbus Dispatch articles from 1915 and 1991; Alfred E. Lee’s 1892 “History of Columbus, Ohio”; Columbus Metropolitan Library’s subject files and local history notebooks
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to email@example.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.