Hilliard slates Oct. 16 dedication for Merchant Park, named for first known Black settlers in community

Hilliard will dedicate the 9-acre Merchant Park on Oct. 16. The park was christened last year in honor of the first known Black family to own land and settle in what is now Hilliard in 1850, three years before the city was founded.

Hilliard will dedicate its newly named Merchant Park, 5467 Center St., during a ceremony from 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 16.

The park, which previously had no name, is at the trailhead of the Heritage Rail Trail and adjacent to the Makoy Center, 5462 Center St.

It was christened last year in honor of the first known Black family to own land and settle in what is now Hilliard in 1850, three years before the city was founded, according to Dawn Steele, a staff attorney for Hilliard.

The dedication will include an unveiling of a "peace pole," a work of art donated by the Rotary Club of Hilliard, live music performed by students in Hilliard City Schools music programs and, if completed, new signs designating Merchant Park, said Anna Subler, communications administrator for Hilliard.

Hilliard City Council approved the official name of Merchant Park on Aug. 24, 2020, following a recommendation from the administration.

The city purchased the land which includes the present-day park from Hilliard City Schools in 1996 but it was never given an official name, said David Ball, director of communications for Hilliard.

According to the authorizing ordinance to purchase the land, the acquisition was necessary for the construction of a retention pond needed for storm water management and associated with the construction of Darby High School and Heritage Middle School.

The city purchased the 9-acre tract from the district for $155,000, according to the ordinance.

City Manager Michelle Crandall initiated the effort to name the park shortly after becoming Hilliard’s first city manager in January 2020 as a result of a charger change from a strong-mayor form of government.

Crandall said she discovered the park did not have a name while speaking with the owner of the Makoy Center about improved way-finding from Main Street.

The city eventually decided to name it for a family who once lived nearby.

The 1850 U.S. Census listed Yammer and Tabitha Merchant, with their seven children, as a Black family living in Norwich Township, according to an administrative memorandum sent to City Council last year.

The Merchant family arrived from Virginia as part of a movement of previously enslaved persons who received freedom upon the death of slave owners. The Merchant family settled in what is present-day Brookfield Village, according to the city’s research.

"This event represents the culmination of a great partnership between the community and the Merchant family," said Ed Merritt, director of recreation and parks for Hilliard.

City officials identified descendants of the Merchant family living in central Ohio, including Evonne Grant, of Westerville, whose paternal great-great-grandparents were Yammer and Tabitha Merchant.

Grant told ThisWeek last year that she has researched her descendants and learned that while living in Norwich Township, the Merchants attended the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and a son of Yammer and Tabitha, John Merchant, was a pastor, she said.

“I have learned so much about my family (but) am still putting some of the pieces together,” Grant said.

Grant and about 20 other descendants of Yammer and Tabitha Merchant were invited to attend the Oct. 16 dedication, Subler said.

Last year, the city had planned a dedication for February 2021, in conjunction with Black History Month, but it was delayed because of the continuing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Subler said.

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