For several years during my childhood, my extended family spent a December Saturday in a school cafeteria near my Aunt Kathleen’s house in Circleville, Ohio. Hanging out with cousins, a potluck meal, and gift exchange–this annual event brought together my mom’s nine siblings and their families.
So even though I never lived in Circleville, which is located along the Scioto River in Pickaway County, the town is part of my family’s heritage. (It’s also famous for its annual Pumpkin Show.)
But it was just this week that I learned something about Circleville that made me wish I had paid more attention to it’s history as I was growing up.
In 1810, the town’s founders decided to build on the remains of an ancient Hopewell earthwork or mound. Since this mound was circular, the town’s streets were also laid out in a circle. This circle, which measured 1100 feet in diameter, adjoined a 900-foot square.
About a quarter of a century later, the townsfolk asked the Ohio General Assembly to replace the circle with a more typical grid because they had grown dissatisfied with the odd-shaped lots and curving streets. This renovation was one of the first of its kind, if not the first, in our country’s young history.
It took another twenty years for the project, overseen by the Circleville Squaring Company, to be completed. I’ve read that a few older buildings with curved walls still stand but I’ve also read that all of the original buildings were destroyed. The Hopewell mound, though, is gone.
To me, Circleville has always been a place where I once celebrated Christmas with my aunts, uncles, and cousins in the school cafeteria. I still have family there–second, third, and probably fourth cousins I only know as names on distant branches of our family tree.
But it’s also a town with a unique founding story. The next time I’m anywhere near Pickaway County, I want to stop in there again.
And if I see a curved building, I’ll know I’m standing where an ancient culture once thrived.
[Photo Credits: Circleville 1836 photo is in public domain. Pumpkin tower photo has a Creative Commons license.]