When Was Westerville, OH Founded?

The History of Westerville + The City’s Best Perks!

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413 N. State Street Westerville, Ohio 43082
(614) 891-7400
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Matt Lyons


Jan 21, 2021

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Main Image Courtesy of the City of Westerville.

The Dynamic History of Westerville

Westerville has been characterized as a city of “Heritage, pride, and growth.” The Westerville land we know of today was originally settled by those of European ancestry sometime around 1810. Settlers of Dutch extraction, Matthew, Peter, and William Westervelt, soon migrated to the area in 1818 from New York. 

The land was first donated for the construction of a Methodist church, and in 1839 the Blendon Young Men’s Seminary was chartered in the area. Around 1847 the seminary was reformed, and became named the Otterbein College, which we know today as Otterbein University. The school was named after Phillip William Otterbein, the founder of The Church of the United Brethren in Christ. Westerville was first incorporated as a city in August of 1858 after initially being platted by 1856. 

Alcohol Prohibition 

In the late 1850s, some Westerville residents began to rally together for opposition regarding the sales and consumption of alcohol in the city. Town voters were soon able to pass a law that banned all sales of “fermented spirits,” with Westerville being one of the only communities in Ohio to do so. However, this law didn’t go over well with many Westerville residents. In 1875, a local saloon keeper by the name of Henry Corbin tried to restart his business, but was met with angry citizens staging protests outside of his establishment. Eventually, his business was blown up by gunpowder! These series of events became known in history as the “Whiskey War”. 

Anti-Saloon League + Dry Capital of the World

First formed in 1893, the Anti-Saloon League was one of the major forces in American politics. The league influenced U.S. policy  primarily through lobbying, which eventually turned into a moral crusade against the manufacturing, sales, and consumption of alcohol. 

The Anti-Saloon League’s motto was "The Saloon Must Go.” The organization worked to unify public anti-alcohol sentiment, enforcing both existing temperance laws and enacting further anti-alcohol legislation. The League had initially appealed to local churches to carry its message to citizens, but once they had established more of a following, the League leaders focused on getting individual politicians elected who would support the cause.

The League became aware of Westerville’s reputation for temperance, and even decided to move the headquarters from Washington D.C. to Westerville. They produced tons of mail each month, which mostly consisted of leaflets that were in support of the temperance and prohibition. This led the city of Westerville to become considered as the “Dry Capital of the World.”

A newspaper article that was endorsed by the Anti-Saloon League
A newspaper article that was endorsed by the Anti-Saloon League to spread the promotion of temperance. Image courtesy of the Westerville Public Library.

In the 1930s, the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed. This Amendment had banned the manufacture and sales of liquor, so it was time for celebration for many of the Westerville residents! However, Westerville still remained dry for most of the 20th century even after the prohibition was repealed. 

Westerville in the 20th Century

Many areas of the country were heavily affected during the time of the Great Depression, but Westerville managed to stay afloat pretty well and continue to grow. The Kilgore Manufacturing Company was one of the most significant businesses in Westerville during the 1920s. The company employed more than 175 people and was one of the world’s largest producers of play guns. Kilgore still managed to thrive throughout World War II, by shifting its manufacturing efforts to war supplies. This included grenades, flares, and landmines. The growth after World War II led Westerville to officially become a city in the year of 1960.

Top Historical Sites in Westerville 

Check out some of the best historical sites in Westerville to get an inside look at some of the history in the city throughout decades!

Anti-Saloon League Museum

Interested in learning more about the Prohibition era and the efforts of the Anti-Saloon League? You must visit the Anti-Saloon League Museum! The museum is located in a historic building that is directly attached to the museum. The museum can be accessed through the main entrance of the library, the pick-up window in the mallway, and also the State Street doors. 

When visiting the museum, you get the opportunity to look at some intriguing exhibits, access some interesting physical collections, as well as tours and presentations for groups. Walk-in visitors can come visit the museum during any of the regular operating hours, while the tours, presentations, research appointments, and digital collection access is available only upon request. Museum hours include 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.on Monday through Saturday, yet closed between the hours of 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. on Saturday. 

Westerville History Museum

To get more of a glimpse into the history of Westerville, visit the Westerville History Museum! This museum will allow you to get access to the past through historical collections and learning experiences. Both of these will help to deepen your understanding of Westerville and how the city came to be.

Check out some of the current exhibits happening at the museum:

  • Accidental History, Photos of Westerville: With this exhibit you’ll get to relive moments from the past 100 years in this collection of photographs covering all different aspects of daily life. 
  • Breaking the Ice, Trailblazing Women of Westerville: Westerville often served as the focal point of many pioneering efforts, which were oftentimes launched into the wider world. The Westerville women featured in this exhibit were able to transform their communities with some very impressive accomplishments.
  • Welcome to the Table, Westerville’s Potluck: In this exhibit you will get the chance to discover the culinary culture of Westerville in an immersive experience. You will get to take a look at practices and values that have surrounded food and drink, and delve into the food traditions that have resulted from the growth of the city over the span of almost 70 years.
A look inside the exhibit “Welcome to the Table: Westerville’s Potluck"
A look inside the exhibit “Welcome to the Table: Westerville’s Potluck.” Image courtesy of the Westerville Library.

Other Westerville Attractions

Along with some great historical sites, check out these attractions in Westerville that might just pique your interest!

The Frank Museum of Art

The Frank Museum of Art in Westerville includes Otterbein University’s collection of art from Africa, Japan, and New Guinea. You can find the museum in the former “church house” of Lillian Frank who taught at Otterbein for 29 years in areas such as art and theology.

Notable strengths of the art collection include:

  • Pottery from Africa and New Guinea
  • 19th century Japanese woodcut prints
  • African textiles and sculpture

Hours of the museum include 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. during the academic year. The museum is used for a variety of programming including rotating exhibits, lectures, recitals, and special educational programs for area schools, arts organizations, and civic groups.

The Hanby House

The Hanby House is a historical home that is filled with preserved furniture and antiques to give visitors the best representation of the past as possible. All items in the house are derived from the Hanby family, including Benjamin Hanby. Benjamin Hanby was a minister, abolitionist, student, teacher, and musician who was born in 1833. 

Benjamin Hanby composed over 80 songs throughout his career. Among his most popular and best-known are Up on the Housetop, Darling Nelly Gray and Who is He in Yonder Stall. Hanby died of tuberculosis in 1867 at the age of 33 and is buried in the Otterbein Cemetery of Westerville. Hanby’s father, William Hanby, also had a key role in establishing the local Otterbein University.

A look inside the Hanby House with some furniture, paintings, and a piano
Schedule your tour for the Hanby House today and get a look at some of the furniture/antiques used in the past! Image courtesy of beesfirstappearance.

Tours of the Hanby House are available by appointment only. You can contact WHSpres@westervillehistory.org to schedule, or call 614-891-6289 at least one week in advance. 

Overall, Westerville is a town of some pretty interesting history. Plan a day to visit and check a local museum!

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