Fond memories of Westerville restaurants, shops, events, homes and people of days gone by are just a click away.
More than 300 historical photos, many of them black-and-white, have been posted on the Westerville History Facebook page – www.facebook.com/westervillehistory – since it was created in April 2011. The page is maintained by the Westerville Public Library’s Local History Center, and the photos all come from its extensive archives.
The Local History Center in the basement of the library opened in 1989, collecting photographs, restaurant menus, correspondence, diaries, family trees, manufactured items and more. Many items relate to the major milestones in the city’s history – the Westerville Whiskey Wars, the Anti-Saloon League, its role in the Underground Railroad – but there are plenty of smaller items to jog memories and show the city’s evolution.
Some of the material dates to Blendon Woods pioneers who settled in what would become Westerville in 1806. Other items include 1910 high school yearbooks and a wooden scooter called the “Go Cycle” that is similar to the more modern scooters.
The biggest part of the archives, though, is the photograph collection – the center has more than 6,000 on hand. And among the most popular pictures posted on the Facebook page are shots of old restaurants. A photo of, for instance, William’s Grill on State Street draws volumes of comments.
“(William’s) was a huge restaurant back then,” says Beth Weinhardt, the local history coordinator. “When people went to OSU games and the Ohio State Fair on the 3-C Highway, people would always go to William’s Grill. We have pictures of the one of the owners cutting ice from the river to make ice cream for a neighbor behind the current Graeter’s Ice Cream building.”
One of the most commented-on photographs on the page is a black-and-white 1981 shot of Sister’s Chicken and Biscuits, a central Ohio restaurant chain that was in business from 1979 to 1987. Westerville’s was located at 428 S. State St.; the site is now a CME Federal Credit Union. The shot has racked up 1,800 likes, 625 comments and 18 shares.
The Facebook page is intended to continue the center’s mission of making the community more aware of its past. Instead of having to come to the library for a history lesson, the lesson comes to the reader.
“It was a good way to promote the library’s photographs,” says library local history associate Nina Thomas, who is responsible for the page.
The photographs have certainly sparked viewers’ interest in history. In one instance, Thomas says, a scan of a map showing interurban rail tracks running the length of State Street stirred some curiosity.
“Many people were unaware that Westerville had a trolley, and came to see additional maps, photographs and information,” she says.
Interest in the page goes beyond the borders of Westerville – it has had visitors from 20 different countries, from Mexico to Germany. And it’s started a lot of interesting conversations.
“I’m kind of surprised how many people talk on our page,” Thomas says. “There are people that have moved away. ... There are people who are tagging themselves in old pictures.”
Contributions from community members past and present have made for some fascinating lessons, Thomas says.
“We have a diary from someone’s grandmother who, when they saw it, had not even been aware their grandmother had kept a diary,” Thomas says. “They were rather excited to see it preserved.”
The library is on the lookout for more historical photos to add to its collection and, someday, post on the Facebook page; updates are gradual. Though the center buys some photos at estate sales, most are donated by residents who want others to be able to look at them.
“One woman brought in a suitcase of photographs she found in her basement and said she had no idea who those people were,” Thomas says. “Turns out, they were prominent Westerville families, and (we found) she was indeed related to some of them after we did some extensive genealogical research.”
Amanda King is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.