“It takes a village.” 1846: Westerville carpenter shops for clothes in Columbus; comes home with a college (Otterbein University).

PLEASE NOTE: The blog contains quite a few pictures so give it several minutes to download. They download haphazardly.

Otterbein University first opened its doors in Westerville on September 1, 1847. This blog retells the founding story with the intent of re-emphasizing the contributions of a Westerville village resident and a Pickaway County farm family. The discovery of some new information along the way was a bonus.

The Founding Story

Westerville, Ohio, was incorporated in 1858 (legal entity with a charter received from the state), but it was actually established in 1839. In that year, brothers Matthew and Peter Westervelt donated a portion of their land near the banks of Alum Creek for the establishment of Blendon Young Men’s Seminary, a preparatory school sponsored by the Methodist Episcopal Church. To support the school, the land next to it was platted (divided) into lots to be sold for housing thus creating a village. Local carpenter Randall Russell Arnold, credited by historians with building the first frame dwelling in the area, was tapped by Matthew Westervelt to perform this task. A post office was soon desired. Arnold took on this task as well and sought the assistance of his friend “Dr. Vance”, postmaster of nearby Galena, where Randall had previously lived. The petition for a post office required a name for the location and together they selected Westerville in recognition of Matthew, Peter, and third brother William Westervelt. The petition was accepted and in 1840 Westerville had a post office.

Blendon Young Men’s Seminary struggled almost from the start. The Methodists soon turned their attention toward establishing a college just eighteen miles away in Delaware, and Ohio Wesleyan opened there in 1842. The competition for students was just too great and Blendon folded in 1844. The campus consisted of two buildings: a three-story brick dormitory and a frame building containing a chapel, library and three recitation rooms. Twelve trustees (Randall Arnold included) who held the title to the property were now responsible for its debt of $1300.

In the fall of 1846, Randall Arnold rode his horse twenty miles to a downtown Columbus clothing store. There he overheard two men discussing the need for the United Brethren Church in Christ to open its very first college to keep pace with other denominations that were already well underway in this endeavor. History sources indicate it was owned by Harvey Coit though none of the sources identified a store location. Fortunately, The Columbus Dispatch has been digitized. A search led to an advertisement with a street address. Additional online resources of old town maps, photographs and just basic Googling of key words identified a building on South High Street. In 1851, in this same large building, Simon Lazarus opened what became known as the F & R Lazarus Company. Thus, a fun find…a building of great significance to Central Ohio history though it no longer stands. Lazarus would eventually outgrow this space and build what became a mammoth flagship department store on the opposite corner same side of the street.

Arnold raced back to Westerville and rallied leading citizens to discuss what he had overheard. Matthew Westervelt and Dr. George W.H. Landon were appointed to attend a meeting of the Scioto Conference of the United Brethren Church in Christ at Bethlehem Church near Ashville in Pickaway County. There they presented their proposal to sell the Blendon campus for $1300. Circleville or Dayton had previously been established by the Church as the preferred choice for location of a college. When representatives of the Church came to Westerville on an inspection tour, the offer was immediately accepted. A purchasing team consisting of Reverend Lewis Davis, Jonathan Dresbach and William Hanby completed the transaction. They also became the first trustees and held their founding meeting in Westerville on April 26, 1847. Otterbein was selected as the name in honor of United Brethren Church founder Philip William Otterbein. It opened the following September 1 as an academy with a principal. Eight students were there that first day, but by year’s end enrollment had reached 52 men and 29 women. At that time only one other institution in the United States, Oberlin College, was open to women. Otterbein’s being second-in-the-nation to admit women is still a proudly published fact.

Randall Rice Arnold of Westerville

As significant as Randall Arnold was to the establishment of Westerville and Otterbein University, his contribution to this history has left the public eye. Randall passed away in 1898 at age 92 and was buried, per his obituary, at Jameson Cemetery (now called Pioneer Cemetery) on Westerville’s south side. His grave is likely beside the graves of his first wife and son who have gravestones; Randall has none and the cemetery roster is missing his name. A mystery yet to be solved…he passed away in the house of his daughter and son-in-law, John Henry and Ida Arnold Evans, on Vine Street. That house remains unidentified.

The only permanent tribute to Randall Arnold is an alley named after him that runs off North Vine Street between East Broadway and Logan Avenues. The City of Westerville’s website lists the Uptown alleys/namesakes and states the following: “Since alley names did not appear in Council legislation before 1966, it is believed the naming convention is related to the 100th anniversary of the City in 1958, the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War in 1960, and/or the event of the Village of Westerville becoming the City of Westerville in 1964.” It sounds like that recognition of 62 years ago was without much fanfare, and it’s doubtful anyone looking up at the Arnold Alley sign today knows who Arnold is.

Randall Rice Arnold’s years in Westerville (1825-1898) include:

  • Built the first frame house in the village.
  • Surveyed and platted Westerville in 1839.
  • Was a founding trustee of Blendon Young Men’s Seminary in 1839 and one of twelve men who financed and held title to the property.
  • Successfully co-petitioned the U.S. Postmaster General to establish a post office for Westerville in 1840.
  • Co-creator of the name Westerville for the village. Unfortunately, there is no record of his co-petitioner/co-creator friend “Dr. Vance” as confirmed by historical societies in Delaware County, local cemeteries, the U.S. Postal Service and other sources.
  • In the fall of 1846 in Columbus overheard two men at a Columbus clothing store discussing the need for a denominational institution of higher education to keep pace with other church denominations. Returns home, inspires key citizens…and Otterbein University is established in Westerville as a result.
  • Recruited a local militia company during the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.
  • Was a Justice of the Peace for over 50 of his 92 years and thus was referred to as Squire Arnold in recorded history (squire being a term, years ago, given to a justice of the peace).
  • Was one of a committee of five who petitioned to have Westerville incorporated in 1858. Professor John Haywood was named first mayor in 1858. In his article Early History of Westerville that appeared in the June 1897 issue of the Otterbein Aegis, he referred to Randall Arnold as “a leading citizen of Westerville.”
  • Served six years as mayor from 1860 to 1866.
  • Wrote extensively about the history of townships surrounding Westerville. These lengthy handwritten histories are archived at the Westerville History Museum. In his book Our Ancestors of the Westerville Area: A Genealogical History, Otterbein Professor Harold Hancock provided the following recollection of a village resident. “He was possessed of an unusual degree of intelligence and was a contributor to the newspapers. He gathered up many facts connected with the early settlement of Ohio and wrote a most interesting series of articles about pioneer life in the state.”

The Glenn and Dolly Hay Family of Pickaway County

Bethlehem Church, site of Otterbein’s founding, was a frame structure constructed in 1840 and was in use until 1880. At closure, possession changed hands to the township trustees who had no use for the building. The adjacent cemetery was relocated and the former Bethlehem Church was sold to Edson Marberger for $16, the cost of the relocation. Sold again, new owners Glenn and Dolly Hay used the old church as a farm implement shed until razing it.

As part of its 100th anniversary celebration in 1947, the Otterbein and the Southeastern Conference of the United Brethren Church proposed acquiring the old church site and placing a marker (boulder with a bronze plaque) as the centerpiece of a small roadside park. The Hays agreed to this, and the transaction was completed at the courthouse in Circleville. At some point, maintenance became an issue and the land was returned to the Hay family. In 2022, the year of this blog, Otterbein is again celebrating…this time its 175th year. There is another milestone that should be celebrated this year as well. For 75 of these 175 years, this lonely boulder along a rural country road in Pickaway County has been under the watchful eye of the same farm family who today, at their own expense, maintain the manicured expanse of lawn upon which it rests. Four grandchildren of Glenn and Dolly Hay agreed to meet for a picture this past June, and it appears in the photo section below. A big surprise was that one of these grandchildren is a 1975 graduate of Otterbein!

Thoughts…can we do better?

There is a timeline of Otterbein University history displayed on the third floor of Roush Hall. The unique founding needs recognized in this history display: the clothing store conversation and the role of RR Arnold, Bethlehem Church, the Hay family and the boulder marker. There’s room for another history panel in the third-floor hallway.  There’s room for a second marker, too…this one at Jameson/Pioneer Cemetery. Perhaps a few local historians and perhaps a homeowner or two whose houses touch Arnold Alley know who Randall Arnold was, but that’s likely it. Randall’s resume speaks for itself.

I would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance in contributing to this blog: Stephen Grinch, Otterbein University Archivist; the grandchildren of Glenn and Dolly Hay (Joy Hay Hoover, Kay Hay, Larry Hay, Kathy Beers Studebaker); Bob Hines, Ohio’s Small Town Museum, Ashville; Darlene Weaver, Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library.

Published 7/23/2022. Don Foster, Otterbein Class of 1973. donfoster73@gmail.com

Store where RR Arnold overheard conversation about establishing a college in Circleville or Dayton. This advertisement in The Columbus Dispatch of 6/9/1881 reveals the previously unknown location of 141 South High Street, Columbus.
Sanborn Fire Insurance map shows Coit’s clothing store business #141 is one of several in the Parsons Building footprint above.
In 1851, Simon Lazarus opens a store in a portion of the same Parsons Building housing Coit’s clothing business. Eventually Lazarus takes over the entire building.
(The addresses are renumbered at some point.)
The Parsons Building no longer stands. Photo credit: Columbus Metropolitan Library.
In 1909 Lazarus opened in a new building just to the north of its original location. This nighttime view has particular meaning for me. Hall’s (lighted sign above) had a model train shop in the basement. I bought a used Lionel switcher there for $5 the day after Thanksgiving sometime in the early 1960’s. It was the favorite in my collection (below). And Lazarus kept the front doors open with overhead heat blasting down. Was fun to just stand there and enjoy that. 🙂
Photo credit: Facebook.
The new Lazarus.
Bethlehem Church, Walnut Township, Pickaway County. Here in 1846 an offer was made to sell Blendon Young Men’s Seminary to the United Brethren Church in Christ. This is the only known picture to exist, and it’s how the building looked after it became a farm storage shed.
Photo credit: Otterbein University Archives.
Blendon Young Men’s Seminary as it appeared at the time of its purchase for $1300. The building on the left was a chapel and recitation rooms. The building on the right was a men’s dormitory. Roush Hall and Towers Hall occupy this area today.
This picture is of fabric composition and part of the Otterbein University Archives.
Pictured above picture and below are the first generation of commercial buildings on State Street in Westerville. Photos credit: Westerville History Museum.
None of the structures in the above four pictures still stand except for the building second from right that was constructed in 1863. Today it houses Morgan’s Treasure on the NW corner of State and Main. Interesting sidenote: The second floor of this building is vacant space, but per an advertisement in The Otterbein Dial of 2/1876, it was a dental office occupied by Dr. Isaac Newton Custer. Custer’s mother died when Isaac was 3 at which time his aunt took him into her New Rumley, Ohio home. He and his cousin George were playmates in their childhood years. George, in adulthood, was famed Indian fighter General George Armstrong Custer of “Custer’s Last Stand.”
Otterbein Towers, New Year’s issue 1947.
Otterbein Towers, New Year’s issue 1948.
Otterbein Towers, Winter 1997.
Tan and Cardinal Otterbein student newspaper, 11/17/2005.
The grandchildren of Glen and Dolly Hay who carry on 75 years of maintaining the land on which this boulder marking Otterbein’s founding rests. L to R: Kathy Beers Studebaker (daughter of Eloise who was the daughter of Glen and Dolly) ; Kay Hay and Joy Hay Hoover (daughters of Dorwin who was the son on Glen and Dolly); Larry Hay, Otterbein Class of 1975 (son of Jay who was the son of Glen and Dolly). Photo credit: me.
The boulder is across the street from the nearby Hay family barn. About an hour from Westerville. From Route 23 in South Bloomfield, take Route 752 east about 8 miles or so. Turn right onto Ringgold Northern Road. At the first crossroad (about a mile or so), turn right onto South Bloomfield Royalton Road. The boulder is about 1/4 mile on the right.
Recent publicity!! Author Dr. Bob Hines on behalf of the Pickaway County Historical Society located in Circleville and Ohio’s Small Town Museum located in Ashville.


Westerville Public Opinion 5/16/1907. Randall remarried after his wife passed away. Lucretia Ingalls Wilder was related to Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House on the Prairie fame.
Olde Methodist Cemetery is on the doorstep of the Otterbein campus which is in the background of the above picture.
Matthew Westervelt, brother of Peter and William. Green Lawn Cemetery, Columbus. Randall Arnold and Dr. Vance named Westerville after these men.
Forest Hill Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri. Photo credit: Find-a-Grave. Dr. Landon and Matthew Westervelt went to Bethlehem Church in the fall of 1846 and made the sales pitch of Blendon Young Men’s Seminary for $1300. Per family folklore, Dr. Landon died during the Civil War.
Jonathan Dresbach, one of the three Otterbein founders. Photo credit: Find-a-Grave.
Dresbach Cemetery, Tarlton Road SW, Stoutsville, Ohio.
Photo credit: Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library.
Rev. Lewis Davis, one of the three Otterbein founders. Photo credit: will add when I remember.
Rev. Davis house at the corner of West College Avenue and South Grove Street on the Otterbein campus. It was replaced by the Carnegie Library which today houses the Office of Admission. Davis was an abolitionist, and the attic of this house was a safe stop on the Underground Railroad. Photo credit: Otterbein University Archives.
William Hanby, one of the three Otterbein founders. Photo credit: Otterbein University Archives.
Bishop Hanby’s house was next door to Rev. Davis’ house. Hanby was also an abolitionist, and the barn in back was a safe stop on the Underground Railroad. The house fell on hard times. It was moved twice and fortunately restored. First United Brethren Church was built on its former site and was considered the church of Otterbein University. Today, after mergers, it is Church of the Master United Methodist. Photo credit: Westerville History Museum.
The Hanby House is recognized on this plaque to be attached to the Church in mid-2023.
160 West Main Street, Westerville. Adjacent to the Otterbein campus.
Hanby family gravesite. Otterbein Cemetery, West Walnut Street, at the southern edge of the Otterbein campus.
At the time Randall Arnold overheard the two men talking at the Coit clothing store about the need to start a college, Harvey Coit, Jr. was the owner. Per the above article in The Columbus Dispatch 2/18/1880, the business changed hands to his son below.
Obituary of Harvey Coit: The Newark Advocate 8/9/1902. Unable to locate a picture of Mr. Coit.
Isabelle Coit married Frank Clarence Kelton whose parents abolitionist story is described on the marker below. Eventually this house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad became the residence of Isabelle and Frank. Not too long ago, a PBS special on Central Ohio’s role in the UGRR featured two houses…Kelton and Hanby.
Farm home of Glenn and Dolly Hay across the road from the Otterbein boulder.
The basement of this house was a safe stop on the Underground Railroad.
It’s likely parishioners of Bethlehem Church were sympathetic to the UGRR movement.
This blog having all these Underground Railroad connections was a surprise!!
Randall Rice Arnold. Photo credit: Find-a-Grave.
Westerville Public Opinion 10/13/1898.
Per Randall’s obituary above, he was buried at Jameson Cemetery which was established in 1817 in Westerville. The cemetery was named for Robert Jameson who donated a portion of his land for it as well as a portion for the first school in the Westerville vicinity. The cemetery name was later changed to Pioneer. Eventually ownership and maintenance passed to the City of Westerville.
It’s easy to miss this cemetery.
Located in a high traffic area of South State Street at I-270 across from Bob Evans.
Unfortunately, there is no gravestone for Randall Rice Arnold nor is his name listed among recorded Pioneer Cemetery burials posted on the City’s website.
Mary Baldwin Arnold, Randall’s first wife.
Randall’s grave is likely in this plot.
The Weyant Block which today is occupied by the Old Bag of Nails Pub in Uptown Westerville once had an opera house. Tragically, there was a fire during a performance of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in May of 1886. A gasoline stagelight was accidentally knocked to the floor by one of the players. Thirty-five people were injured and two children lost their lives. One of those children,
Harry J. Evans, was the son of Ida Arnold Evans and the grandson of Randall. His gravestone above is next to those of Mary Baldwin Arnold and Henry Harrison Arnold.
There is a lasting remembrance of Randall Rice Arnold, but a marker of some kind at Pioneer Cemetery would put an exclamation point on his contributions to Westerville.
The history of Otterbein University is told on a series of panels lining two hallways in Roush Hall. The very beginning needs tweaked to include the founding at Bethlehem Church in Pickaway County, the commemorative boulder marking that spot, and Randall Rice Arnold whose initiative brought Otterbein University to Westerville.


  1. Sara Elberfeld Deever says:

    Ah, Don Foster, you’ve done it again – written an excellent informative well-documented illustrated article on Westerville and Otterbein history. Many thanks. Sara Elberfeld Deever


  2. Janet Flagler says:

    Great blog! So nice that Randall Arnold finally got credit where due! Also the Hay family! Have they read your blog yet? They will be honored to receive the recognition. What a coincidence that one is an Otterbein grad. How many other streets and alleys in Westerville are named after important people that we know nothing about? Maybe a future blog? Keep up the excellent history lessons, always good to find out more lost stories of Westerville’s past!

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Janet!! I may do a blog on the alley names eventually.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. colleenkasson says:

    I love the idea of a blog on the alley names as well. You already have identified 2 of them, Arnold Alley and Karg Alley. Another excellent blog!


    1. And you suggested the alley blog!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s