Historical Overview/Survey of Hilliard

Published 1986

The City of Hilliard was platted in 1853 by John Reed Hilliard, a resident of Piqua, who had purchased two (2) tracts of land in Norwich Township outside of Columbus for development. Originally called “Hilliard’s Station,” the village was established to take advantage of the new Columbus, Piqua and Indiana Railroad which was planned to pass through this site from Columbus to points west. Hilliard laid out 200 lots in a grid system parallel to the railroad, which traversed the land in a northwest-southeast direction.

The economy of Hilliard was dependent in its early years upon the extensive farming which took place on lands surrounding the Village. The Village’s close proximity to Columbus (10 miles) and the presence of the railroad brought some larger-scale commercial and industrial development to Hilliard. However, the community retained a predominantly rural character for nearly 100 years. Among the earliest commercial or industrial uses in the Village were a warehouse (undoubtedly to serve railroad business) built by John Hilliard in 1853 and a steam saw mill built by Ralston and Kirkpatrick in 1854. Late 19th century development included the establishment of a creamery which was erected on Columbia Street in 1892.

Development of the residential lots in Hilliard was not rapid, but appears to have been steady as the Village developed into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1869, Hilliard was incorporated as a village and boasted a population of 280, an increase of about 200 from 1860. The majority of the residents were probably engaged in farming, while others worked in the schools, churches, trades, or commercial businesses established in the community. The earliest dwellings were generally modest in scale, located on small lots and built of frame. By 1872, the greatest concentration of houses was located on Main and Center Streets, with a scattering on the side streets of Norwich, Wayne and Columbia.

Laid out perpendicular to the railroad, Main Street was established from an early date as the primary thoroughfare in the community. The 1872 Atlas of Hilliard shows Main Street as the location of the Union School, two (2) community churches, a hotel, and several commercial buildings, along with a number of dwellings. The location of a hotel near the railroad was designed to accommodate salesmen and other passengers traveling through Hilliard. Commercial buildings were frequently constructed to house businesses on the ground floor and halls for the use of fraternal organizations on the upper story. A one-story commercial building built prior to 1872 and owned by John Westerweller was converted to a two-story commercial structure by the 1oca1 chapter of Masons which used the upper floor as a masonic hall. Two (2) of Main Street's most important 19th century commercial buildings, the Winterringer Building (c. 1870) and the Odd Fellows Hall (1883), both accommodated fraternal organizations on the upper floors.

The corner of Main and Madison Streets has served as the location for buildings of the Hilliard School District (Norwich Township Public Schools after 1904) since the 19th century. Two (2) buildings housing the Union School were replaced in 1878 by the four-room Consolidated School which remains standing at this location today. This school was used until 1918 for educational purposes, then was purchased by the Masons for conversion to a headquarters building, a use which continues today.

Religious development in Hilliard was accommodated by John Hilliard, who set aside two (2) lots on the northeast corner of Main and Norwich Streets for the location of a church. These lots were sold at a nominal cost to the Methodist Church, the first organized congregation in Hilliard, for construction of a church building. A frame building was constructed in 1855, and was replaced by the present brick church structure in 1883. This building served the Methodist congregation until 1957 when a new church was constructed outside of the Old Hilliard area. In addition to' the Methodist Church, which was the dominant denomination in Hilliard, a Christian Disciple Church was constructed further to the northeast on Main Street in about 1865.

Hilliard remained essentially rural in character but continued to advance socially and economically during the early 20th century. The Village's first banking institution was formed in 1903 as the Merchants and Farmers Bank and located in the Westerweller Building on Main Street. The present bank building at the corner of Main and Norwich Streets, built in 1914, continues to house banking operations for Chase Bank, which purchased the local bank in 1963. The first local utility in Hilliard was established in 1915 with the incorporation of the Hilliard Power and Light Company, although its capacity was somewhat limited.

The early 20th century also brought the relocation of the Fishinger Flour Mill to Hilliard around 1915, the establishment of a lumber company adjacent to the railroad in 1916, and the construction of a grain elevator by Riddle and Wood near the railroad in 1917. A coal company was also located in Hilliard at this time. The railroad, now operated by the Panhandle Railroad, continued in active use for both passengers and freight, with two (2) round trips each day to Columbus and points west. The 1890s depot, originally located on Center Street, accommodated passengers until 1944 and freight until 1962 when it was abandoned by the railroad. The depot was then relocated to Weaver Park by the Northwest Franklin County Historical Society.

Recreational opportunities in Hilliard were enhanced during the early 1900s by the addition of another fraternal building, the Redman's Hall, on Main Street in 1915, the construction of the Hilliard Auditorium adjacent to the Winterringer Building in 1916, and the establishment of the Franklin County Fair on adjacent land in 1819. Residents also frequently traveled into Columbus at this time, either by rail or by "hack" (auto bus) with a connection to the inter-urban streetcar line.

Residential development kept pace with the growth of the community during this period, as houses were constructed throughout the Hilliard area. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, housing was built along the primary village streets of Main, Norwich, Columbia, Wayne, North, and Franklin, filling in vacant lots. Between 1900 and the 1920s a concentration of residential development along Norwich Street from Columbia to Hilliard-Cemetery Road occurred. Later development consisted primarily of post-World War II housing constructed in previously undeveloped areas of the village.

The slow, but steady growth of Hilliard over a 100 ­year period was dramatically changed during the 1950s and 60s when an aggressive policy of annexation increased the City's size tremendously. In 1950, Hilliard was still a village, with a population of only 610. Ten (10) years later, the population of Hilliard had increased to 5,633, enabling the community to be designated a city. By late 1967, Hilliard had more than doubled its 1960 land area through annexation.