Thanks to the work of a group of Upper Arlington High School students, the Ohio History Connection has awarded an official historical marker recognizing the contributions of Pleasant Litchford and the historical significance of the Litchford family cemetery site, adjacent to the current Upper Arlington High School building.
In the spring, teacher Marlene Orloff and her students helped research and write the statement of significance, making the case for a marker honoring Litchford, a master blacksmith who had been enslaved in Virginia, bought his own freedom and settled in the area that is now Upper Arlington, where he became a successful businessman. He purchased the land that is now home to the high school as well as Northam Park and Tremont Elementary School. Mr. Litchford had many contributions to the area in the 1800s, including establishing a school for African-American children and being a founding member of the historic Second Baptist Church, which provided an important voice in the anti-slavery movement.
“This was a great example of project-based learning for our students,” said Chief Academic Officer Keith Pomeroy. “Not only did they learn about an important part of our local history, but they took steps to help ensure that Pleasant Litchford’s story would be shared for generations to come.”
In the 1950s, the school district appropriated the piece of land that was home to the Litchford family cemetery in order to construct the high school building that opened in 1956. Twenty-eight bodies were removed from the site, and most were reinterred in an unmarked mass grave at Union Cemetery.
Archaeological investigations in 2020 and 2021 revealed that the exhumations were incomplete. Archaeological teams found one fully intact grave with a complete set of remains and three partially exhumed graves.
Descendants of the Litchford family are working with the district, the city and the UA Historical Society to ensure that the former cemetery site will serve as a memorial to those once laid to rest there and a place of reflection and remembrance for the community. Family members are also collaborating on the creation of informational signage that will pair with the state marker to share the Litchford story.