Upper Arlington City Schools News Article

August 22 update on archaeological work on Litchford cemetery site at UAHS

AUGUST 22, 2020 — An archaeological crew will be continuing their delicate work today to thoroughly investigate the site of the Litchford family cemetery in an area adjacent to the current high school.  

When the current high school was developed in the 1950s, about 30 bodies were exhumed from the Litchford Cemetery and moved to other cemeteries.  The district’s goal is to identify if any graves still remain and if any artifacts, such as headstones, from this important time in our history can be found.

In late July, the crew pulled back the asphalt and top layers of soil in an area of the parking lot adjacent to the existing building in order to learn more about a cemetery that once served as a final resting place for the family and friends of Pleasant Litchford. 

This week, the archaeological team returned to the site and has been excavating an adjacent area. The team has uncovered several soil anomalies that could be grave shafts. On Friday, August 21, the archaeological team uncovered a fully intact grave with a complete set of remains just northeast of the science wing. They also investigated several other grave sites, including one that had been completely exhumed in the 1950s and two that were partially exhumed at that time.

Superintendent Paul Imhoff, Ed.D., wrote in an email to Upper Arlington Schools families on Friday evening:

While we certainly knew finding human remains was a possibility, it has been a day of reflection for everyone involved. The cemetery and the people who were laid to rest there are an important part of our community’s history, and we are committed to honoring that history.

Work will continue at the site tomorrow.  We are thankful for our archaeological team’s expertise and compassion as they continue this delicate and important work.  

We will partner with Mr. Litchford’s descendants and families who may have had ancestors buried at the site to properly honor those individuals and commemorate the history of the site. 

We will also continue to expand our curriculum to teach the full history of our community. We hope to have students, staff and community members join us as we work to create a memorial and find ways to continue to share this important part of our history.

Mr. Litchford was a master blacksmith who had been enslaved in Virginia.  After buying his own freedom and settling in the area that is now Upper Arlington, he built a successful business and purchased the land that is now home to the high school as well as Northam Park and Tremont Elementary School.  Among his many contributions to the area were 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.

More information on the Litchford family is available in the book Secrets Under the Parking Lot by Diane Kelly Runyon and Kim Shoemaker Starr; the Upper Arlington Historical Society website, www.uahistory.org; and the Columbus Neighborhoods website, https://columbusneighborhoods.org.

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