Stories Behind The Buckeye State
Tuesday November 21st 2017

How Streets Got Named – Refugee Road

Refugee Road

One of the things we often take for granted is the history that is right in front of us. Believe it or not a drive down the road and can be a history lesson. Just take a look at the street signs for clues to the area’s history. Sometimes the names are boring numbers or ubiquitous ‘Main’ or ‘Broad’ streets but important locations and founding families are often the source. But what about Refugee Road? Refugees in Ohio? What kind of Refugees?

Refugee Road(s)

Refugee Road is something of an oddity in the fact that it is not one but two roads that run parallel to one another. The first starts near US 23 on the south east side of Columbus and runs about 25 miles east into Fairfield county until it dead ends into Buckeye Lake. The second Refugee Road starts just east of Reynoldsburg and runs for about 14 miles until it reaches Hebron in Licking county. The distance between the two is about four and half miles on the dot and if that seems like a coincidence, it isn’t. So why are there two roads with the same name that run parallel?

The War for American Independence

To find the answers to the questions above we have to go all the way back to 1776. We were at war with Britain and any help was welcome in our fight for our independence. There were small numbers of men from Canada, discontent with British rule, who came to answer the call and fight on behalf of the United States. You can imagine how well that treasonous act went over. Those that left to fight not only found all of their possessions confiscated by Great Brittan but also their homes and their land. These men and their families found themselves refugees after the war having no home or country to come back to.

The Refugee Tract

The now independent United States Government agreed that something had to be done to show their gratitude. There was very little money available after the war so something else would have to be given as compensation. Plans began as early as 1783 and culminated in The Land Ordinance of 1785 to offer land to those who had fought on our behalf for payment for their service. One problem, the land offered was part of the state of Connecticut and wasn’t free to give away.

Refugee Tract A sketch showing the Refugee Tract – from wikiland.com

It wasn’t until 1798 that land was set aside in the Ohio territory specifically for this purpose. Congress chose a section of land called ‘the United States Military District’. This district had already been set aside to pay US citizens that had enlisted and fought in the war. The Refugee Tract started along the Scioto River in Franklin county and extended 42 miles east into Perry County. The distance north to south is 4.5 miles through most of the tract. The total amount of land was over 100,000 acres.

If You Build It They Might Come

While the Refugee Tract was a grand gesture, only a small few came forward to claim their portion. There were 67 applicants in total who were awarded varying amounts of acreage based on their position in the army. Maybe it wasn’t surprising considering some twenty plus years had passed and information traveled much more slowly in those days. Only a little over half of the original tract was doled out and the remaining was sold off by the Chilicothe land office.

Today the Refugee Tract encompasses most of downtown Columbus, Bexley, and Whitehall. Reynoldsburg, Buckeye Lake, and Hebron also fall inside the tract. The land has been sold and subdivided many times over the years and the only real remaining vestiges of the tract are the two Refugee Roads which make up the northern and southern borders for which they are named.

That’s all for this article but I’d love to know if you have any Ohio street names you’d like to know the origin of. Submit them to us and we’ll see what we can dig up!

Sources:
Canadian Refugees in the American Revolution” By Carl Wittke
Give Me Land, Lots of Land” – Ohiohistoryhost.org
Refugee Tract” – wikipedia.org

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