The etymology of town and city names often leads to a fascinating history.
Sometimes though, it’s more a case of what you see is what you get. This is true with Circleville where it turns out, as one might expect, the city really was laid out in a circle:
“The city’s name is derived from its original layout created in 1810 within the 1,100 ft (340 m) diameter of a circle of a Hopewell tradition earthwork dating to the early centuries of the Common Era. The county courthouse was built in the center of the innermost circle. By the late 1830s, for numerous reasons, residents decided to gain authorization from the state legislature to change the layout to a standard grid, which was accomplished by the mid-1850s.”
Some of the reasons Circleville residents wanted to eliminate the circle layout?
- Some felt it was “childish sentimentalism”
- There was concern about the presentability of the courthouse. As you can see in the image above, there was plenty of room surrounding the courthouse, which was used for hitching horses. This activity apparently was a draw to hogs and other domestic animals, presumably giving the town square a barnyard feel.
- The most important reason: money. Many felt profitable land was being wasted due to the irregular lot sizes.
A local history book noted that:
“It has often been a matter of regret to the citizens of Circleville to the present day, that the original conformation of the town was ever changed. The most unique feature about the place, from which the town derived its name, was obliterated in order that the streets be in checkerboard fashion, running at right angles to each other.”
A town laid out in a circle could conceivably have some tourist appeal today – perhaps even as much as a pumpkin show, so it is a bit of a squandered opportunity.
Most regrettably though, all traces of the Hopewell earthworks were destroyed when the town’s grid was changed.