September 2022

Gahanna’s first historical marker pays tribute to country club, Black community

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Gary Seman Jr. and Scott Hummel
September 19, 2022

The Big Walnut Country Club, one of the first in the nation for members of the Black community, was memorialized during a Sept. 16 ceremony that included the dedication of the city of Gahanna’s first historical marker.

The club, inside Friendship Park, 150 Oklahoma Ave., was founded in the 1920s by a number of civic leaders, including Nimrod Booker Allen, who also was a founder of the Columbus Urban League.

“The city of Gahanna prides itself on being a diverse and welcoming community,” Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin said.

“The Big Walnut Country Club was a significant establishment for Gahanna, the region and the state. This historical marker will help generations to come understand what it meant, and what it continues to mean, for the community.”

It was a place for members of the Black community to socialize, hold conferences and have recreational opportunities during the time of segregation. It included an 18-hole golf course and a clubhouse, where it hosted beauty pageants.

High-profile politicians often stopped there to speak. The club, however, ceased operations in the 1960s.

Story from 2010: Black golf course lost in time

“We have lost too many stories,” said Reita Smith, former member of the BWCC and a historian. “It’s important for us to resurrect and re-create these stories, and this historical marker helps us to do just that.”

The historical marker placed at the site was sanctioned by the Ohio History Connection and is one of multiple locations that is part of Ohio Open Doors, an event created by the OHC to celebrate the state’s architecture and history.

“The Ohio Historical Markers program continues to identify, commemorate and honor important people, places, things or events that have contributed to Ohio’s history,” said Neil Thompson, manager of media and public relations for the Ohio History Connection. “This program is administered by the Ohio History Connection as a vital educational tool and includes more than 1,700 markers around the state.”

This historical marker commemorates the Big Walnut Country Club at Friendship Park, 150 Oklahoma Ave.

This project was started more than a decade ago, when Christy Evans, a longtime Gahanna resident, was tasked by the Gahanna Historical Society with researching the club’s history.

Evans’ research led to the formation of the Vision Committee for the Big Walnut Country Club Memorial Project, which helped dedicate the historical marker.

“From the community having never heard of the Big Walnut Country Club to now being able to acknowledge, celebrate and honor it is fantastic,” Evans said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”

Nana Watson, president of the NAACP Columbus Branch, expressed gratitude for the recognition of the country club.

“We don’t want Black history to be lost,” Watson said in a prepared statement. “The Big Walnut Country Club needs to be celebrated and acknowledged. We salute Gahanna for valuing and appreciating diversity and inclusion.”

Another nearby historical marker is expected to be dedicated at 6020 Havens Corners Road in Jefferson Township, near Gahanna’s border, in October, according to information from the Ohio History Connection.

Gahanna historical marker’s text

Side A of the marker reads as follows:

The Big Walnut Country Club

Established during the Great Migration and intense segregation in Columbus, The Big Walnut Country Club (BWCC) was one of the first Black country clubs in the United States. Conceived in 1925 and incorporated two years later, the club encouraged and promoted aquatic and athletic sports by providing the means and facilities otherwise not available to the Black community. Members enjoyed golf, swimming, archery, tennis, badminton, boating, dining, and dancing on the nearly 20 acres of land between the Big Walnut and Rocky Fork creeks. The club was a social, professional, and political hub for Central Ohio’s growing Black population in the decades leading to the Civil Rights Movement. The BWCC closed in 1963. Gahanna purchased the land in 1970 and opened its first public park, Friendship Park, the following year.

Side B focuses on the club’s founders.

The Founding Members

The founding members of The Big Walnut Country Club — Nimrod B. Allen, John P. Bowles, Dr. Elijah A. Calloway, Leroy H. Godman, Charles E. Jones, Dr. William A. Method, Dr. R. Milton Tribbitt, and Dr. William J. Woodlin — were prominent attorneys, dentists, doctors, executives, and social workers in 1920s Columbus. In addition to their work with the club, Method and Tribbitt established Alpha Hospital (1920) in the Columbus neighborhood of Bronzeville where Black doctors could practice medicine. Allen, Calloway, Method, and Tribbitt were active in forming the Business Men’s Club at the Spring Street YMCA. Allen founded the Columbus Urban League (1917) and the community leadership and service organization Frontiers of America (1936). In 2015, a State Commission posthumously inducted Nimrod Booker Allen (1886-1977) into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame.


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