September 2022

‘We don’t want Black history to be lost’: Big Walnut Country Club becomes Gahanna’s first historical marker

Courtesy of WBNS TV 10
By Brandon Bounds
September 17, 2022

GAHANNA, Ohio — The City of Gahanna unveiled and dedicated its first historical marker to the Big Walnut Country Club, one of the first clubs in the nation for Black community members.

City leaders and community leaders held a celebration Friday at the site of the country club that is now Friendship Park.

“We don’t want Black history to be lost,” Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin said. “The Big Walnut Country Club needs to be celebrated and acknowledged. We salute Gahanna for valuing and appreciating diversity and inclusion.”

The Big Walnut Country Club (BWCC) was founded in the 1920s by civic leaders, including Columbus Urban League founder Dr. Nimrod Booker Allen.

The country club was created to be a place for the Black community to socialize, hold conferences and have recreational opportunities during the time of segregation.

Members played at the 18-hole golf course and the clubhouse hosted beauty pageants and high-profile politicians. The club stopped operations in the 1960s.

“Our collective memories and stories are present in all that we do,” said Reita Smith, who once won a beauty pageant at the country club. “The Big Walnut Country Club’s creation inspires us to remember the founders’ resilience, success, relationships, struggles, optimism, spirituality and dreams for us all.”

More than a decade ago, longtime Gahanna resident Christy Evans was tasked by the Gahanna Historical Society to initiate the project and began collecting and restoring the histories of the country club.

While researching the club’s history, Evans connected with Smith and many others who shared their personal stories and details about the club.

Evans’ research led to the formation of the vision committee for the BWCC Memorial Project. The committee applied for the historical marker with support from the City of Gahanna, the Gahanna Parks & Recreation Foundation, the Gahanna Historical Society, the Gahanna Area Arts Council, the Ohio History Connection and Mifflin Township.

Johnel Amerson, a member of the BWCC Vision Committee, said the Black story includes both tragedy and triumph and this project is inspiring to him.

“Through slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, and countless confinements, our community has continued to find a way to overcome obstacles, have joy, celebrate life, and keep a sense of belonging. Exposing stories like this keeps alive the spirit of resiliency and reminds us all that we reap the fruits of the trees that were planted long before us,” Amerson said.

Former Gahanna Lincoln High School principal Dwight Carter said this project includes the narrative of those in the Black community who were accomplished.

“It reminds me of the quote ‘we are our ancestors’ wildest dreams.’ I am sure, knowing that this location would one day become a historical marker had to be beyond what they ever could have imagined. I am excited to see this project progress as we keep alive the spirit of this venue for generations to come,” he said.

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