Curious Cbus: How Did Circleville Get Its Name?

Mar 24, 2020

Circleville, Ohio was established over 200 years ago, but the land where it sits has a cultural history that goes back much further.

Cassandra Welch wrote in to WOSU's Curious Cbus to ask for more details: “Is it true that Circleville used to be called Roundtown because it was built on ancient Hopewell Indian ground, and is that why some streets are at certain angles?”

That’s really three questions. So, let's tackle them one at a time.

Was Circleville built on a Hopewell site?

Ohio is home to many ceremonial earthworks built by the Hopewell culture around 2,000 years ago. Some of the best remaining examples are in Newark and Chillicothe.

Back in 1810, Pickaway County was established and the search began for a location for the county seat. The site that was selected housed a circular earthwork just east of the Scioto River. The circle was over 1,000 feet across with a wall of earth about 20 feet high.

Settlers decided to preserve the circular shape, placing their courthouse at the center of the circle and laying out roads and plots of land in concentric circles around it. So that’s how Circleville got its name.

Is it true that Circleville used to be called "Roundtown"?

Yes, sort of. According to Darlene Weaver of the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Library, "Roundtown" is a nickname that some have used for the city over the years, though Circleville was never officially called that.

Do the ancient earthworks explain why some streets are at certain angles?

Present-day citizens of Circleville will know that those circular streets are long gone.

In 1837, the Ohio General Assembly authorized the redesign of the city into a more traditional grid pattern.

Historical accounts indicate that citizens made complaints about the city’s layout, but also point out that there was a fair amount of money to be made by creating square lots and reselling them.

Over a 20-year period, The Circleville Squaring Company acquired and reshaped the city. By 1856, the redevelopment had leveled nearly all of the Hopewell earthworks.

Illustration depicting the redevelopment of downtown Circleville over time.
Credit John W. Reps / Urban Redevelopment in in the 19th Century: The Squaring of Circleville

The courthouse, which once stood at the center of the circle, was removed. On a map, that would be located at the current intersection of Court and Main Street in town.

Today, the name Circleville is the only trace left of what one historian called “one of the most remarkable relics of a prehistoric age.”

It is important to note that right next to the circular earthwork was a connecting square-shaped embankment of a similar size. So, if things had worked out just a little differently, we might be talking about Squaresville today.

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