SPARTA — The village that sports a colorful past and several identities turns 150 years old this year.
Sparta was laid out in 1837 and has had a post office since that date. It was incorporated in 1870.
Today the sprawling campus of Highland Local Schools sits at 6506 State Route 229. It houses 1,842 students in grades pre-kindergarten through 12. It was formed in 1960 consolidating Sparta, Marengo and Chesterville high schools.
Football and soccer are played on artificial turf not far from where “several notorious desperadoes” roamed in 1840-1850 and two devastating fires struck in 1918 and 1920, according to accounts in “The Threads of Time: A History of Morrow County.”
Field turf and an all-weather track were added to the home of the Fighting Scots in 2016.
The Sparta General Store, complete with a single gas pump, sits closed on East Main Street.
Resident Dave Peck said it closed a couple of years ago and he misses it. “It was quite convenient,” he said.
The current post office is a small building, formerly housing a beauty shop, right up the street.
A thriving business is Highland Pizza and Ice Cream, located just east of the Highland complex.
Owner Ken Stuff has been there 27 years serving slices and scoops. He’s also heavily involved in the school community.
“This is perfect for kids who can walk over after school and get a part-time job,” Stuff said.
“We are active in baseball, soccer, basketball, as well as band and drama. Anything to keep kids busy,” he said.
It’s evident you are in Scots Country as there is a collection of Highland plaques and trophies inside the eatery.
“We have had students and they go on to be teachers and a guidance counselor at the school. It’s fun to see.”
It is a popular place on Friday nights, serving a pizza buffet for home games.
“We also do birthday parties. Kids can make their own pizzas,” Stuff said. “The most popular specialty pizza is our BLT.”
The 1918 fire broke out in the hardware store of Jinkins & Hedge at 10 p.m. on Nov. 8, 1918. It destroyed part of the store and the newly remodeled Knights of Pythias Hall.
Several other properties burned that night, including residences and the Morrow County Telephone Company.
The second blaze hit Sparta Friday, Dec. 10, 1920. This fire broke out about 1 a.m. in the town hall.
It wasn’t contained until it burned the J.D. Vall dry goods store and the Thomas Liggett house. Loss of property was estimated at $20,000.
The I.O.O.F. Hall was located in the room over the township hall but was unoccupied at the time because the lodge had recently moved to Chesterville.
The entire community responded and Centerburg, located seven miles away, sent several fire extinguishers.
Reports claim the fire was believed to have started from a lighted match or cigar stub carelessly thrown under the stairway in the town hall. A small general store of Culver & Haycook and a small hardware store were the only two businesses/houses remaining in town.
Tom Clark has been a farmer on County Road 204 a mile west of Sparta “since I was 14.” His family has grain and livestock and the operation began with his grandfather, Fred McMullen.
Clark turns 65 next month and his handing it down to his son.
“That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, keep it in the family. He wants to farm. It’s a shame so many family farms have disappeared,” he said.
“Farming is an expensive business anymore, just like everything else.”
Development goes in spurts, Clark said.
“As a (township) trustee I’ve seen it with new homes that have gone up. Change is good in some ways and in some ways not.”
The town was originally named Aaronsburg, for its founder Aaron Macomber, in 1824. There were no lots sold and the town located on State Route 656 soon died.
Later it took on the name Rome when Lemuel Potter laid it out in 1827 near the hill where he had a tavern for thirsty travelers. It passed into oblivion, history says, and was slowly forgotten.
But a decade later the town chose the name Sparta, named for the one in Greece. Surveyor Johnson Stone laid out 20 lots on each side of the Columbus Road.
The first post office was built when Sparta was still part of Knox County. It apparently moved around, housed in six locations over the next half-century. The first postmaster was Augustus W. Swetland, described as a prominent citizen.
In those days a man named Gleason delivered mail on horseback once a week. In 1884 the village got its first postmistress, Mary Fry.
Citizens of Sparta were described as being “intelligent, temperate and moral.”
Prior to 1870 the Spartans had noticed with pride the growing beauties of their town. They were ambitious and wanted to see it incorporated.
That happened after a private meeting among the leaders. They assumed metropolitan airs and “in a fit of enthusiasm they installed street lamps.” But they ran out of oil soon after.
The village sits in South Bloomfield Township. It was closer to Mount Vernon than Mount Gilead so most citizens preferred staying in Knox County. The former city was larger and considered a better trading point.
But in 1848 that changed and — despite some outrage by residents — it became part of Morrow County tucked quietly in its southeast corner.
And Clark has no desire to leave, other than taking regular trips to Florida.
“I’ve got four grand kids in school at Highland; two in the elementary and two in high school,” he said.
This is the 15th story in a series on rural communities, past and present, in Morrow County.