The (Verified) Legend of Sullivant's Hill

 (Columbus's Hilltop)

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Then                                                                      Now 

By Author, Inventor, and Upper Columbus Founder, Craig Wise 

From 1982 to 1989, I sold new cars about a half-mile away from General Motor's Hilltop factory on Columbus's westside. I displayed a collection of antique postcards of Columbus in my office, which sparked many historical conversations with my older Hilltop customers.

 

The most intriguing story was with a retired GM secretary that began working at this factory before it opened in 1945. She casually told me that Washington had GM build this factory to permanently entomb the nation's first underground spy complex beneath it.

She said the underground complex was originally a weapons factory built during the Civil War. About 15 years later, it became the headquarters of ORPHAN, the Secret Service's actually secret division. 

 

​She added that Sullivant's Hill (today's Hilltop) was home to ORPHAN and dozens of top-secret projects and covert government agencies for over 50 years, slowly ending after aircraft became reliable.

I can't say I believed or disbelieved her at first. But over the years, I noticed dozens of bits of supporting evidence, which sparked superhero spy stories in my imagination.

Then in 2016, after finding this satellite image of this underground base being filled with soil in 2010, I outlined five ORPHAN agent novels, then began writing them as my retirement project.

Here is a partial timeline of both documented history and substantiated details based on my research of her story:

1861

  • The underground facility was originally a Civil War munitions factory.

  • The factory sat about a mile west of Camp Chase's walls. Camp Chase was the North's second-largest prisoner-of-war camp.

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  • There was little else on Sullivant's Hill so the Union Army would have secured the entire 12-square-mile hill.

  • Criminals serving hard labor at the state penitentiary, seven miles away, were used to build the underground facility. 

1865

  • After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson ordered Camp Chase closed and abandoned.

  • Ohio-born Generals Ulysses S Grant, Rutherford B Hayes, and James A Garfield objected.

Why would three future presidents want to keep a war prison open without a war?

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  • It was not the prison camp they cared about, it was the 1150-foot underground facility they valued. There were two main reasons why this hidden fort was strategically important.

  • One, it sat in the center of the nation's railroad network.   Trains were the quickest form of cross-country transportation before aircraft became reliable, so Sullivant's Hill offered the shortest average time to reach more of the country.   

  • Secondly, Sullivant's Hill was also highly secluded. Even though Columbus was only 2.5 miles away. Franklinton, the lowland settlement in-between, typically flooded after severe storms or rapid snow thaws. This problem kept Columbus (the USA's fastest-growing city in the 1860s) expanding in every direction besides the west (Sullivant's Hill).

1866-67

  • However, right after the Civil War,  around a dozen wealthy people began building mansions on the Eastern Ridge of Sullivant's Hill for its panoramic view of Columbus and Ohio's statehouse. These homes threatened to end Sullivant's Hill's Top-Secret privacy.

 

1868

  • Those three Ohio generals ran for public office. Grant replaced Johnson as America's President, Hayes became Ohio's Governor, and Garfield had already become the US Congressman from Central Ohio (in 1866). FYI: These three generals would also become the next three US presidents.

  • A wealthy Real Estate Attorney, George W. Meeker, was also elected mayor of Columbus during that election. A fortune was spent on his campaign.

  • Two weeks after those 1868 elections (November 18), Columbus's first Lunatic Asylum, located on the east side, where today East Broad Street crosses 1-71,  burnt to the ground. It was a beautiful building designed to look like a giant version of the Whitehouse. 

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  •  This fire erupted during the only two hours per week that the inmates were allowed to congregate in the building's front hall for "social time."

  • None of the asylum's seven female inmates attended. To avoid being raped, they chose to remain locked up in the separate lady's ward. 

  • The fire started behind the building, at that lady's ward, so only these seven ladies perished. 

  • As it burnt, Columbus officials claimed a faulty fireplace flue in the lady's ward was responsible for the fire. This story remained the official cause.

  • However, those officials were unaware that all inmate wards used hot steam pipes for heating because lunatics and fires don't mix well. This asylum only had fireplaces in its administration spaces along the front of the building. Also, this Ohio State Journal article from the next day states, "the house was steam heated." Despite being the deadliest fire in Columbus's history, the city and state governments maintained the nonexistent flue as the accidental cause. 

  • The state began instantly rebuilding this asylum, or at least preparing the land to rebuild the Lunatic Asylum. I believe they may have acted swiftly to remove the evidence (steam pipes) from the rubble, which proves that there were no fireplaces in the wards.

  • However, it appears that Columbus's police department was 100% sure that this fire was mass murder. 

  • This rebuilding of the original asylum was suddenly stopped and canceled after the foundation was ready. That was the same week General Hayes became Ohio's Governor. 

 

1869

  • Two months later, in February 1869, Hayes and Meeker were inaugurated. Mayor Meeker immediately closed the entire Columbus Police Department and fired all members. 

  • He then appointed Charles Engelke, his best friend from childhood, who had zero experience with law enforcement, as Columbus's new marshal. Meeker put Engelke in charge of building a new Columbus Police Department.

  • Wise believes it is obvious that Mayor Meeker closed the CPD to silence them about that asylum fire.

  • At this time Columbus's daily newspaper was The Daily Statesman. It was owned edited and written by local politicians. It closed in 1871 when the privately owned Columbus Dispatch, opened. This likely explains why there are zero articles explaining why Meeker fired the entire police department, or why there were no follow up articles about the asylum's "accidental" arson. 

  • During his first days as Governor, Hayes received a massive amount of secret funding. The legend lady said it came from several tons of gold that Confederate President Jefferson Davis had with him as he tried to escape after the war. 

  • Governor Hayes immediately used eminent domain to acquire a row of upscale homes that wealthy Columbus residents built ()after the war) above the eastern ridge of Sullivant's Hill for the panoramic view of Columbus and Ohio's finally finished statehouse. Hayes likely overpaid them to prevent any complaining. These homes threatened the seclusion of the top-secret programs that the three generals had envisioned planned for Sullivant's Hill since the war.

  • Hayes had these homes demolished when President Grant was inaugurated two months later (June 1869).

1870

  • January - As soon as Marshal Engelke had established a new Columbus Police Department, Mayor Meeker quit his job to reopen his real estate law office. He only served eleven months, yet he was elected to serve four years.

  • The following spring, Hayes broke ground for what would be America's largest (in SF), and most frightening building, the new Columbus Hilltop Lunatic Asylum, where those fancy homes had been. Even though Columbus's first Lunatic Asylum did not have an overpopulation issue, this monstrosity was about 12 times larger. 

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  • Because the massive vampire bat-inspired building sat above the 110-foot ridge overlooking Columbus, it frightened citizens from miles away. It and the Columbus Imbecile Asylum simultaneously built beside it would scare all unrelated developments away from Sullivant's Hill for the next 60 years, thus restoring seclusion to about 10 square miles behind them.

  • Built decades before steel framing cut the cost of building enormous buildings to pennies on the dollar, these asylums would have seemed far more immense in 1885 than today.

  • It took 1500 workers seven years to build, entirely out of masonry. It would take another seven years to demolish it in the 1990s. 

  • Within days of the groundbreaking, Mayor Meeker annexed Franklinton and Sullivant's Hill's eastern ridge (the asylums) then renamed the hill "The Hilltop." 

  • This generic name prevented the soldiers and engineers at Camp Chase and the state convicts that built the underground compound from being reminded of it, by never hearing the name Sullivant's Hill again. It was about to be erased from history.

  • The underground factory was cleared and reopened to house top-secret projects. 

 

1879

  • Arsonists slipped into the Franklin County Courthouse vault less than two years after the Lunatic Asylum opened (Saturday, February 1, 1879, at 1 AM). Inside they soaked all records of Sullivant's Hill (including these mansions) in coal oil, then incinerated them. They were respectful enough to relock the vault and courthouse building on their way out.

  • The newspaper articles did not mention which records the arsonists toasted. However, I studied them. The only missing files were everything about Sullivant's Hill and two small parcels of land that Mayor Meeker owned or controlled. One was just south of Westerville and another just east of the city's first Lunatic Asylum. 

  • This fire was not the only secret action used to erase Sullivant's Hill from memory. Not one map mentioning the name Sullivant's Hill even exists after 1851. You won't even find a map (from the 1800s) showing even where Camp Chase was. I have looked for years. I do have four maps of just the walled area, and all four are significantly different. 

  • Also, every map that displays the name "Camp Chase" (before 1914) shows it west of the railroad tracks (#51), near the underground facility, not the war prison. 

  • Camp Chase's walls ended about a half mile east of the tracks, where the east half of the Westgate community is today. Its walls surrounded about 135 acres. However, Camp Chase unofficially covered around ten square miles with secret programs.  

  • For the next half-century, that underground facility and several underground levels of the Lunatic Asylum were home to the nation's secret programs, espionage, and human mind control research.

 

1881

  • The USA's first genuinely secret agency called "ORPHAN" opened. The newly electrified underground facility would be ORPHAN's headquarters for the next forty-five years.

 

The 1920s 

  • Aircraft replaced trains as the fastest mode of transportation, and the nation began scattering its secret projects to its most remote locations, far away from roads and rails.

 

 

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  • Washington began flying its secrets and agents around in aircraft marked "US Air-Mail," causing this railroad-based facility to become obsolete.

  • In 1926, the US post office built its Air Mail Central hub directly across Sullivant Avenue from the secret facility. It was called Port Columbus.

  • A year later, Port Columbus relocated to the far east side of Columbus. 

  • However, the now-called Sullivant Avenue Airport would remain the US Post office's Midwest Air-mail hub for another decade. This little airport only housed US air mail and several private hangers. One customized aircraft, while another was a "Trick" flying school, precisely where American James Bonds would want flight training.

The 

The 1930s

  •  Washington began turning the underground compound into a hidden junkyard of old secret stuff.

  • In 1936 the US Air-mail Hub on Sullivant Avenue was moved to Port Columbus, likely because the new, much larger aircraft needed longer landing strips.  

1944

  • In 1944, President Roosevelt ordered the facility sealed up and buried beneath this new GM factory. She said it remained packed with secret junk.

 

The 1950s

  • The "Sullivant Avenue Airport" closed in the late 1950s. This airfield is now the Holly Hills subdivision.

2016

  • I discovered the satellite imagery of ORPHAN's Headquarters and outlined five action novels based on it

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2022

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