Why "Sullivant's Hill" was chosen to hide America's Physical Secrets:
Today the United States has dozens, possibly hundreds, of top-secret technology and espionage complexes scattered around the planet's most secluded locations. However, using remote areas to hide, develop, and run top-secret programs was not feasible before the country had military aircraft and radio communications (the 1920s).
It was impossible to secure such remote locations before instant communications and aircraft. An adversarial nation could raid these facilities, steal our secrets, and be gone long before Washington's secret keepers knew. So before the 1920s, our country used different criteria to hide and protect its top-secret facilities.
• First, these compounds had to be well hidden deep inside our country’s borders, where no adversary could reach them undetected. Yet these locations still had to be highly secluded.
• Secondly, these locations had to appear as something harmless, almost anything besides a top-secret federal government facility.
• Thirdly, the swiftest method of heavy transport was the railroad, which averaged about 45 miles per hour. This location needed to be near the center of the nation’s railroad network, so secret weapons, devices, and agents could reach more of the country as swiftly as possible. So instead of many different locations housing one program apiece, one central location would have to accommodate many, if not most, of America’s top-secret operations.
• From around 1850 through 1925, Columbus, Ohio, was the mathematical center of the nation’s transportation (railroad) network. For this reason, industrial warehousing caused Columbus to become the fastest-growing city in America for about half of those years.
• Hiding dozens of top-secret federal programs was not feasible in a rapidly growing, busy city. However, the land stretching for two miles west of Columbus, called Franklinton, was a floodplain that often looked like a lake after heavy storms. So Columbus’s rapid growth (1850 to 1910) spread in every direction but west.
• Two miles west of Columbus was a sudden 110-foot rise called Sullivant’s Hill, which ended the floodplain. This virtually uninhabited hill spread out over 12 square miles. However, in 1849, railroad line #51 was installed up and over it.
• Only several farms occupied this primarily forested hill in the 1850s. When the Civil War started in 1861, the Union Army built Camp Chase near its center. Camp Chase would soon become the North’s second-largest prisoner of war camp.
• Because the Union Army held 7000 prisoners on Sullivant's Hill, no one questioned why several security battalions surrounded this entire hill. They protected several weapon development programs and the country's first underground (munitions) factory.
• The 1150-foot-long, "F" shaped underground plant was three-quarters of a mile west of Camp Chase's western wall, along railroad line 51.
• President Andrew Johnson closed Camp Chase right after Lincoln’s assassination (the end of the war, 1865). He ordered the underground facility sealed up and buried, upsetting three Ohio-born Generals (Grant, Hayes, and Garfield), who would become the nation’s next three presidents.
• Three years later (1868), Grant was elected president, Hayes won Ohio’s Governor race, and Garfield was the US congressman from Central Ohio.
• These three men had planned to reopen this still secret underground facility for the country’s top-secret programs.
• However, right after the war, a row of expensive mansion homes opened along the eastern ridge of Sullivant’s Hill. These homes took advantage of the view, overlooking Columbus and Ohio's finally finished white limestone statehouse.
• These homes started ending the seclusion of Sullivant’s Hill.
• 15 days after Grant won that presidential election (11/18/1868), Ohio’s first Lunatic Asylum burned down, while 343 of its 345 inmates were in its party hall instead of being locked up. So all but seven inmates survived. It sat on Columbus's Eastside, where today, East Broad Street crosses Interstate 71.
• While Grant was still waiting to take office, vast wealth suddenly appeared in Ohio’s Treasury. Governor Hayes (inaugurated two months before Grant) used Eminent Domain to overpay these mansion owners to leave. Hayes had these mansions leveled before Grant's inauguration.
• Exactly four months after Grant took office, Hayes held the groundbreaking ceremony for what was likely the world’s largest building (in SF) on the former site of those mansions. The new Ohio State Lunatic Asylum was also one of the most frightening buildings ever built. It restored the seclusion to about 10 square miles behind it.
• On Saturday, February 1, 1879, at 1:00 am (less than two years after the Lunatic Asylum opened), arsonists entered the vault inside the Franklin County Courthouse. Inside they soaked all of the records of Sullivant's Hill in coal oil, then incinerated them. These records included the transactions of those mansion homes overlooking Columbus. They also relocked the vault and the courthouse as they left. Here is the Columbus Dispatch article from that afternoon. The newspapers never mentioned which records were roasted; however, all of the documents, details, and maps of Sullivant's Hill (from 1853-1879) are missing.
• Until Aircraft and radio allowed Washington to scatter secret projects in the 1920s, this massive house of horror, and the Columbus Imbecile Asylum (simultaneously built over the rest of the ridge beside it), frightened all unrelated developments (and people) away from Sullivant's Hill.
• Because the state and the federal government spent 70 years scaring people away from this hill now called the Hilltop, West Columbus's economy has never recovered. People and developers are still frightened away. Fixing this problem is the primary goal of the Upper Columbus Project.