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Curious Cbus

Tracking down the namesake of Quarry Trails Metro Park's Millikin Falls

Michael De Bonis
Millikin Falls is located in the Quarry Trails Metro Park.

In 2021, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks officially opened their 20th location, the Quarry Trails Metro Park. The ambitious project transformed the abandoned Marble Cliff Quarry into a destination for outdoor recreation on Columbus' westside.

One of the park’s main attractions is the waterfall, Millikin Falls.

Ronaldo Gonzalez, a Metro Parks employee who works at the park, wrote into WOSU’s Curious Cbus to ask, “Who is Millikin Falls named after?”

Ronaldo Gonzalez, a Metro Parks employee
Michael De Bonis
Ronaldo Gonzalez, a Metro Parks employee, submitted a question to Curious Cbus about the name of Millikin Falls.

In researching the surname Millikin in Ohio history, several interesting candidates emerge. Different branches of the Millikin Family moved west from Pennsylvania in the 19th century and many became prominent citizens.

John M. Millikin was born in 1804 and moved to Hamilton, Ohio from Pennsylvania with his family at the age of three. The son of a doctor, he was well-educated and eventually studied law. He joined the bar in 1827 and started a practice with his law partner William Webb, who would later become Ohio’s 19th governor. In 1840, he retired from practicing law and became a successful pig farmer.

John M. Millikin (1804–1884)
C. Freighan, Dayton, Ohio, Public domain
Wikimedia Commons
John M. Millikin (1804–1884)

Over the years, he served in various government roles. He was an officer in the state militia, a member of the State Board of Agriculture and in 1875 was elected State Treasurer on the Republican ticket.

John and his wife Mary had several children, one of whom also made a mark in local history.

Joseph Millikin was born in 1840 and grew up in Hamilton with his family. He graduated from nearby Miami University at the age of 19 and later attended the Princeton Theological Seminary.

Joseph Millikin black and white photograph portrait of man with large mustache
Ohio State University Archive
Joseph Millikin was among the first faculty at Ohio State University in 1873.

After serving as a Presbyterian minister for several years, he took a teaching position at Miami University.

Joseph was plagued by health problems for much of his life. He often took breaks to travel to places like Minnesota, Florida and destinations in Europe in hopes that those climates would aid in his recovery from chronic tuberculosis.

In 1873, he joined six other faculty members teaching at the new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, later renamed Ohio State University. By all accounts, he was well-liked by colleagues and students, but was forced to resign in 1881 for health reasons.

Joseph Millikin died in 1882 at the age of 43. While neither Joseph nor his father is the source of the name of Millikin Falls, Joseph's contribution to academia is commemorated with Millikin Road on OSU's campus.

A separate branch of the Millikin family also provides a candidate for where the name of Millikin Falls came from.

Wyatt Lester Millikin was born in 1875 in Madison County and moved to Columbus in 1895. His family settled in the Hilltop section of the city before it was a developed neighborhood.

In 1904, he opened up a hardware store at 2420 West Broad Street. He was one of the founders of the Hilltop Building and Loan Company, which helped fund the construction of homes and businesses in the area. He is credited as being a formidable civic booster who was key to making the Hilltop an attractive and growing subdivision in the 1910s.

Wyatt Lester Millikin
American Historical Society
Columbus Metropolitan Library
Wyatt Lester Millikin, Columbus City Council member from 1920-1924 and 1931-1941.

Wyatt was involved in Democratic politics and successfully ran for Columbus City Council. He served as a council member from 1920 to 1924 and then again from 1931 to 1941.

Quarry Trails Metro Park is just a couple miles north of the Hilltop so a connection to the civic leader could be reasonable, but it turns out the namesake for the falls comes from a different member of his family.

Frozen Millikin Falls in Winter
Ronaldo Gonzalez
Courtesy of Ronaldo Gonzalez
A frozen Millikin Falls in winter.

WOSU enlisted the help of Aaron O’Donovan, a local history and genealogy expert at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. After researching historical maps and census records, O’Dononvan said the most likely namesake was a farmer who owned a plot of land just west of the falls, Andrew Millikin.

Andrew is Wyatt’s great uncle, the brother of Wyatt’s grandfather John Millikin (not to be confused with his cousin, the aforementioned John M. Millikin).

Less is known about Andrew Millikin than his relatives because he never ran for public office or had an association with a major institution, but some facts are recorded.

Andrew Millikin moved his family to Ohio sometime before 1860 and bought land in Norwich Township. Maps of the area from 1872 clearly show land marked “A. Millikin.” They also show a stream running through the property that leads to where Millikin Falls is today.

Map showing Millikin land
Caldwell's Atlas of Franklin County and of the City of Columbus, Ohio
Columbus Metropolitan Library
This map from 1872 shows land owned by Andrew Millikin and a stream that leads towards the present-day location of Millikin Falls.

Records from the Franklin County Engineer's Office show that Andrew Millikin petitioned the township to get permission to dig a drainage ditch in 1879. It was approved and Andrew Millikin paid to get the work done. Survey maps show that the ditch was named “Millikin Ditch” or alternatively “Roberts - Millikin Ditch.” Roberts was a landowner just west of Millikin.

Over time, the waterfall acquired the name of the ditch that feeds into it. When the Metro Parks created their new park on Columbus' Westside, they used the name that folks in the area used and so Millikin Falls became official.

Michael De Bonis develops and produces digital content including podcasts, videos, and news stories. He is also the editor of WOSU's award-winning Curious Cbus project. He moved to Columbus in 2012 to work as the producer of All Sides with Ann Fisher, the live news talk show on 89.7 NPR News.