Who owns Nelson Circle? For hundreds of years, the official answer was ‘no one’

Image of a grassy area with a large monument and an American flag
Nelson Circle sits in the center of Nelson Township. Wendy DiAlesandro/The Portager

Nelson Circle, which is actually shaped like a square, is a small plot of land in the heart of Nelson Township that for many years seemed to belong to… nobody.

For possibly hundreds of years, the township has been maintaining the Circle and even, over 130 years ago, authorized the placement of a veteran’s monument on it. But a few years ago, trustees discovered they didn’t hold the deed and they couldn’t figure out who did.

How can it be that anyone, let alone township trustees, doesn’t know what they own?

“No one cared,” Nelson Trustee Anna Mae VanDerHoeven laughed.

The ownership question suddenly became relevant about six years ago.

“We were looking for a place in case our septic system malfunctioned at the community center. Where would a place be to put another septic system?” VanDerHoeven recalled.

The trustees considered a few possible sites before looking at Nelson Circle, only to discover the ownership issue.

“Looking into it, we didn’t own all of the circle,” VanDerHoeven said. “Then why are we cutting it, and maintaining it? Wouldn’t it be prudent as trustees to say, ‘We better own this Circle?’ That’s why we did a title search. This should have been done hundreds of years ago.”

The title search was inconclusive, so in 2016 the trustees turned to the Portage County Prosecutor’s Office for help. In 2020, the township emerged with clear title to the .614-acre inner part of the Circle by going to court for a “quiet title,” which established ownership with the township. 

But still no deed existed. And for whatever reason, the quiet title was never filed with the county recorder’s office, Portage County Assistant Prosecutor Brett Bencze said.

Quiet indeed. The Portage County Auditor’s Office still shows that the trustees own only a quarter of the Circle and about 3.5 acres bordering Parkman Road and state Route 305. What about the rest of it, inside and out? 

Property lines show the area that represents Nelson Circle. The township owns the diamond-shaped area inside the circle. It isn’t clear who owns the larger square around it.

There are actually two components of the Nelson Circle area, neither of which is circle shaped. There’s the land inside the traffic circle, which is .614 acres and is diamond shaped. And then there’s a square-shaped piece of land outside the circle, which has several homes encroaching on it. 

“No one ever told us we owned the whole square,” VanDerHoeven said. “So we’re going to have a deed to the Circle, not the Square… the inside, not the outside of it.”

The trustees suspect they own the “Square” too, but there’s no documentation to support it. 

“There is no deed on record that we physically own that, which is really screwy, but that’s the way it is,” Trustee Joe Leonard said.

Instead of accepting deeds to the Square, and offering easements to adjoining property owners, Leonard said the trustees will encourage them to file their own quitclaim deeds.

“Whether they do or not is up to them, I guess,” he said. “Anybody could file for it, which is stupid because it’s not of use to anybody, but if they don’t file for it, it just stays like it is, and nobody’s the wiser for it.”

The trustees’ major concern was “getting ahold of the Circle and protecting that monument. That monument is the oldest in the county or in the state, I’m not sure which, but it’s a very old monument,” he said.

Image of a large monument at the center of Nelson Circle
The monument at the center of Nelson Circle. Wendy DiAlesandro/The Portager

The 16-foot monument, sculpted by John O’Brien, is a four-tiered pedestal with an American eagle on top, inscribed “Erected by the citizens of Nelson to the memory of her soldiers who fell in defense of our country — The War of the Rebellion, Nov. 18, 1865.” Also inscribed are the names of those who died, though the letters have worn down well past legibility, VanDerHoeven said. The monument also commemorates veterans of World War I.

The 1885 book History of Portage County, Ohio mentions the monument: “A beautiful monument stands in the square at the Center, erected to the memory of the brave boys who so nobly laid their lives down on the altar of their country. … It cost $1,225, and was made at Ravenna. Nelson furnished 109 soldiers; twenty died and eight were disabled.”

Multiple motorists have blown through stop signs and hit the monument, so the trustees are about to surround it with large foundation stones, as well as installing a flower garden, Leonard said.

Ah, the joys of ownership.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.