As it were

A town of 'most excellent neighbors'

By ED LENTZ
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Visitors to Columbus are often struck by the friendliness of its people and the remarkable number of notable neighborhoods to be found in the capital city.

Many of those newcomers express some surprise at this discovery. Perhaps their image of the city has been shaped by notions of Columbus as a college football town. Perhaps they had seen Columbus, the capital city, as a center of state power and authority and little more.

What the visitor comes to learn, most residents have known for some time. Columbus is a friendly city -- and a neighborly one. And it has been that way for quite a long time.

Betsy Green Deshler came to Columbus with her husband David from Easton, Pa., in 1818. David Deshler was a cabinet maker and the Deshlers hoped to make a new life for themselves in the new capital city of Ohio.

Founded in 1812, Columbus had not really grown all that much until the end of the War of 1812. With the exception of a few public buildings and modest homes, most of the rest of the town was unbroken forest interrupted occasionally by stump-filled dirt streets.

Many people thought the Deshlers a bit foolish when they paid $1,000 for a town lot when most of the lots in the city could be acquired for $200 or so. The Deshlers felt the lot might be worth more than that someday. They were right. When the lot near the northwest corner of Broad and High Streets sold in the Twentieth Century, it was worth considerably more than $1,000.

In these early years, many things about Columbus impressed Betsy Green Deshler. Importantly, unlike many of her illiterate fellow residents, she could read and write. And she did just that in a series of remarkable letters.

In 1821, she wrote: "Columbus has been very lively this winter. The Legislature sat two months and the Circuit Court sat here at the same time. Besides, we had the most excellent sleighing all winter. The courthouse is to be placed on the Public Square near our lot."

"We have a number of conspicuous characters in Columbus this winter, among whom were Henry Clay of Kentucky, a very genteel man in his appearance, but very plain indeed. Tell father I always thought he was plain in his dress, but Mr. Clay is much plainer. If you recollect Uncle Ben's old-fashioned drab colored coat with the buttons as big as a dollar, you will have some idea of Mr. Clay's coat which he wore all the time he was here."

But what had impressed Betsy more than Henry Clay were her neighbors. "I have the most excellent neighbors. They are as kind to me as can possibly be. Our nearest neighbor but one is the family of the Auditor of State. They are very kind. Mr. Osborn, for that is the gentleman's name whose family I have just mentioned, when we laid up our pork came over and cut it up and showed us how to salt it, and is now smoking it in his smokehouse."

"The people, as a mark of attention when a stranger moves into the neighborhood, send them a dish of something they think would be acceptable. Our nearest neighbors (a family named Mills) are from Vermont, consequently Yankees. The sent me fine mess of stewed pumpkin, their favorite dish. Our next neighbors are Virginians. You must know they are extremely fond of anything made of corn and as a mark of attention they sent me a dish of hominy. The next, a German family, sent a dish of sourcrout."

And the neighbors of early Columbus were not only friendly. They were helpful in time of need as well.

On July, 8, 1814, the Freeman's Chronicle newspaper reported: "On Thursday morning, the 30th ult., a daughter of Mr. Robert Taylor of Truro Township, six years old, got lost in the woods while driving a cow to a neighboring farm. More than a hundred men continued in pursuit of her till Saturday morning, when she was found five miles from home standing against a tree near a swamp. Notwithstanding that she had not tasted food from Wednesday night until Saturday morning, and was exposed to several severe rains, she was in good health, and not much dispirited by fatigue and hunger."

The friendliness of early Columbus was not limited to the period of frontier settlement. By 1833, the Ohio Canal and National Road had reached Columbus and the town had more than 2,000 residents. An eastern visitor was impressed.

"The society of married ladies is decidedly superior to that of any other part of the state I have visited. It is not my intention to panegyrize nor even describe; but they in general possess grace, beauty and no small fund of information. The younger class of females in this respect resemble their mothers, but with some exceptions. ... Of the men I will only say, they are agreeable and well-informed."

Columbus, it seems clear, has a long history of being a place of friendly people.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.

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