As it were

The naming of Columbus' streets


People walking or driving about the streets of Columbus today often assume that the names of these major thoroughfares and more obscure byways have not changed all that much over the years. In point of fact, it is quite true that some of the streets of Columbus carry the same names today as they did two centuries ago.

But many of them do not.

The reasons for changing the names of the streets of Columbus are about as many and diverse as the people of the town itself and the events they have experienced. One street running east to west in downtown Columbus was once called Friend Street -- presumably because of some early association with the Society of Friends called Quakers. But after the National Road arrived in Columbus in the early 1830s, the name was changed to Main Street. And Main Street it has remained.

It is interesting to note that the closer one is to Statehouse Square, the less likely it is to find changes in street names. Broad Street, State Street, Town Street and even Rich Street were names originally given to those streets. The same is true for Front Street, High Street and Third and Fourth Streets. North of Broad Street, the names of Gay Street, Long Street and Spring Street are original as well.

But we should mention that Spring Street was once a creek of considerable size that swept down to the Scioto River from the high ground east of the downtown. Until the 1830s, people traveling north crossed what is now Spring Street on a bridge.

One of the reasons that street names were changed had to do with the way the city grew. Just as we do today, subdivisions of what was then open land were added to the city from time to time. Many of these subdivisions were outside the city and the streets within them were given names important to the person creating the new plat -- who was usually the owner of the land being subdivided.

As the city grew in size, many of these independent subdivisions were annexed to the city and existing streets in Columbus were now found to have extensions in the new area that had completely different names.

As Columbus grew rather slowly in the early 1800s, this was not a terribly pressing problem. But the arrival of more and more railroad traffic during and after the Civil War complemented the existing Ohio Canal and National Road and Columbus began to grow quite rapidly. By the early 1870s, Ohio's capital city had a lot of streets that may have been long and straight but which also had many different names.

In September 1872, Columbus City Council addressed the problem with a flurry of street name changing. An ordinance making the changes read in part:

"Depot and Kerr Street changed to Third Street; Phelan and Parsons Street changed to Fourth Street; Latham and George to Fifth; East and Siegel to Sixth; Medary to Sixth; Church to Seventh; Centre Street, Eighth Street extending from Broad to Oak, and Eighth Street extending southwardly to Ninth Street; Morrison, Pike and Gift Streets and Northrup Alley to Eleventh Street; Albert and Cedar Streets to Fifteenth; Australia to Seventeenth; Grant and Corn to Nineteenth; Windsor Lane and Mulberry Street to Twentieth Street, East Public Lane to Parsons Avenue; Expansion Street and Public, Medary, Converse and Prentiss Alleys to Capital Alley; South Public Lane to Livingston Avenue; Sycamore Street to Noble Street; South and Franklin Alleys and Armstrong Street to Stauring Alley; Johnstown Road and John Street to Mount Vernon Avenue; Centre Alley to Pearl Street; Clinton and Swan Alleys to Miami Alley; Oak Alley to Columbus Street; Third Alley to Court Street; Fourth Alley, Division Street and South Lane to Beck Street; Fifth Alley to Willow Alley; First Alley to Brewers' Alley; Franklin Avenue to State Street; Second and Ball Alleys to Rhine Street; Fifth Alley to Linden Alley; Mulberry and Sterrit Alleys to Lafayette Street; North Street to Chestnut Street; Wilson to Russell; North Avenue, with the street extending westwardly, to Fourth Avenue; State Avenue to Scioto Street; Mechanic Street to Mitchell Street; Plumb to Lucas; Prospect and Short Streets to Kelley Alley; Patch Street to University; Perry to Schiller; North and Straight Alleys to Lazelle Street; Last Street to Randolph; Meadow Lane to Bryden Street; Elm Alley to Bismarck Alley; South Street to Fulton; Bank Alley to Park Street; North Alley to Plymouth Alley."

This was not the first time street names had been changed in Columbus and it certainly would not be the last. But it was one of the larger street name changing events in the city's history up to that time. As to the new names -- some were merely extending existing streets by changing the names of streets joining to them. Other name changes were less obvious and the reasons for the new names are not known. But in many cases they are the names of those streets to this day.

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