As it were

Columbus has its first birthday

By ED LENTZ
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It is winter 1813 and we are approaching the conclusion of a year of celebration in Columbus. The capital city was founded on Feb. 14, 1812.

I have always liked to think that the conjunction of the creation of Columbus and Valentine's Day was not accidental. It gives a sort of romantic flair to our founders that does not come through in the usual accounts of stern men in wigs and wool suits doing the state's work. From what I have seen, our forebears did not lack a sense of humor and subtle irony. Founding a capital city on Valentine's Day illustrates the presence of both.

Over the past year, Columbus has celebrated its past, present and future with the widest variety of events. As the Bicentennial year comes to an end, it might be interesting to look back once again at the events that led to the creation of Columbus.

Columbus is a created city. There was no town on the "Highbanks" on the east side of the Scioto River immediately below its confluence with the Olentangy River when the Ohio General Assembly brought the town into being in 1812.

This is not to say that there had never been a settlement here. A very large mound encountered by early residents gave Mound Street its name and was not fully removed until the 1830s. At one time, a number of Native Americans called this place home. Soon many other people would do so as well.

Ohio became the first state to be carved out of the Northwest Territory in 1803. The first capital of the state was in Chillicothe. The capital moved for a couple of years to Zanesville and then it returned to Chillicothe. But by 1810, the political pressure to move the capital to a more central location was too great to ignore.

Many places wanted to be the capital city. The legislature could not decide which place to pick. Faced with this problem, the Assembly did what it had often done. It selected a committee to go into the wilderness and find a suitable site.

The five men appointed to the committee rode off and did just that. They looked at Newark and Circleville, Delaware and Worthington, and even Franklinton at the "Forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers." The committee returned and reported that their choice was the "Sells Plantations" on the Scioto River where Dublin is today.

Then, the Ohio General Assembly did what it has done more than a few times. It ignored the recommendations of its committee and picked a completely different site.

Four men calling themselves "proprietors" had come together and assembled a town plat. They offered the state 10 acres for a Statehouse -- where it still stands -- and 10 acres for a penitentiary -- where the Cultural Arts Center is today. They offered $50,000 -- an immense sum in those days -- for the construction of buildings.

The Ohio General Assembly accepted the offer and on Feb. 14, 1812, a new capital city was created on the "High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto known as Wolf's Ridge." A few days later, at the instigation of local resident Joseph Foos, the new town was named Columbus. The other name being carefully considered was "Ohio City."

In the spring and summer of 1812, surveyor Joel Wright and his assistant Joseph Vance laid out the town in the midst of a dark and deep "old growth" forest. On June 18, 1812, the first land sales were held. Growth was minimal for the next several years since the War of 1812 began on that same day.

Across the river, Franklinton became a mobilization center for American armies. Columbus on the other side of the river was more a place of promise that a real town. A local history from the 1800s described the scene. "For a time havoc was let loose on the forest and soon many a stately tree lay prone. The most shapely stems were used in laying up the walls of cabins or split into clapboards which served the purposes of sawed lumber of which little could be had."

Work began on a stone house that would serve as the first penitentiary and prisoners from that place would build public buildings. But the first building other than a home to be built in the new town was a tavern. That first tavern was built in the winter of 1813.

So, on Feb. 14, 1813, at least some of the two hundred or so early residents of Columbus walked through the snow and around the stumps that still stood in High Street to the warm glow of a two story brick building on the southwest corner of State and High Streets. And it was there that Columbus celebrated its first birthday.

Happy Birthday Columbus -- and many more.

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

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