As it were

Keeping order in early Columbus

By ED LENTZ
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Columbus was created to be the capital of the relatively new state of Ohio on Feb. 12, 1812, but it took a while to get the new town under way. It was not until Feb. 10, 1816, that the Borough of Columbus was formerly brought into being with the election of a City Council. One of the members of that council -- Jarvis Pike -- was elected to be the first mayor of the city.

Even after four years of construction and planning, Columbus in 1816 did not amount to much. The southwest corner of Statehouse Square was home to a two-story brick Statehouse and some other public buildings. The rest of Statehouse Square had been cleared by Mayor Pike and planted in corn. A few inns and other stores could be found along High Street south of State Street and on nearby side streets. There was a market house of sorts at State and High. And the homes of some of the seven hundred residents of the city could be seen on the nearby wooded ridge.

But mostly what an early visitor would have noticed were the taverns. There were a lot of them and they seemed to be well patronized. In fact, the newly formed City Council held their first meeting in one of them.

It was perhaps because of the personal perception of these men of the close linkage between liquor and legislation that one of the first acts of the new council was to appoint a man named Samuel King to be the first marshal of Columbus. Mr. King had a rather formidable set of challenges awaiting him in his new job. In addition to keeping the saloons from becoming a bit too rowdy -- one of them was called the "War Office" -- he also had to enforce the legislation drafted by council to deal with what its members felt were the major problems facing the town.

Apparently one of those problems was the knack some residents apparently had of rounding up the stray livestock which had wandered into town and selling it to whoever might want to buy it. One of the first acts of the council was to simply state that, "No law shall ever be made by this corporation subjecting cattle, sheep or hogs, not belonging to any of the residents of said village, to be abused, taken up or sold for coming within the bounds thereof."

In addition to the live animals the town marshal also had to deal with dead ones. The carcasses of all animals dying within the borough "west of Fourth Street and within twenty poles of Broad Street" should be "removed as soon as possible at least thirty poles east of Fourth Street and at least twenty poles from Broad Street."

Since a pole was 16.5 feet, this would place the animal graveyard of Columbus about where the public library and the Discovery District are located today. The man responsible for all of this movement of carcasses was Marshal Samuel King.

But Marshal King soon found he had other more serious ordinances to enforce. In a flurry of early activity, the council soon banned the discharge of firearms west of Fourth Street and that no person should "gallup or run any horse, mare or gelding" in any street west of Fourth Street. Since the Marshal was not all that well-armed and was on foot, the chances of his quickly enforcing these ordinances was rather slim.

In short, like many men who have entered police work before or since, Marshal King had a very tough and often thankless job. The liquor consumption in Franklin County was literally staggering in this period. Average consumption by many adult males was reported to be as much as one gallon per person per week. It soon transpired that much of the job of the town marshal was a nightly trek to accompany local inebriates to either their homes or the county jail across the river in Franklinton.

It should not be too surprising that frontier marshals did not last long in this job. Samuel King lasted for two years. His successor James Fisher was only marshal for a year as was Demming Rathbone, the man who followed Fisher. The next marshal was Samuel Shannon and he actually held the office for four years. Part of the reason for his longevity perhaps came from the fact that the council raised his salary from $70 a year to $150 a year.

He also got some help. In 1821, the council passed an ordinance that said, "Whereas, many evil disposed persons create disturbances at night in this Borough, and commit many offenses with impunity when the good citizens are at rest, Therefore ... that there shall be a watch regularly established in said Borough, to commence their routes at ten of the clock p.m. ..."

Now the Marshal was no longer alone. That small band of "watchmen" over many years and many adventures would eventually become the Columbus Division of Police.

And presumably much to the relief of today's police officers, removing dead horses is no longer part of their job.

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

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