As it were
Ambitious Kelton found home in 'country'
In 1852, Columbus was a town really beginning to come into its own.
A created city, Columbus was founded in 1812 to be the new state capital, and its site was picked, among other reasons, because it was in the middle of Ohio. But in the early days, that was about all it had going for it. Isolated from other major settlements, the borough of Columbus had a population of only 2,000 to 3,000 people a full 20 years after it was created.
Then, in the early 1830s, the small town's prospects suddenly improved. Within a two-year period, the National Road reached Columbus and the town was linked to the Ohio and Erie Canal. By 1834, the borough of Columbus had become the city of Columbus, with a population of more than 5,000. A slow process of continued growth ensued -- until 1850.
That's when a new transportation revolution reached Columbus in the form of the Columbus and Xenia Railroad. By the end of 1850, Columbus was the second-largest city in Ohio. Only the major metropolis of Cincinnati was larger.
Still, the town was not all that great in size. The original plat of Columbus ran from what is now Nationwide Boulevard on the north to Livingston Avenue to the south and from the Scioto River to what is now Parsons Avenue. But once one walked past what is now Grant Avenue to the east, there were not many houses at all.
Perhaps that's why the Keltons liked that part of town. Fernando Cortez Kelton had come to Columbus in 1833. Born in Vermont, he had come west from that state as a young man of 21 to seek his fortune. And he did just that.
He began with a lumber business. There was a lot of uncut forest left in Ohio in the 1830s. From there, he moved into the wholesale dry goods and pharmaceuticals business and was successful in those enterprises as well. By 1852, he and his wife, Sophia, were ready to build their dream house for themselves and their growing family.
Most people of property and standing in those days lived away from the busy traffic of High Street and the increasingly obnoxious Scioto River. With the Germans in the south end and the Irish to the north, many of the older families of Columbus chose to move east. But they did not move far. Columbus was a walking city at that time and most people did not want to walk more than a block or two to get to places of labor or leisure.
That's why many of the friends of the Keltons could not understand why they wanted to live "way out in the country" at what is now 586 E. Town St., about half a block east of Deaf School Park.
"The country" in this case was seven blocks from the Statehouse. But it was not really a rural retreat in the rapidly growing city of Columbus.
A reporter for a local paper took a walk out Town Street in May 1852. What he found tells us what the street was like 111 years ago:
"East of the Deaf and Dumb Institution, Thomas Sparrow, Esq. and Mr. Bartlet are finishing elegant and tasteful mansions, and M. Northrup (of the Capital [newspaper]) and P. T. Snowden, have just commenced building. Hon. Samuel Galloway has become the owner of the large lot on the southwest corner of Town Street and East Public Lane (Parsons Avenue) and we understand he proposes building the present season.
"At the east end of Town Street is the commanding residence of our fellow citizen George M. Parsons, Esq. outside the city limits ... As we return west, we cannot but admire the taste displayed at the beautiful mansion of our friend Kelsey of the American Hotel. Evergreens, roses and shrubbery of all kinds, with a great variety of fruits and vegetables display themselves in abundance. So it is at Mr. Kimball's, adjoining him on the west, while opposite both are the tasteful building and grounds of the Ohio Deaf and Dumb Institution. Coming on west, our attention is next attracted by the cottage of Mr. Carrington, who has just commenced ornamenting his grounds in a manner worthy of imitation ...
"This street is paved on the south side as far as Seventh (Grant Avenue), and we understand an ordinance has been passed to pave the north side to its terminus at East Public Lane. The citizens are also determined to have a good coat of gravel put on the street from Fourth Street east. There are many beautiful shade trees on this street ... ."
When the Keltons' house was completed, it was comfortably distant from downtown. But the Keltons did have neighbors. And soon they would have many more.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.