As it were

North Market a memento of city's wild past

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Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library
The 1814 market at in the middle of High Street lasted until 1830.

I visited North Market recently and was impressed by both the large number of people shopping and the quality and variety of goods and produce available for sale. While acknowledging the success of seasonal farmers markets downtown, it should be noted that North Market is the last public market in Columbus.

There once were as many as four public markets in the city. Of the three markets that have closed, the largest was Central Market. Located near the present-day bus station on Town Street, Central Market was built in 1850 and was a Columbus landmark for more than 100 years.

At one time, the second floor of Central Market served as Columbus City Hall. I sometimes wonder if weekly council meetings moved more quickly with competition from live chicken sales immediately below the proceedings.

Central Market was removed as part of an urban renewal project called Market Mohawk in the 1960s. While it was probably the most memorable of the public markets of Columbus, it was by no means the first one. The market tradition in Columbus is now almost 200 years old and only slightly younger than the city itself.

It is not too hard to see why.

Most early residents of central Ohio had been born into a world where people made a living off the land. People grew the food they ate, made the clothes they wore and often adhered to the old adage, "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without." Nevertheless, the land of the East and South was becoming less and less productive after decades of use. The Ohio country in the years after the American Revolution offered the prospect of a vast new wilderness with rich and fertile soil. The new settlers came in increasingly large numbers, found new land in the forests and in the prairies of the Pickaway and Darby plains, and made homes for themselves. Most Ohioans lived on the land and liked it.

Most, but not all.

There always were people who liked town more than country. Perhaps their profession -- doctor, lawyer or cabinetmaker -- drew them to the towns that were emerging in Ohio. Perhaps they were simply drawn to urban life.

Founded in 1812, Columbus was created to be the new capital city of Ohio. There was no town at this place until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being.

Columbus grew very slowly at first. The War of 1812 brought soldiers and the merchants who served them to frontier Franklinton across the Scioto River from Columbus. With no bridge and a haphazard ferry service, not all that many people lived and worked in a capital city whose legislature still met in Chillicothe.

The first public building was the penitentiary and was located near Main Street where the Cultural Arts Center is today. It was built first so prisoners could be put to work building other public buildings. Working with them were skilled masons, carpenters and other craftsmen. Serving the social needs of the community was a small number of inns, taverns and other shops.

By late 1813, there were about 500 people living in and around Columbus. It was becoming increasingly clear that the one thing the town needed -- more than a hotel and even more than a completed Statehouse -- was a public market.

So early in 1814, a group of property owners living near the corner of Rich and High streets took up a collection and provided the manpower to build a 50-foot-long, one-story frame market house in the middle of High Street. Much of the town was still a forest. Tree stumps still stood in High Street. There was 40-foot Indian mound at Mound and High streets. In the midst of rustic Columbus, the market became one of the most popular places in town.

It became so popular that many other people wanted the market moved to their location. Columbus was incorporated as a borough in 1816. The Ohio General Assembly met in Columbus and the stumps were removed from High Street personally by the first mayor of the capital city.

The Borough Council announced a new market house was needed. Everyone, or so it seemed, wanted the new market house in front of their home. In the end, a contract was made with one John Shields to build a new two-story brick and frame market house in the middle of State Street just west of High Street.

The upstairs had two large rooms. One held a print shop. The other was rented to innkeeper John Young as a place for "amusement and gaming." One early historian noted that "the first billiard table kept in town" was located there.

This market lasted until 1830 when a new one was built at that site. The third market was operated until the large Central Market was completed in 1850.

Now only North Market remains as a welcome reminder of what will soon be a 200-year tradition in the capital city.

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