Every so often I take a ride on a COTA bus to some part of the city I have not seen recently. I recommend this way of seeing Columbus because it helps us see things more clearly. If I am driving through a neighborhood, I really don't see it because I am looking out for other cars, traffic signals and the occasional bold pedestrian. Riding through town this way really lets you see the city as it is.

Every so often I take a ride on a COTA bus to some part of the city I have not seen recently. I recommend this way of seeing Columbus because it helps us see things more clearly. If I am driving through a neighborhood, I really don't see it because I am looking out for other cars, traffic signals and the occasional bold pedestrian. Riding through town this way really lets you see the city as it is.

Sort of.

So here I am on this bus moving through Downtown sitting behind two people who also are looking around. One of the people says, "Why is that called Long Street?" And the answer was, "Because it was the longest street in town." Shortly thereafter, a new question came. "Why is that called Spring Street?" And the answer was, "Because one had to jump or spring across it." This answer was getting a little closer to the truth.

First off, the naming of "Long Street" has nothing to do with its length. Similarly, "Spring Street" has nothing to do with jumping.

Let us make clear as well, we will never be quite certain why some streets were named as they were.

Columbus is a created city. There was no city here until the Ohio General Assembly decided to build a new capital at the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" at "The Forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers" in 1812. Franklinton was the little community across the Scioto at the Fork that had been founded in 1797.

The High Banks opposite Franklinton was covered by dense old growth forest with the only distinguishing feature being a 40-foot Native-American mound at what is now Mound and High Streets.

Into this wilderness came Joel Wright. Quaker by persuasion and a surveyor by training, Wright was charged with laying out the new capital city. Hailing from Springboro and points south, Wright realized he would need some help in his survey. He hired Joseph Vance, a militia leader and surveyor to help him.

The result was the first map of Columbus. Joel Wright was a surveyor by trade and a social advocate by predilection. He made a map in 1813 showing the streets of the capital city and points nearby.

Unfortunately, that map was lost. In 1822, long after Columbus was the new capital city and boasted a population of more than 1,000 people, Joel Wright was asked to make a new map of Columbus showing the town as it was originally surveyed. He did just that and that map is the one we use today when we look at the original plat of Columbus.

Sort of.

On must say "sort of" because the original 1822 Joel Wright map of Columbus, like its predecessor, is lost. Sometime early in the Twentieth Century, the New York Public Library asked the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society if it could borrow the map. The Society, now the Ohio Historical Society complied and the map was sent to New York. The New York Public Library made a photo static copy of it. And then the library lost the map. So the only surviving copy of the Second Map of Columbus is a duplicate Photostat from New York.

And that is the map we use today when we look for the street names of early Columbus. It is quite good. I have written elsewhere about the names of the major streets in the Downtown. Suffice to say that Long Street is probably named for the Long family who owned some property in the vicinity. And Spring Street is named for the natural springs that flowed into a creek that moved rapidly through the downtown to the river. A footbridge crossed Spring Street until the 1830s when a more permanent bridge was built. The creek is still there. Today it flows through a large sewer that has been in place for more than a century.

As interesting as the original names of the main streets are the names of the east-west alleys in downtown Columbus. They tell us something of what was growing here when the town was laid out and much of the area was still covered with old growth forest. Traveling north from Livingston Avenue (originally South Public Lane) the alley names are Strawberry, Gooseberry, Cherry, Walnut, Sugar, Public, Linn (now Lynn), Elm, Mulberry, Hickory and Locust. Most of these alleys still carry those original names.

The same cannot be said for the north-south alleys that run through the downtown. But that is another story for another time.

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