As it were

Otstot home has place in history

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COURTESY OF THE COLUMBUS METROPOLITAN LIBRARY
The Otstot house, circa 1892.

It is a substantial house. It is made of stone and stretches well back from the corner on which it stands. The shutters and small-paned glass windows flank a massive fireplace that runs up the entirety of one side of the building. To the left, a substantial side yard provides a bit of open space in the heart of the city.

We are looking at a piece of the past as it appeared in 1892 when this picture was taken. But the house is considerably older than that. This house at 318 S. Front St. sits at the northeast corner of Front and West Noble Alley.

Not only is the house no longer there, the alley is gone as well. But in its time -- in the early days of Columbus -- this was one of the more fashionable streets in the city. And this house helps show us why that was the case.

With the arrival of the National Road in Columbus in the early 1830s, an immense amount of traffic entered the city on Main Street, turned right on High Street and left town by turning left on Broad Street. If one wanted to live close to downtown but be away from the noise and bustle of High Street, Front Street was a nice place to be.

At least that seemed to be the view of John Otstot when he built this house in 1834. We can see there are other substantial houses nearby, and the proud owner and his wife are standing at the corner.

Looking at this impressive home, one might think that Columbus had been good to John Otstot. And one would be absolutely right.

John Otstot was born Sept. 7, 1804 in Lancaster County, Pa. He was the grandson of a German immigrant whose name was spelled variously as "Otstott" or "Otstot."

Spending most of his youth on the family homestead, he apparently had little time or inclination to seek schooling. By the time he was 17, he had only acquired two-and-one-half years of formal education. Deciding he needed to learn a trade, he apprenticed himself to a wagon maker.

In a tradition that went back to the Middle Ages, an apprentice left when he and his master felt that he had learned enough to move on and become a journeyman wagon maker. In Otstot's case, it was a memorable journey indeed. Many young people in the early 1820s felt the future of America lay in what was then "The West" in the newly created states north and west of the Ohio River. Otstot was one of them.

With nothing but a 15-pound pack and a "stout walking staff," Otstot walked 500 miles from his home and arrived in Columbus in December 1824. Perhaps because it was December or perhaps because saw some possibilities, he decided to stay in Columbus for a while.

And there were possibilities in Columbus in those days. Created in 1812 to be the new capital city of Ohio, the town had grown very slowly at first. By the time Otstot arrived, there were about 2,000 people living here. Columbus had seen a land rush when it was first established as people paid large sums for lots that they thought would soon be worth much more. They weren't.

In the wake of the War of 1812, land prices fell and lots in Columbus that once sold for $1,000 or more were sold at auction for $100. By the time Otstot arrived, the worst of the market collapse was over and lot prices were beginning to rise -- but not by much.

Otstot entered into the business of wagon making with one Mathias Kinney. Two years later, Kinney died and Otstot bought his shop. He stayed in the wagon-making business -- for which there was some demand -- for the next 37 years. According to one local history, he retired from wagon making in 1863, "to look after his real estate, of which he had acquired considerable."

In 1892, he was listed as one of the oldest members of the "Old Pioneer Association." He also was a member of the Mechanics Beneficial Society from the time it was founded in 1825 until it ended in 1880. He was a trustee of the group for 31 years.

He was also a family man who needed a house as big as the one he built. In 1829, after being in Columbus for a few years, he married Eleanor Van Vorst, who was originally from the state of New York. They had 13 children over the course of their marriage. Eleanor Otstot died in 1861. In 1864, one year after he left the wagon-making trade, John Otstot married Matilda Wofford. She died in 1891.

John Otstot, full of years and memories, died in the house he had built in 1834 on May 7, 1897.

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

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