As it were

To natives, city was crossroads community

By

With its location near the middle of the state, it should not be surprising that Columbus has become something of a crossroads community in the course of its more than 200-year history.

The crossing of two major highways -- Interstates 70 and 71 -- is only one of the more recent examples in a long history of being in the center of things.

In the years after colonial settlement, a number of frontier trails from nearby communities of greater or lesser size converged in the area.

With the establishment of Columbus as the state capital in 1812, growth was slow at first. But then with the arrival of the National Road and a branch of the Ohio and Erie Canal in the 1830s, central Ohio began to attract a lot of new people. Some were previous residents of the North and the South. Others were recent immigrants from Western Europe.

With the increasing pace of urban life in the 20th century, the number of new arrivals to Columbus increased as well. Today, the city is quite a cosmopolitan place with people from literally dozens of foreign countries and every part of the United States calling this their home.

With all of this diversity and complexity, one might not be blamed for looking back with some nostalgia to a time before European settlement, when only a village or two of Native Americans lived here in a simple frontier lifestyle.

And, of course, it was not that way at all. Central Ohio has been a very busy place for a long time.

About 500 years before the current era, permanent Native American villages began to be established here. What followed was the emergence over the next 1,000 years of highly organized and sophisticated societies that came to be collectively called "The Mound Builders."

At one time, dozens of mounds and earthen enclosures dotted the landscape of central Ohio. One notable mound more than 40 feet tall stood at the intersection of what is now Mound and High streets.

It is not hard to see why people settled here and stayed here. Columbus is roughly halfway between Lake Erie and the Ohio River and is located where two major rivers come together. From this place, one could easily travel in many directions across what is now the state of Ohio.

In time, the day of the Mound Builders came to an end. But central Ohio remained a place where many different people continued to come together. The era of the "historic" Native American tribes was about to begin.

From about 1600 to 1650, the Ohio Country experienced something of a new beginning. The powerful Iroquois nation swept out of New York and virtually annihilated several of the Native American communities then resident in Ohio. Claiming this land as their own, the Iroquois held much of what is now Ohio for several decades.

An increased presence by both British and French traders and settlers drew many of the Iroquois back to their homeland, while others remained in what is now eastern and northeastern Ohio.

Some of the remaining people from the Seneca nation of the Iroquois confederacy were called "Mingoes." By the 1770s, a major Mingo village was located where the Arena District is today.

And it was not alone. From the South, the Shawnee arrived and settled along the lower reaches of the Scioto River, but with villages as far north as Columbus.

Similarly, the Wyandot nation moved south from Michigan and Indiana into central Ohio. Wyandot villages could be found as far south as what is now Dublin, Hilliard and Upper Arlington.

Moving across Pennsylvania, the Delaware arrived in eastern and north central Ohio in this same period and would eventually give Delaware County its name.

In the years before the American Revolution, all of these people -- as well as small groups from other native nations -- lived in close proximity to one another and in peace in central Ohio. Linking the diverse villages was a series of trails and paths. One of the major ones was the Scioto Trail, which ran from Lake Erie to the Ohio River along the Scioto River and passed through what is now downtown Columbus.

In 1871, Joseph Sullivant spoke to a gathering of the Franklin County Pioneer Society. The son of pioneer surveyor and town builder Lucas Sullivant remembered what he had been told as a child by men who had been captives of native peoples.

"There were three Indian encampments or villages in this vicinity; one on the High Bank near the old Morrill House, one and half miles below the city, from which the party was sent out to capture my father and his party on Deer Creek, in 1795; one at the west end of the Harrisburg Bridge; and the principal on the river below the mouth of the Whetstone (Olentangy)."

Within a few years after the American Revolution, all of those villages were gone and new people were arriving at what is still our crossroads community.

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

Comments