As it were

First City Hall a sight to behold

By
Enlarge Image
COURTESY OF THE COLUMBUS METROPOLITAN LIBRARY
The original Columbus City Hall stood on State Street from 1872 to 1921.
Buy This Photo

Today when one talks about "City Hall" in Columbus, our attention is drawn to the impressive public building which has been part of the civic center along the Scioto River since it was completed in 1928.

Since Columbus has been the state capital since 1812, one might wonder where City Hall was located in the years before 1928.

The short answer to that question is: a number of places, and one of them was very special.

Columbus is a created city. There was no town on the ridge overlooking frontier Franklinton on the west side of the Scioto until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being Feb. 14, 1812.

Because of the War of 1812, the town grew very slowly at first. In fact, by the end of that war in 1815, Columbus was a small hamlet with only a few hundred residents. It had no formal government other than the oversight of the four proprietors whose proposal of land and money had persuaded the state government to locate in this place.

By 1816, a modest two-story brick Statehouse had been erected on the northeast corner of State and High streets, and the Ohio General Assembly came to town to hold its first session. It was at this point that local residents decided a more formal sort of local government might be needed.

To that end, the borough of Columbus was established and the first meeting of the borough council was held May 6, 1816. Not having a city hall, the nine-man council met at a local tavern called the Columbus Inn. It seems that inns and taverns were the place to meet until 1818, when the governor let the council use a committee room in the Statehouse for its meetings.

In 1834, with the arrival of the Ohio Canal and the National Road, Columbus was a town of more than 5,000 people, and the borough of Columbus became the city of Columbus. But even with this new status, there still was no real home for city government.

All of that changed in 1850 with the completion of Central Market. Columbus had had market houses for a number of years, but they were modest structures. Central Market was anything but modest.

The massive two-story building took up most of the city block south of Town Street between Third and Fourth streets. It was located where the local bus station is today.

Attached to the main building was a small structure housing the city jail. The ground floor of the market was the home to vendor stalls, with merchants selling everything from local produce to live chickens.

Council met on the second floor and presumably was able to cope with the cacophony below. They must have made some accommodation with the merchants since this place was the home of Columbus city government for the next 22 years.

By the end of the Civil War in 1865, Columbus was a city of more than 18,000 people and a major midwestern railroad hub. Civic leaders and local officials decided the time had come to build a new city hall and leave the chickens to fend for themselves.

A site on the south side of State Street across from Statehouse Square was selected and work was begun on the building in 1869.

Designed by R.T. Brooks, the building was constructed under the supervision of council President Luther Donaldson and construction superintendent Jacob Boswell. The total cost of the building was in excess of $175,000 -- an immense sum in those days.

But the building was a wonder to behold. The grand opening was held March 28, 1872.

An account from that time remembered the evening. "The building was thronged on that memorable occasion by thousands of our citizens, whose admiration and delight, as they viewed the noble structure and promenaded through its spacious and well-arranged interior, were boundless."

On the ground floor of the three-story building was a central lobby with the local post office on the right and the "library room" on the left. In the back of the first floor were the offices of the Board of Trade.

On the second floor was the council chamber. "It is magnificently furnished. The walls are frescoed with watercolors, and the floor, within the bar is covered with a handsome carpet of brilliant colors. ... The walls of the room are ornamented with the portraits of prominent men and citizens. ... A portrait of George Washington occupies a place on the western wall."

On the third floor, "is a massive public hall one hundred and forty feet long by seventy four feet wide and fifty three feet high." It was estimated that 3,000 people could be seated in the room.

This great building served as City Hall until it was destroyed in a spectacular fire Jan. 12, 1921. The site is now the home of the Ohio Theatre.

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

Comments