Cities to a great extent look the way they look and grow the way they grow for a number of different reasons, not the least of which is transportation.

Cities to a great extent look the way they look and grow the way they grow for a number of different reasons, not the least of which is transportation.

It is difficult today to realize just how hard it was to get around central Ohio a couple of hundred years ago. Most of central Ohio was a dark, deep, old-growth forest. Animal trails leading through the forests had become the trails used first by Native Americans and then by the frontier settlers who followed them.

These trails tended to follow the high ground and ridges between river valleys. Such trails tended to stay drier and clear of winter ice and snow for longer periods. But most people living in central Ohio soon realized that there was an easier way to travel.

That way was by water. Central Ohio is blessed with an abundant number of streams and rivers. And with a proper canoe, travel on those streams was considerably easier than using a forest trail. For hundreds of years, Native Americans lived near the rivers. They built their villages at places such as the junction of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers and planted their crops in the rich soils of the river bottom lands.

One of the reasons Lucas Sullivant laid out a village at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers in 1797 was his recognition that a village located where two rivers came together would likely prosper from trade along the rivers.

It was a reasonable assumption, but it was not a correct one.

It is one thing to take a canoe down an inland river. It is quite another to take a flatboat loaded with several tons of meat and produce down that same river. The wide and deep Muskingum River was able to handle such traffic. And indeed, by the 1840s, steamboats were running north from Marietta.

Such was not the case along the Scioto. The river narrowed south of Columbus and simply could not handle the massive boats that were used in profitable river traffic. So for a number of years, frontier Franklinton and later, the new capital city of Columbus across the river, did not grow all that much. But by 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000 people.

What happened to cause this growth? Two things: One was by land and the second was by water.

Recognizing the difficulties with western transportation, Ohio's congressional delegation had joined those of other western states in urging the federal government to spend some money on transportation. Many people living in the East were not sold on the idea of supporting improvements for their competitors to the West. But in 1811, a beginning was made to construct a National Road to link East and West.

It would take a long time to build. Not until early in the 1830s would the National Road arrive in Columbus. When the road came into Columbus along Main Street, the all-weather highway punctuated by strong stone bridges would provide a land link to the East that thousands of people would use for many years.

But it was not the only reason Columbus grew so rapidly in the 1830s. For more than 20 years, residents had hoped to find a better way to make use of the river that ran by their town. But the improvements needed to make the river navigable were far beyond the means of the people of central Ohio.

Then, in the 1820s, an answer came from the East. Gov. DeWitt Clinton of New York became a strong advocate of a canal that would link the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean along the Mohawk River Valley in upstate New York. The Erie Canal was an extraordinary success, and soon many other states wanted a canal, as well.

Ohio was among them. The original plan was to build a single canal from Portsmouth to Sandusky Bay. But it soon became clear that such a canal would not be economically possible. Instead of giving up, however, two complete canal systems - the Miami and Erie in the west and the Ohio and Erie in the east - began to be built.

Columbus was linked to the Ohio and Erie by a feeder canal that passed to the south and east of the city. The canal was completed and entered the city in the early 1830s. The combination of the canal and the National Road was the key to the early successful growth of Columbus.

The two routes also changed the face of the city.

The original Ohio Penitentiary was located where the Cultural Arts Center is today. When it became apparent that the National Road would enter Columbus along Main Street, plans were made to move the penitentiary "out into the country" where the corner of Spring Street and Neil Avenue is today.

But the National Road did not leave Columbus along Main Street. Responding to the concerns of local businessmen, the National Road entered Columbus on Main Street, turned right and followed High Street to Broad Street and then turned left and exited Columbus on a new Broad Street Bridge.

At the same time, the Columbus Feeder Canal emptied into the Scioto River where Bicentennial Park is today. The combination of the road and the canal created whole new commercial, industrial and residential districts in the city as some firms moved to be closer to the new routes and other people moved away from them to parts of the city with less noise, traffic and congestion.

The same sort of urban movement would take place later when the railroads came to town, when air travel reached the city and when interstate highways were built.

And whatever the next great innovation in transportation might be, it, too, will change the capital city.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.