As it were

Clintonville: a community known by its state of mind

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Columbus Metropolitan Library
The Olentangy Park swimming pool as it appeared in 1919.
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Near the entrance to the Whetstone Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and nearby Whetstone Park is a large plaque remembering the life and work of Rand P. Hollenback.

Born in Clintonville in 1899, he was — in the words of the plaque — “the champion of all that was good for his community.”

The inscription closed its remembrance of the longtime publisher of The Booster newspaper by noting that, “Although Clintonville is more a state of mind than a city, he was affectionately known as its mayor for more than 30 years.”

Clintonville most assuredly is much more than just a place. I know whereof I speak: I lived in the heart of Clintonville for more than 11 years. It has now been more than a quarter-century since I lived there, but every time I go back — and I go back quite often — I am always struck by how little it has changed.

Clintonville is a special place, and it has been that way for quite a long time.

Clintonville occupies much of what was originally Township 1 in Range 18 of the United States Military Lands. The five-mile by five-mile township was one of those surveyed as part of the rectangular survey of the lands in the Northwest Territory established by the Land Ordinance of 1785.

The township was named for George Clinton, who served as vice president in the administration of Thomas Jefferson.

In the wake of the Greenville Treaty of 1795, most of the southern two-thirds of what is now the state of Ohio began to be rapidly settled. While the Virginia Military District to the west of the Scioto River was largely settled by people from the South, the lands to the north of the forks of the Olentangy and Scioto rivers tended to be settled more by people from New England and the eastern states of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

When early settlers reached Ohio, they were often amazed by what they found. Leaving a land that had been long settled and repeatedly cultivated, they arrived in a place with towering old-growth forests protecting topsoil that was often three, four and five feet deep. Most Native Americans had departed from this part of Ohio, leaving behind only earthen mounds and enclosures that testified to how long they had been here.

The early settlers — Hugh and Robert Fulton, John Hunter, Samuel McElvaine and Balser Hess — and their families were soon joined by many others. They tended to live close to the Olentangy River, since the only roads were the narrow trails previously used by Native Americans.

In 1811, Clinton Township was organized as a political entity as well as a surveying notation. With continued heavy use of a major route between the new state capital of Columbus and the frontier village of Worthington, settlement along the path later called High Street also began to increase.

Among the newcomers were entrepreneurs as well as tillers of the soil. In 1814, Roswell Wilcox built a mill along the Olentangy. It passed through several hands over the years but continued to operate for decades. Farther up the river, George Whip operated a mill as well and there also were, according to a local history, “three distilleries in the township doing pretty extensive business manufacturing liquor, and fattening hogs, etc.”

What exactly “fattening hogs” has to do with making liquor was not explained. Perhaps that is just as well

In 1814, Thomas Bull, a Methodist minister, arrived in Clinton Township with his wife, four sons and one of his two daughters. His second daughter, Chloe Brevoort, arrived with her family shortly thereafter.

The Bull family was of an enterprising nature. A Methodist chapel they helped to build became a stop on the Underground Railroad that aided runaway slaves in their flight to Canada. Near the intersection of North Broadway and High Street, a son of Thomas Bull, named Alanson, in 1847 began offering local tradesmen and craftsmen free lots for their shops if they would locate there. They did, and the village of Clintonville was born.

Never incorporated, Clintonville began to be used as a name for much of the land north of the Glen Echo Ravine and east of the Olentangy River.

And that land continued to be rather intensively settled.

By the end of the 19th century, Columbus had grown past its original border and soon included much of the property around Ohio State University. Most of the city was served by a consolidated electrified streetcar system that was itself a spur to continued growth.

In order to get people to use the streetcar more, the company built an amusement park at the end to the line. Olentangy Park was the biggest of its kind in central Ohio and acted as a magnet, bringing even more people to live in the southern end of Clinton Township.

But the real growth of Clintonville in its modern form came in the first part of the 20th century. Henry Ford’s Model T made the automobile something almost any family could afford, and it was not long before automobile suburbs began to spring up along most of the major highways in central Ohio.

By 1928, Clintonville was a large residential area that ran all the way from the Glen Echo Ravine north to (and some said including) the neighborhood called Beechwold near Morse Road and High Street.

Clintonville became a remarkable place. Street after street of family homes were complemented by spacious parks and commercial establishments along the main thoroughfares. It was a place where people knew their neighbors — not just within a house or two of their own but along their whole city block and often the next one as well.

It was a pleasant place to be and a wonderful place to raise small children.

And it still is. Some neighborhoods have their day in the sun and then become markedly different from what they once were — not better, not worse, just different.

But Clintonville — that special place that I and so many others once knew — Clintonville seems to go on forever.

Perhaps it is a state of mind.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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