As it were

Northland community isn't defined by the mall

By Ed Lentz
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Northland was and is much more than a shopping mall of the same name.

Some might contend — with some justification — that the neighborhoods that emerged several decades ago on the Morse and Dublin-Granville roads corridor took their own title from an area shopping mall of the same name. Others would contend that what was then the far North Side of Ohio’s capital city had been called some variation of “North” for some time. And as far as such things go, both would probably be right.

But that does not explain how the many different neighborhoods that came to consider themselves part of the “Northland community” came to be.

It is a good story that is well worth retelling, and like many in the history of this city, has a lot to do with how people moved around from place to place.

If you had been standing at the corner of Morse Road and High Street in 1945 as World War II came to an end, you would probably be struck by how little the area had changed since the turn of the century.

High Street was busy, as most state highways usually were. But a short journey along Morse Road would reveal how little the still largely rural countryside had changed. To the north, one could see the site of the Elks County Club, which would become the home of the Ohio School for the Deaf and the Ohio School for the Blind in 1953. Farther out along Morse Road, one would find the 1920s campground and cabins of the Redpath Chautauqua still in use — but not as a Chautauqua. That summer gathering of people who liked camping and culture had ended in the early 1930s.

Mostly what people would have noticed along Morse Road was the lack of residents. This part of Franklin County was still farm country, and while there were clusters of community and commerce near the main intersections like Morse Road and Cleveland Avenue, most of the area was still quite open.

In a few short years, all of this would change and this would become one of the fastest-growing areas in central Ohio.

Some people could see the growth that was coming and did their best to be on the right side of change. Don Casto was one of those people.

In the 1920s, he had foreseen the successful evolution of Grandview from a distant village to a bedroom suburb and had gambled correctly that the place was ready for a block of concentrated stores with ample parking. After World War II, he saw that 16 million returning veterans would be looking for cars, wives and homes — usually in that order. Town and Country Shopping Center was his answer to those needs in 1948.

There would be many more. One was Graceland, just north of that intersection of Morse Road and High Street.

Since the end of World War I, neighborhoods had marched north on either side of High Street toward Worthington, taking advantage of inexpensive automobiles and good streets to carry them. These new “automobile suburbs” were the next ring out after the “streetcar suburbs” of the previous generation. Soon, they would reach beyond Clintonville and Beechwold and march on toward Worthington. And Graceland would be there to meet them.

And in the course of time, that is exactly what did happen. But it took a lot longer than most people expected because technology intervened once again.

At the end of World War II, then-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had been mightily impressed with the high-speed autobahn highway system of vanquished Germany. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he presided over the beginnings of such a system in America.

As canals, railroads and air travel had previously altered America, the interstate highway system changed our country forever.

In 1962, 50 years ago this year, Interstate 71 was completed into downtown Columbus from the north. Now a commute that once took almost an hour could be made in less than 30 minutes. Any number of commercial and residential real estate developers saw the possibilities and moved quickly to take advantage of them.

In 1955, the Metzger Brothers company began to build what came to be called Forest Park. By the time it was done, Forest Park consisted of more than 2,900 private residential properties, apartments, condominiums and commercial properties. And it was only one development among many, especially after Northland Mall was constructed nearby, south of Morse Road, in 1964.

Northland acted as a magnet and attracted shoppers from many miles away. As the first of a new generation of shopping malls, there was no place quite like it in central Ohio. The growth of commerce and trade in the area was something of a wonder to behold and soon was matched by similar growth in other parts of Columbus, several miles away from the central city.

As Northland grew, so too did the rest of Columbus. By the 1990s and into the new century, new areas and new shopping centers began to provide a formidable challenge to the communities around the 1960s shopping centers — Northland, Eastland and Westland.

After the closure of Northland Mall in 2002, some wondered if the Northland community would survive. There should never have been any doubt. The Northland Community Council represents 25 neighborhood organizations and the Northland Area Business Association represents many of the 5,600 businesses in the area.

As it has been for most of its history, the Northland community is a mix of new people and long-established residents, of new ideas and old values, and a place that has helped define Columbus.

It is, quite simply, a good place to live.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

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