As it were

The Deshlers come to Columbus

By ED LENTZ
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Columbus in the summer of 1817 was hot and dry. But it was also experiencing a second summer at peace. Founded in February, 1812, the new state capital of Ohio had been located not only in the center of the state but also quite close to the battlegrounds of the War of 1812. To the west, the village of Franklinton across the Scioto River prospered during the war as a mobilization and supply center. Columbus remained a small settlement of tradesmen and innkeepers.

Then in 1816, the Ohio General assembly met for the first time in Columbus and the town began to be improved. Most of the remaining tree stumps were removed from High Street and a bridge was built on Broad Street across the river.

It was this small borough of Columbus that saw the arrival of David Deshler and his wife in July 1817. David Deshler had married Elizabeth "Betsy" Green in Easton, Pa., on June 17, 1817, and left to begin a new life in Ohio. The Greens and the Deshlers were not wealthy but were reasonably well off. So the Deshlers arrived in Columbus with some money as well as a wagon carrying their possessions.

David Deshler was a carpenter and cabinet maker and hoped to practice that trade in Columbus. People thought him odd when he offered to pay $1,000 -- an immense sum in those days -- for a town lot. But David and Betsy were convinced that the narrow lot near the northwest corner of Broad and High Streets would be worth something someday.

They were quite right. When the lot finally left the Deshler Trust in the 1980s, it was worth considerably more than $1,000.

The Deshlers were like many new young people coming to Ohio in those years. They were filled with hope and determination to make a successful life for themselves in a new place. But they were different as well; David and Betsy Green Deshler were both literate. Betsy Green Deshler wrote letters to her family in Easton on a regular basis. The letters survived and give a penetrating glimpse into life in the early settlement.

Aug. 14, 1817 -- "We have purchased and hauled 1,500 bricks for our chimney at $4.50 per thousand at the kiln, and have engaged a frame twenty-six feet front, eighteen deep, one story ten feet between the joice, which is to be completed and raised for fifty dollars. We intend setting our building thirty-five feet back, fronting towards the street, and dividing it into a room and kitchen, with chimney in the center so as to have a fireplace in both."

Betsy Deshler had carried a small looking glass in her lap to protect it on her journey into the frontier. When the house was done, she hung it one the wall of her new home. As the house was being built, The Deshlers were probably a bit surprised when President James Monroe rode by on an "inspection tour" of the West in late August 1817. He complimented the "Infant City" on its progress and continued on his way. Columbus was perhaps not as far out of the way as one might think.

Oct. 2, 1817 -- "I have very good neighbors. People here are remarkably kind to strangers. Several of the neighbor women have told me to come and get any kind of vegetables out of their gardens. There is a little boy who brings me cream every morning for breakfast. ... We sold our horse and wagon for more than they cost us. The horse was traded to a man for the plastering of our house which is the same as cash."

The initial success of the Deshler couple was soon followed by difficulty, however, as the country entered a deep economic recession in 1819.

Feb. 3, 1820 -- "David works every day and for the past five months has not got one dollar in money. All the work that is done in Columbus is for trade, trade and no money. It makes it difficult to get along."

By early 1821, she was more optimistic: "Columbus has been very lively this winter. The Legislature sat two months and the Circuit Court sat here at the same time. Besides we had most excellent sleighing nearly all winter. The Courthouse is to be placed on the Public Square near our house. We have had a number of conspicuous characters in Columbus this winter, among whom were Henry Clay of Kentucky, a very genteel man in his appearance, but very plain, indeed."

Over the next several years, the village of Columbus continued to grow and the Deshlers had some success in both work and leisure. But the main theme of Betsy's letters in these years is of recurring struggles with epidemic disease.

October 1823 -- "The sickness of this country does not abate. The distress that the citizens of this state, and of this western country, and particularly this section of the state labor under is unparalleled by anything I ever witnessed. ... On a small stream called Darby, about eighteen miles from here, there are scarcely enough well people to bury the dead."

But by May of 1825, the health of the country seemed to be improving. "We have had an unspeakable winter in this country -- scarcely cold weather enough to make it appear like winter. ... I hope we shall have a more healthy season than the past ones have been. If there is any change in the times, I think it is for the better."

On Nov. 26, 1826, Betsy Green Deshler seemed to be happy with her life and its prospects. "Our town is quite healthy and very lively. Provisions are plenty and cheap."

The following summer, the fevers returned. Betsy Green Deshler died on Aug. 2, 1827, 10 years after she had arrived in Columbus. Her son, William G. Deshler, was 10 weeks old. Betsy Green Deshler was 30.

David Deshler would remarry and have five daughters with Margaret Nashee Deshler. Leaving cabinet making behind, he achieved great success as a banker. But he never left the corner of Broad and High. Acquiring the whole corner, he built a large commercial building with his bank on the ground floor and his home in the building as well. He died in 1869.

The Deshler Block would be followed in 1915 by the Deshler Hotel. The hotel was removed in 1969 and the One Columbus Building was erected on the corner in the 1980s. Betsy Green Deshler's letters are sealed in the foundation of the building.

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

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