At a recent meeting at the Columbus Athletic Club, people began to gather stories, anecdotes and other interesting information about the longstanding Columbus organization as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2012.

At a recent meeting at the Columbus Athletic Club, people began to gather stories, anecdotes and other interesting information about the longstanding Columbus organization as it approaches its 100th birthday in 2012.

This, of course, brings to mind the whole subject of clubs and Columbus.

First of all, we should make the point that gathering together in clubs is not unique to Columbus or to America. People frequently sort themselves into clubs and organizations where the same interests, concerns and sometimes the same neighborhood are shared by the members of the group.

When the first Puritan settlers arrived in America, they separated themselves from the rest of the people they encountered and considered themselves to be the favored people of the new country. Over the next few years, the Puritans -- now well-established as the new people of New England -- solidified their hold on the land and formed a number of religious, social and cultural organizations.

As people moved across the mountains and settled in Ohio, they brought their groups with them. The churches that had been well established in the East now found new homes in the Midwest. Societies such as the Freemasons came to Ohio as well and established new chapters here.

Most importantly, the new country provided a safe ground for the formation of new organizations. New groups -- political, social and cultural -- came into being to help the newcomers and meet their needs.

In the 1830s, foreign observer Alexis De Toqueville arrived in America and immediately noticed how Americans lived simply and unpretentiously. Unlike Europe, bound by strict rules of caste and class, people in America sorted themselves out by the groups they joined.

In the years after the American Civil War, the country ceased being only a place of farms and small towns. The great industrial cities of the East and Midwest were built with the labor of huge numbers of recent immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, just as earlier generations had been aided by Irish and German immigrants who had built the canals and railroads of frontier America.

In an age in which literacy was limited, people did not join organizations on the basis of the eloquence of their arguments. Rather, clubs were created and grew for one of two reasons: Some groups reinforced the separation of their new members from the rest of the country on the basis of religion, ethnicity or culture. Other new groups tried to join people together by ignoring their roots but looking strongly at their current character.

Some of the new groups trying to unite Americans formed around the grand myths and legends of the new country. Thus, the Woodmen and the Redmen complemented earlier groups and themselves were joined by new service organizations based around animals such as the Elks, the Eagles and the Moose.

Other new clubs prospered because they offered services needed in a downtown Columbus that was growing rapidly in the early 1900s. The Athletic Club of Columbus is a good example.

Other clubs were simply places where likeminded people of similar class and standing could gather one with another.

A case in point is the Columbus Club. In 1866, Columbus entrepreneur B.E. Smith began to plan his dream house on the lot he had bought at Broad and South Fourth streets. Not caring for local bricks, every brick in his home was an imported Philadelphia Pressed Brick shipped to Columbus individually wrapped in waxed paper. Eventually, Mr. Smith made his fortune in railroads and later lost his fortune in unwise investments.

At length, his empty house was acquired by the newly formed Columbus Club in 1886 and it has been the home of the club ever since. The Columbus Club is limited in membership, but not too limited. A century ago, there was a group called the Wyandotte Club consisting of 17 -- and only 17 -- prominent members. At length, when more members were dying than new members could be found, the Wyandotte Club went out of business.

The Columbus Club suffered no such fate. Its large membership has supported the club for more than a century.

In the 20th century, the city clubs began to be complemented by quite successful country clubs like the Columbus Country Club and the Scioto Country Club.

Today, the country clubs outnumber the city clubs, which says more about where people live than the clubs they favor.

Clubs come and go as the tastes and needs of the people they serve change.

One of the oldest clubs in Columbus of which we have any record is the Columbus Lyceum. Founded in 1832, it offered lectures and discussions as a source of news and information in the early days of the state capital. With the establishment of schools, newspapers, theatres and other competing sources of information, interest declined and the organization faded away.

But as some clubs end, others are coming into being. Since 1976, the Columbus Metropolitan Club has been the sponsor of lectures and discussions "to connect people and ideas through community conversation." Some good ideas do not end with the groups that gave them life. They come back in new forms and in new groups.

Columbus is a city of clubs -- and like many other American cities, is very happy being just that.

Note: People wishing to learn more about the centennial of the Athletic Club of Columbus may contact Ms. Marte Dobosh at (614) 221-3344.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek Community Newspapers.

Ed

Lentz