At the turn of the 20th century, Columbus, like many American cities, was growing at a remarkably rapid rate. A Midwestern center of transportation and trade as well as a state capital, Columbus had become something of an industrial center as well, increasing in population from 51,000 in 1880 to more than 125,000 by 1900.

At the turn of the 20th century, Columbus, like many American cities, was growing at a remarkably rapid rate. A Midwestern center of transportation and trade as well as a state capital, Columbus had become something of an industrial center as well, increasing in population from 51,000 in 1880 to more than 125,000 by 1900.

People were coming to Columbus from all sorts of places. Many simply left the countryside where there was little in the way of work and moved to the city, where there was a lot of work. Others were new arrivals from eastern and southern Europe who came here looking for a new life in a new land.

All of these people needed places to work and shop and live, and somebody had to erect the buildings to house those functions.

Somebody was actually many, many people. For most of America's history, people needing a house, a store or a factory sought the services of a man -- and it was almost always a man -- who could put together the carpenters and plumbers and roofers and all of the others who were needed to get the job done.

Most general contractors in those days -- and many of them to this day -- employed small numbers of people to work on relatively small projects. But as American cities grew larger and more complex, the projects being built grew bigger. Some contractors began to specialize in building the big projects -- the big bridge, the big building or the big road that tied them all together.

By 1900, in most major American cities such as New York, Chicago or New Orleans, there were a few contractors who did big jobs and a lot of contractors who did small jobs. There was not much in between.

But in many American cities, there was a type of contractor who specialized in doing any job that came to him -- big, small or indifferent. If he could do the job faster than the next man, better than the next man, and importantly, more cheaply than the next man, he would get the job.

In Columbus, for more than half a century, that man was Daniel W. McGrath.

By 1920, it was asserted by one historian that McGrath had erected "perhaps two-thirds of the buildings of Columbus, including the largest office buildings, banks, industrial plants, school houses, churches and the finest dwellings."

Who was this man who had built much of a city for more than a generation?

As it turns out, he was a rather remarkable fellow.

Daniel William McGrath was born on Sept. 13, 1854, in Livingston County, New York. He was the son of recent Irish immigrants who had arrived in America in the previous decade. In 1856, the family moved to a farm in Madison County, Ohio, in hopes of a better life. Their hopes were realized and Daniel McGrath grew up working on the farm and attending the local public schools.

In 1874, McGrath decided he did not wish to be a farmer and left home for the closest big city: Columbus. For the next 10 years, McGrath worked as a bricklayer, first as an apprentice and then as a journeyman and then as a foreman. He was busy for most of those years. Columbus was a growing city and under a thin layer of topsoil was a thick layer of yellow clay that made it easy to make a lot of very inexpensive bricks.

This town from 1850 to 1900 was a bricklayer's paradise.

By 1884, Daniel McGrath had saved enough money to go out on his own as a masonry contractor. In 1891, he took the next step and became a general contractor. Over the next few years, he built a reputation, as one historian later put it, for "ability, reliability and integrity."

He became very good at what he did and soon was asked to undertake some very difficult projects. Beginning in 1895, Columbus built its first seven skyscrapers -- that is, buildings more than five stories high. They were the Wyandotte, Schultz, Spahr, Outlook, Brunson, New First National and Central National Bank buildings. Daniel McGrath and his company built every single one of them.

McGrath's company built factory buildings for Federal Glass, Buckeye Steel and the Jeffrey Manufacturing Co., among many others. The company also built Hayes Hall, Brown Hall and several other library, horticulture and engineering buildings on the campus of The Ohio State University. And when the company was not building commercial buildings, it also spent time building residences for some of the most important people in Columbus. In downtown Columbus, the home of the Athletic Club was built by McGrath and -- farther out from town -- so was the city's first sewage treatment plant, garbage disposal plant and electric light plant.

The remarkable thing, of course -- in a city in constant change -- is that many of these buildings are still around and still in use.

Daniel McGrath made something of a success of himself, joined the right clubs and made many of the right friends. He married Mary Jane Hunter in 1883 and was the father of three sons and three daughters. All three sons joined their father in the family business.

By the time he died in 1937, Daniel McGrath could walk around Statehouse Square and proudly point to all of the buildings his company had built.

Should you visit downtown Columbus and walk down to the Broad Street Bridge to look back at all that Daniel McGrath has built, do not forget to look down. The retaining walls along the river were built by his company, as well.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.