Spring has arrived in Columbus. As once was said in German communities such as the one on the Old South End of Columbus, "Die vogel singen und alles ist schoen." Loosely translated, that means, "The birds are singing and everything is just fine."
But for many Columbus residents in the city's early days, things were not "just fine," and life was a challenge.
Columbus is a created city. No settlement was on the "high banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto" until the Ohio General Assembly created a capital city in 1812. The town grew slowly at first because the General Assembly met only briefly; otherwise, the town had little to do.
That changed in the early 1830s with the arrival of the Ohio Canal and the National Road. By 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000 people and most of them were living within a few blocks of Broad and High streets.
It was a hectic and turbulent time.
On one hand, many older residents who settled here and had seen little happen to justify their faith in the future were pleased to witness the hustle and bustle of a new town rapidly growing. But many new arrivals from Ireland, Germany and elsewhere found a town where people lived uncomfortably close to one another.
Seeking to build new communities of their own, newly arrived German immigrants settled south of the city limits at what is now Livingston Avenue. Irish newcomers moved north of the city limits at what is now Nationwide Boulevard. That street once was called North Public Lane, but by the 1850s, it had come to be called "Irish Broadway."
All these new neighborhoods had one thing common: There was not much in the way of open public space.
On a nice spring day, one could take a walk along an increasingly polluted river lined with factories and full of canal boats waiting to leave town on the feeder canal near what is now Bicentennial Park.
Alternatively, one might stroll around Statehouse Square, which had been a cornfield, pig warren and a trash dump until 1838 when work began on a new statehouse. To keep in the prisoners from the Ohio Penitentiary who would build it, a large fence was built around the square.
On a spring day before the Civil War, the only answer for most Columbus residents seeking clean air was a ride or a walk several miles from town to a place in the country.
A few people found green space closer to town.
In 1852, Lorenzo Cortez Kelton decided to build his dream house. Kelton had been in the dry-goods business for some time and had done well. He decided to build a federal-revival house on East Town Street. Many of his friends thought him unwise to build a house "so far out in the country." He was four blocks from the Statehouse.
But Kelton recognized something important about where he was. Soon, silk merchant Philip Snowden had the same idea and built his own Italianate-revival mansion half a block away.
In a town without parks, Kelton and Snowden were a block away from two places that would meet that need. The Ohio School for the Deaf on Town Street and the Ohio School for the Blind at Parsons Avenue and Main Street each sat on more than 10 acres of open land. For people such as the Keltons and the Snowdens, both places were great spots for a walk or a picnic.
Columbus continued to grow, and by the end of the Civil War, it had become a city of more than 20,000 people. But the town still had no public parks.
Lincoln Goodale began to change that. A pioneer settler of Columbus, Goodale had made a lot of money in several local enterprises. At the end of a long life, he decided to give something back. He gave the city the land for its first public park: Goodale Park.
Over the next several years, other parks came into city hands. Stewart's Grove south of the German community was acquired by the city and eventually became Schiller Park. The old state fairgrounds east of the city would become Franklin Park.
By the turn of the 20th century, virtually anyone who wanted to spend a springtime day in the park could find a place to do so.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.