At the beginning of summer 1820, Mary Sprague arrived in Columbus with her parents and many siblings. She was the 15th of 16 children born to Frederick and Catherine Sprague. Three of the children had died in infancy, but most came along to Ohio from the East.
It was a long trip, but the journey of Mary Sprague would be even longer.
Many years later, Sprague remembered that Columbus was a rough place in 1820. Founded in 1812 to be the new state capital, Columbus sat on a high, heavily forested ridge overlooking the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. Across the river was frontier Franklinton, an established village since 1797.
To Sprague, the new town seemed inconsequential. Talking about her arrival many years later, she did not emphasize the new state capitol building -- a modest, two-story brick structure at the corner of State and High streets. Nor did she dwell on the state office building on High Street or the nearby courthouse on the square near Broad and High streets.
Instead, she remembered the immense tree stumps punctuating the dirt track that local folks pretentiously called High Street.
The place she remembered best was the modest inn where her family had stayed upon their arrival in town. It was an inn on Broad Street, between High and Front streets.
A later account noted that it was a "two-story frame building of five rooms. Of the three rooms on the first floor, one in the rear was used as a kitchen, one in the front as the dining room, the other the indispensable bar room, while the two rooms above furnished ample accommodations for the customers."
For the large family of Spragues, however, it might have been a tight fit.
The inn was owned by Jarvis Pike and his brother, Ben, and was the first of many similar ventures. Sprague's is the only known description of the first home and business of Jarvis Pike, the first mayor of Columbus who went on to make some money in stagecoaches with William Neil and in "herbal medicine" on his own.
The Spragues stayed briefly in Columbus and then set out on their own land to the south and east of town. How they made it that far is a good story in its own right.
The Spragues had been living in New England for several generations. After the American Revolution, Frederick Sprague married Catherine Nichols and moved to Genesee County, New York, to make a new life on the frontier. A later account noted that "as times were very hard and Canada offered a free home to settlers, he with others formed a small colony, emigrated to Lake Simcoe and commenced building a home in that wilderness."
Frederick Sprague did not think the new United States ever would go to war with England again. It did in 1812, and Frederick again found himself on the move. After selling his land in Canada, Sprague returned to New York and bought some land east of Columbus from his brother.
Frederick Sprague and his family moved to a 218-acre farm along what is now Livingston Avenue. He lived there until his death in 1839. Catherine died in 1850.
Daughter Mary lived much longer.
She later explained that "between the Sprague home and Columbus, there were but two clearings: the Taylor settlement on Big Walnut and the Livingston settlement on Alum Creek.
Mary Sprague came of age at the family farm and eventually married and had children of her own. Her remembrances of frontier education and frontier schools are stories worth reading.
It's sufficient for now to say she had a good life in a good place before her death in 1905. "Aunt Polly," as she came to be known, was 97.
Mary Mariah Sprague is buried at Silent Home Cemetery in Reynoldsburg.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.