Those looking for a place to help them understand the beginnings of Columbus and central Ohio would find a good start in Harrison House.
Located on the northwest corner of Gift and Broad streets, the two-story brick house is in the heart of the near west side neighborhood of Franklinton, which has been around even longer than Columbus. Founded by Lucas Sullivant in 1797 at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers, Franklinton was the earliest settlement in central Ohio in the years after the American Revolution.
In 1812, the Ohio General Assembly selected the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" to be the site of a new capital city to be called Columbus. During the War of 1812, Franklinton became a mobilization and training center for the American armies being formed to fight the British and their Native American allies.
At that time, Columbus was little more than a few houses along the trail that would become High Street. Franklinton was a bustling community of more than 100 houses and stores. Gift Street resulted from an effort by Sullivant to get people to come to his new town. Those who settled in Franklinton received a lot on Gift Street, courtesy of Sullivant.
About 10 of the houses in Franklinton were built with bricks made from the abundant clay in the area. Prominent among those houses was one probably built by Robert Culbertson in 1807 or 1808. The earliest mention of the house in local records is the citation of an 1820 will listing "the house and 2 half lots (123 and 124) where the late Robert Culbertson lived and died." Thus, it's likely the house stood during the War of 1812.
The war did not go well for American armies in the early days of the conflict. Recovering from early losses and humiliating defeats, the remaining armies of the United States were rallied by the efforts of Gen. William Henry Harrison. The victor of the Battle of Tippecanoe a few years earlier, Harrison was faced with the difficult task of forming a new army while defending the frontier from further attack. He set up bases in places as diverse as Dayton, Urbana and frontier Franklinton.
Since there were not many large brick houses in Franklinton, it is likely Harrison was at least a guest in the brick house at Gift and Broad from time to time.
Harrison and his armies successfully defended Fort Meigs near Maumee and Fort Stephenson near Fremont from British and Native American attack. After the stunning victory of Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie. Harrison took his army north into Canada and defeated a combined British and Native American army at the Battle of the Thames. In that battle, the noted Shawnee warrior Tecumseh was killed.
Harrison would use his fame acquired in a long military career to find his way to the presidency in 1840. He gave the longest inaugural address in American history and was fated to have the shortest presidency; he contracted pneumonia and died after only one month in office. Still, it was a long road to success for the soldier who found and formed an army in Franklinton.
In 1832, Jacob Overdier bought the eastern half of lots 123 and 124 at Broad and Gift streets, and from this point on, the house came to be called Overdier House. The name lingered even after the Overdiers left.
Over the years, the house had 17 owners. They included storekeepers, butchers, watchmen for the railroad and the chief engineer of the Columbus waterworks. The Kuhn family lived in the house for 110 years, from 1863-1973, and were the last family to live in the house.
By 1975, the house stood vacant and was threatened with demolition. A local movement to save the house raised enough money and obtained enough volunteer help to buy and renovate the building. The argument was made at the time that it was the headquarters of Gen. Harrison during the War of 1812. In 1972, the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places; in 1980, it was acquired by the city of Columbus. In 1983, the modest Lucas Sullivant Land Office was moved to the site as well.
Since 1975, Harrison House has been home to the Franklin County Genealogical and Historical Society as well as staff from nearby Holy Family Church and the Franklinton Historical Society.
Saving Harrison House is a preservation success for the city of Columbus. It should be noted that what later was claimed to be the real headquarters of Gen. Harrison was a nearby frame-covered log house that was removed early in the 20th century.
Yet the legend of Harrison and this grand old house lives on.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.