Columbus came of age in the mid-1830s. Established as the state capital in 1812, Columbus was an isolated village in the middle of what was then the western frontier of the United States.
Many early residents thought the town, at the confluence of two rivers, would grow quickly with traffic on the inland waterways. But the rivers proved to be unnavigable for larger boats.
Still, the town managed to grow modestly in its first two decades. A local resident took a careful look at the size of the town and made note of his findings in a letter to a friend:
"In 1831 the town contained about three hundred and fifty dwellings, fifteen general stores, four printing offices, one bank, a market house, four churches, four clergymen, ten lawyers, five regular physicians and a total population of 2,434 inhabitants."
Three years later, the borough of Columbus had become the city of Columbus with more than 5,000 residents.
The key to this growth and prosperity was transportation. Just as the capital had grown slowly because of a lack of traffic, the arrival of easy transport transformed the town. In 1836, a local letter described what had occurred in the previous five years:
"Our citizens have, as it were per force, yielded acquiescence to the gradual, and, because gradual, almost imperceptible rise in real estate in this vicinity. ... In the meantime the National Road has been completed to this point from the East, and is rapidly progressing West; the Sandusky and Columbus Turnpike has been completed, and numerous important and feasible projects: railroads, turnpikes, etc., are in embryo, proposing to connect our city with the Lakes, the Ohio River South and East of us, and with the Mississippi in the Far West.
"The consequence of these things, added to the privileges we enjoy from the Ohio Canal, the rapid increase of our city population (100 per cent in five years) and the high prices which everything consumable bears in our market, has gradually, but surely enhanced the value of real estate in this city and the country adjacent ... It is rumored, and we believe with truth, that some eastern capitalists have recently turned their attention to us ... In regard to city property it should be borne in mind that we are situated not only in the center and at the capital of one of the richest and most fertile States of the Union, but that we are enjoying and about to enjoy extended privileges which no other inland town can possibly partake of.
"Who does not perceive that a canal or railroad will in a very few years connect us by a direct route through the Scioto Valley with Lake Erie? Who doubts but the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad will in five years reach the capital of Ohio? Who doubts but that the great projected Railroad from Charleston to Lake Erie will be completed in ten years, and pass directly through Columbus towards Cleveland? If any, surely no one can doubt but that in less time a Railroad or M'Adamized will extend from this to Cleveland on the East to Cincinnati on the West.
"Look which way you will, it is apparent that Columbus is, and from its situation must be, a radiating center from and to which innumerable sources of wealth and prosperity will continue to flow ... "
A historian writing several years later noted there was more than a little overstated optimism and simple hyperbole in the writer's assessment:
"The financial troubles which culminated in 1837 put a blight upon these fine prospects. Real estate and general prices declined, and for several years business remained in a disturbed and languid state."
The economic depression called the Panic of 1837 notwithstanding, people continued to come to Columbus. Some of the new arrivals were runaway slaves making their way north along the network of safe havens that came to be called the Underground Railroad. Finding Columbus an amenable place, some of the runaways traveled no farther.
Other newcomers were new not only to Columbus but also to the nation as well.
The 1830s saw the beginning of a new wave of immigration to America from western Europe.
Prominent among the new arrivals were former residents of Ireland and Germany.
Over the next several decades, the new people would bring new aspects to the culture and society of the capital city.
The same historian who described the economic problems noted, however, that the optimism of the local population remained.
"Nevertheless, Columbus must have been an interesting town, and withal a pleasant place to live in," he wrote.
The editor of the Wheeling Times who visited the place as a delegate to an editorial convention in 1839 wrote about Ohio's capital:
"It is now the prettiest town we have seen in the western country. It is prettily situated, and contains private residences exhibiting a high degree of taste and wealth. There is an easy comfortable air, a manifestation of learning, good morals and refinement, in all parts of the city, and a most social and agreeable manner evinced, so far as we could judge, in its inhabitants."
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.