Columbus and central Ohio have been recently fortunate in receiving a $50 million grant to improve transportation in the area. The federal Smart City grant, complemented by a large amount of private-sector investment, should foster significant changes in how we move around the city.

Transportation has been transformed before, but there are limits to every revolution.

People have been living in central Ohio for most of the past 10,000 years, in the wake of the departure of the last great glacial ice age. Prehistoric and historic Native Americans lived here for a number of reasons, not the least of which were the presence of the confluence of two major rivers, the Scioto and the Olentangy, and the nearby junction of several major wilderness trails.

Frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant noted the same ease of movement. Taking his pay in land, Sullivant originally laid out towns near what later became the villages of Plain City and Bellepoint. Leaving those plans aside, Sullivant settled in his village of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto.

The same attractiveness of central location and ease of wilderness travel -- along with some development donations -- led to the establishment of Columbus as the state capital on the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" in 1812. Sullivant and others looked forward to central Ohio becoming a major center of transportation and trade.

But it didn't happen quickly. It was one thing to run along the Warrior's Path from the Ohio River to Lake Erie or to paddle a canoe along the streams of central Ohio. It was quite another to be able to accommodate large wagons or coaches or to allow large flatboats to maneuver in the narrow confines of local rivers.

For the first 20 years of its history, Columbus was an isolated village in the wilderness, left in the wake of a moving frontier. By 1832, there were only about 2,000 people living in Columbus.

Then a transportation revolution arrived in the capital city.

Since 1811, a National Road had been wending its way west. Conceived as a wide, all-weather road, the federally supported highway began at Frederick, Maryland. In 1831, the National Road reached Columbus.

In the same year, Columbus was linked to the Ohio and Erie Canal by a feeder canal. Inspired by the success of the Erie Canal in New York, Ohio had spent most of the 1820s constructing a canal system of its own.

The impact of the arrival of the National Road and the canal on central Ohio was immediate. By 1834, the population of Columbus had more than doubled to 5,000 people.

Over the course of the next two decades, many people arrived in the city. Some of them were residents of rural Ohio seeking their fortune in Columbus. Others were immigrants from western Europe -- many from German-speaking countries, others from Great Britain in general and Ireland in particular.

The European newcomers generally settled in ethnic communities just outside the city limits -- the Irish on the north side of the city, the Germans in the "Old South End." Other ethnic communities would develop as the city continued to grow.

Much of that growth took place with the arrival the next major transportation revolution.

Steam-powered rail transportation had been underway in the United States since the 1820s. In 1850, the first railroad -- the Columbus and Xenia -- arrived in Columbus. In short order, other railroads began to arrive. By 1860, no fewer than 15 regional and local railroads were operating in, around and through the capital city.

For more than a century, railroad traffic of goods and people helped shape Columbus and central Ohio. Major railroads had repair shops and marshaling yards here. Companies such as the Ralston Steel Car Co. and the Buckeye Steel Castings Co. were major manufacturers of railroad equipment.

With throngs of people passing through Union Station and train traffic chugging through the city night and day, it seemed the age of rail would never end.

In a way, it has not ended. Columbus remains a major railroad center for the shipment of freight and raw materials. But the capital city has not had rail passenger service since 1979. What few people could foresee a century ago was the rise of the automobile.

Early automobiles, like early locomotives, were fragile, noisy and expensive. But with the passage of time, motor vehicles became more resilient and easier to afford.

Henry Ford marketed an inexpensive car in his Model T, which came in "any color you liked, as long as it was black." Other competitors soon followed suit.

The success of the automobile and the increased use of motor trucks for freight soon led to the rise of a "Better Roads" movement and ultimately to the interstate highway system.

Along with the rise of the auto came the increase in passenger and freight traffic by air. We soon will see what might come next.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.