In 1812, the Ohio General Assembly decided to move the state capital from Chillicothe to a central location.
Rather than settle in an established town, the legislators chose to create a new capital city. The place they chose was the "high banks at the forks of the Scioto."
The new location didn't offer much in the way of sightseeing. An old Native American trail followed the ridge line and was interrupted only by a 40-foot mound at what is now the corner of Mound and High streets. The ridge was heavily forested in oak, walnut, chestnut and maple trees. The ground was damp under the shaded shield of tall trees; occasional ponds marked low places in the terrain.
A surveyor named Joel Wright was employed to lay out the new town. Wright superimposed a grid of streets on the place residents called Wolf's Ridge for the canines that offered nightly serenades. The street grid followed the ridge and the north-south streets are aligned 12 degrees west of true north.
On paper, the street plan of Columbus looks clean, orderly and well-suited to handle the growth of the town destined to be the capital city. The reality of the growth of Columbus and its street pattern was anything but orderly.
In 1816, Columbus was organized as a borough, and a mayor and borough council were selected. Before then, little had been done about street maintenance. In fact, in the first four years of the town's history, streets were hard to find. A local history read:
"Forest trees standing in the streets laid out by the State Director were cut down and a portion of their stumps were cut out or burned. Through the clearings thus formed crooked footpaths were soon beaten by the busy villagers ... As marshes, tree stumps, brush heaps and other obstructions had to be avoided, the first streets of Columbus were very devious, and in wet weather very difficult."
This difficulty continued for years, despite continuing efforts by the village and local residents to improve their streets. By the 1850s, most of the streets within a few blocks of the Statehouse were cleared and covered with gravel.
In time, with various methods -- from wood blocks to brick and macadam -- most of the streets downtown and its adjacent neighborhoods would be straightened and paved.
Naming those streets was a little more difficult.
The original plat of Columbus ran from North Public Lane (now Nationwide Boulevard) to South Public Lane (Livingston Avenue) and from the Scioto River to East Public Lane (Parsons Avenue). Within these limits, street names had been established by the original plan or were adopted with some uniformity by local officials.
Some of those names were changed. For example, with the arrival of the National Road in 1831, Friend Street became Main Street.
Street-naming became a problem because growth in Columbus was not limited to those original boundaries. In 1818, John McGowan laid out a subdivision immediately south of South Public Lane. McGowan's addition would become the heart of the German community in Columbus. McGowan gave names to his streets, but his names did not always match with the streets they joined in the original plat of the city.
McGowan was not alone in adding new names to new streets. Over the next several decades, the capital city grew in size and population. In 1834, 5,000 people lived in Columbus and the borough became a city. By 1860, 18,000 people lived in the town.
Places such as the new Columbus State Hospital for the Mentally Ill and Ohio State University were "in the country" west and north of the city, respectively.
By the 1870s, subdivisions and new streets were being laid out near both places. As in the future German Village, many of the new streets had names that did not match the streets they joined.
Columbus City Council and other city leaders decided to solve the problem of wayward street names by decree.
In September 1872, council approved an ordinance changing street names. It began by saying: "Depot and Kerr streets changed to Third Street; Phelan and Parsons Street to Fourth Street; Latham and George to Fifth; East and Siegel to Sixth; Medary to Sixth; Church to Seventh," and the list went on for 20 lines of type, enumerating other name changes. A few of these changes would be changed yet again, but most of them stuck.
Over time, the city would have to adopt a few new name changes by decree. But the growing professionalism of city administrators combined with increasing review requirements for new development led to greater uniformity in street naming -- at least for most streets, most of the time.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.