Western Europe was a troublesome presence on the world scene in the early years of the 19th century. Revolutionary fervor continued in many countries while existing kingdoms forcefully maintained control. All this required more and more men, money and materials.
Many people in German-speaking central Europe, as well as in countries as varied as Ireland and France, decided by the 1830s that enough was enough. They left their ancient homelands and came to the United States seeking new lives in a new land.
Some of those people ended up in central Ohio. Founded in 1812, the new state capital of Columbus was growing rapidly due to the recent arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road. To many of the immigrants, Columbus seemed to be a place where one might find both peace and prosperity.
Not surprisingly, many of the new arrivals decided to live in neighborhoods where the bonds of language, custom and culture linked the new arrivals to previous immigrants. By 1850, most of the south side of Columbus was German. The north side of the city near the railyards predominantly was Irish. The remainder of the city was composed of the people who were here before the immigrants came to town.
A common image of this wave of American immigration is of large groups of people living in proximity to one another in neighborhoods near the center of American cities. Indeed, this often was the case.
But often is not always. Today, our focus is on a German immigrant who deliberately chose to live outside the city.
Frederick Weber was born in Bavaria on March 17, 1806. He spent his youth in a small village near the Rhine River and decided to come to America in 1830. He stayed in York, Pennsylvania, for a year, then lived for three years in Stark County in northeast Ohio. In May 1833, he married Caroline Tascher; the next year, he decided to move once again.
Weber acquired 40 heavily forested acres in Clinton Township in Franklin County and built a single-room log house for his family. Weber began to clear the land and planted at least some of that land in corn. It was said of him later that he "learned in early manhood the importance of thrift, industry through patience, perseverance and frugality ... "
To make his property more accessible, he cleared a lane 30 feet wide from his home on high ground, near what is now Indianola Avenue, to High Street. A local history noted that "it was very swampy, so he built a corduroy road of small trees or saplings by laying them across the road with earth thrown over them to drive over." In 1892, the lane was extended to Cleveland Avenue and paved with bricks to become Weber Road.
One might wonder why Weber built such an elaborate road for a small farm in the forest. He built it because he had something to haul on that road. Among his other accomplishments, Weber had learned how to make a hard liquor of good taste and high quality.
Weber constructed a distillery on his property. It was not the first one in central Ohio. In 1798, Benjamin White, then the sheriff of Franklin County, constructed a distillery near what is now Battelle Riverfront Park in downtown Columbus. But his product turned out to be what a local history called "rot-gut whiskey" unfit for regular consumption.
By the early 1830s, a number of German immigrants had begun to brew beer for sale in and near what is now German Village. But there were few local sources for good whiskey -- until Weber came along. In 1835, he built his modest distillery and was able two ship two barrels a day along the corduroy road he had built.
A local history records: "Mr. Weber successfully operated his distillery, and to meet the growing demands of his trade he increased his capacity to eight barrels a day, carrying on business uninterruptedly until a few years before his death."
Weber's wife, Caroline, died in 1851. In 1862, he married Ida Homilus. During his long life, Weber and his wives raised a family of 10 children, five of whom lived past 1900. One of them, Henry Weber, became a prominent professor of chemistry at Ohio State University.
"As the years advanced and he prospered in his business, he added to his landed possessions from time to time until he had three hundred and twenty-four acres at the time of his death ... he succeeded in accumulating a handsome competence for his declining years," the local history reads.
His son, Herman, married one of the daughters of neighbor Samuel Maize, and "in recent years (in the early 20th century) has given much of his time to the subdivision, development and sale of this property."
Weber died in 1885. He is buried in Union Cemetery.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.