People have been living at the place where the Olentangy River meets the Scioto River for a very long time.

People have been living at the place where the Olentangy River meets the Scioto River for a very long time.

Native Americans, prehistoric and historic, called the place home, and trappers, traders and frontier hunters often camped there as well.

In 1797, pioneer surveyor Lucas Sullivant laid out the town of Franklinton on the west bank of the Scioto below the place where the rivers met called the Forks of the Scioto.

While the river was the reason for the location of the town, getting across it could pose a problem. There were natural fording places where the river was not deep. The closest one to the forks was downstream just south of where the Main Street Bridge is today.

As people began to settle on the east bank of the Scioto, Joseph Foos, a local politician, militia officer and entrepreneur, began to operate a ferry.

With the location of the new capital city of Columbus on the High Banks opposite Franklinton in 1812, traffic back and forth across the river increased substantially. It soon became clear that a bridge across the river was needed.

Sullivant met that need in 1816 with the first bridge across the Scioto River in central Ohio. At the time it was built, the bridge extending Broad Street in Columbus to Franklinton was the only bridge across the river for several dozen miles in either direction. Sullivant charged tolls on people, vehicles and animals crossing his bridge, with exceptions made for people traveling to church or on other business.

This first Broad Street Bridge was an open one, and it began to weaken with age and use. In 1832, the National Road reached Columbus. Begun in 1811 in Maryland, the wide gravel causeway punctuated by stone bridges over major streams had taken awhile to reach central Ohio, but with its arrival it became clear a new bridge across the Scioto was needed.

Unlike the privately built first bridge, the new bridge would be built with federal supervision by the superintendent of the National Road and would be a free bridge. Later accounts described the bridge and its construction.

"The bridge built in pursuance of this arrangement was a covered wooden one with two separated tracks for vehicles and an outside walk on each side for foot passengers.

"Captain Brewerton and Lieutenants Stockton and Tilden, three young West Pointers were sent to superintend the work of building the bridge. They began work in 1832 and stayed about two years before it was completed. ... No nails were used, except to put the shingles on the roof.

"When the bridge was finished, the question arose as to its strength. There were many who doubted its ability to stand all it should, and there was a great deal of talk about it. A few days after it was pronounced done, however, it had a test which settled every question as to its staying qualities. ... Cattle and hogs were being constantly driven through the town on the way to the eastern market. One of the largest of these droves came along a few days after the completion of the Broad Street Bridge. It belonged to and was driven by Richard Cowling, of London, well known in these parts then as 'Dick Cowling.'

"Dick Cowling stopped overnight at a tavern in Franklinton, and the next morning came down to examine the bridge before attempting to drive his cattle through it. He at once concluded it would not bear the burden, and was making arrangements to swim his cattle across. Captain Brewerton ... assured him that it was plenty strong enough to hold all that could be piled upon it, and told him the government would pay all the loss of the cattle if the bridge broke down with them.

"Accordingly, Dick decided to venture it and brought the whole seven hundred head down. ... There was some trouble in getting the cattle started through, but when they began there was a perfect stampede. The bridge was filled up -- both roadways and footpaths -- and all with a rushing, rearing crowd of steers. It creaked loudly, and settled down visibly, and everybody thought the end had come. ...

"But when the last animal was over, and the bridge was still solid, old Cowling went up to Captain Brewerton, and in his gruff manner laconically blurted out: 'Good bridge, by God!' and invited everybody who had come down to see the new crossing fail, to come over to Zollingers to have something to drink, which invitation was generally accepted."

The National Road Bridge stood until 1882, when it was replaced by a plain iron bridge. That bridge was washed away in the great flood of 1913 and would be replaced in later years by bridges of more elaborate design and appearance.

To my knowledge, none of the later bridges were tested quite as dramatically as the day Dick Cowling came to town.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.