Columbus and central Ohio are entering another winter, albeit as yet not a particularly cold or nasty one.

Columbus and central Ohio are entering another winter, albeit as yet not a particularly cold or nasty one.

But with the holidays behind us, the attention of many people turns to ways to occupy their time when playing outside or sitting on the porch are not realistic options. Today we have many ways to pass the time. The arrival of easy transportation, movies, television and Internet games one can play on the telephone gives most people a variety of options that were never even imagined by their forebears. And some people actually still go out to parties from time to time.

Noting the benefits of the electronic age, the people of Columbus across most of the town's history have felt the need to get out and socialize, regardless of the weather.

When Ohio's capital city was smaller and considerably more isolated from the rest of America, the parties people gave tended to be simple. A few friends would gather at a local home for an entertaining evening.

But every winter, even in those early days, there would always be a few big parties, as well. Writing in 1900, Alice Fay Potter reminisced about the social life of Columbus in the 1830s, when Columbus had just become a city with a teeming population of 5,000 people:

"The gayest house at this time was the home of Michael Sullivant in Franklinton, famed far and wide for its hospitality. The great wide halls resounded again and again to the sound of dancing feet, gay music and merry voices. Whenever a party was in prospect, cornices were fastened over every door and window. In each of these was a row of sockets in which were placed candles that made the room a blaze of glory.

"The supper was ordered from Peter Ambos, two great tables were set in the side yard where coffee, sandwiches and ice cream were served to the coachmen, and in winter, two giant fires were blazing for their comfort …"

Other major events were held in the great hotels of downtown Columbus: "One of the gayest social events was the Widowers Ball of 1849, given by Michael Sullivant, William Deshler, Joshua Baldwin Demas Adams and Francis Drake."

It should probably be mentioned that Widower's Parties were not all that uncommon at a time when men often outlived their wives due to complications of childbirth and other maladies.

The Widowers Ball "was given in the old Neil House, a stately building with columns at the entrance and a wide staircase leading from the lobby to the floor above. The dancing was in Odeon Hall and the supper served in one of the three dining rooms of the hotel. People came from all over the state and every lady who could had a new gown."

After the Civil War, Columbus became a major center of transportation and trade and a major Midwestern railroad hub. As the town grew in size and sophistication, so, too, did the options for dining, dancing and entertaining. But as late as the 1870s, the customs and gentility of an earlier era were still present in the growing city.

On Sundays, holidays and especially on New Year's Day, the gentlemen of Columbus "went calling." A newspaper from almost 40 years later remembered those days:

"Along towards noon, young men arrayed themselves in evening garb, climbed into hacks, engaged long in advance, consulted their lists, and in parties of two three or four, set about the serious business of the day. This was to drive up and down the unpaved residence thoroughfares, Broad, Town and a few cross streets - through snow, rain, mud or sunshine, as the case might be, and stop for a moment's greeting at every house where they had any pretense of acquaintance … At many houses a bevy of matrons and bright-eyed girls served substantial refreshments.

"Ladies who did not care to keep open house hung out dainty beribboned baskets for cards; and when this became the rule rather than the exception, the custom began to fade.

"Now it is only a half-forgotten tradition; and as the youth of today steps into his car and motors down to his club, he may casually refer to it as one of those 'queer things dad used to do when he was young.'"

But even in the thoroughly modern era of 1912 - 100 years ago - the customs of the past still persisted and resistance to the new was still quite common. As a case in point, one might consider John Webb.

"'Fiddel' John Webb, said to be the oldest fiddler in the state playing in public, who has played at thousands of country dances and at more pretentious entertainments in cities, reviewed his long career as an entertainer yesterday afternoon at the Chittenden Hotel, where he played at a surprise dinner tendered Dennis Kelly."

Parenthetically, it should be mentioned Kelly was a prominent local political figure and successful businessman. The second Chittenden Hotel has been gone from the corner of Spring and High streets for several years, but for more than 80 years, it was a Columbus landmark. The first Chittenden had been located at the same spot but had burned in one of the more spectacular fires in the city's history in 1892.

John Webb had come to Columbus from his home in Centerburg "and upon request, brought down his farm attire, to fit into the scheme of decorations in the German room, which was converted into a reproduction of Mr. Kelly's farm near the city."

Asked about how he had learned to play so well, Mr. Webb said it had all come to him naturally.

"When I was about 16 years of age, I got my father's old fiddle, and while he and mother were away to church I started to practice. In four days I was a good player, and while I don't know very much about notes, I can play anything by ear. I picked up all the music I know by just listening to others play."

Then Mr. Webb was asked his opinion of the ragtime music then becoming quite popular across America.

"It is dogride pure and simple. The so-called popular songs are unfit and too sensual to be played and assimilated by the boy or girl, or even the grown-ups. Give me the old tunes. I think they live longer, make a more lasting impression, and are more wholesome. They teach morals, reach deeper into the things of life, and as a living proof, many of them are still popular, whereas the so-called popular songs have short, meteoric careers and are then cast on the ash heap."

Notwithstanding Mr. Webb's success and strong opinions, it is interesting to note that the city of Columbus, celebrating its 100th birthday, would soon see its young and not-so-young people dancing to a number of new "popular" songs. One of them was aptly named "The Centennial Rag."

There is simply no accounting for tastes.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.