Passing through what is now downtown Columbus, the Scioto River in the late 1790s was considerably narrower and much deeper than it is today, and dotted with sandbars and occasional islands.

Passing through what is now downtown Columbus, the Scioto River in the late 1790s was considerably narrower and much deeper than it is today, and dotted with sandbars and occasional islands.

It did not take frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant long to realize people had been living at this place for a very long time. A large Indian mound, more than 40 feet tall, towered above the high ground on the eastern side of the Scioto River. Covered with mature forest trees, the mound that gave Mound Street its name obviously had been there for a while.

More recent signs of life could be seen in the remnants of a Native American encampment near what is now the intersection of Neil Avenue and Spring Street in the Arena District.

Sullivant was surveying parts of a tract of land known as the Virginia Military District on the west side of the Scioto. The land to the east was reserved for settlers from Nova Scotia and was called the Refugee Tract. It would lay empty of major settlement for a number of years.

Except for a few cabins here and there along the river, there were not many people living in central Ohio. But there soon would be.

Sullivant laid out the town of Franklinton in 1797 and, in a few years, several dozen people were living in and around the new community. By the end of the War of 1812, the settlers would number in the hundreds and with a new state capital called Columbus growing on the other side of the river, even more people would be arriving soon.

By 1834, the National Road and Ohio Canal had come to central Ohio and the population of Columbus more than doubled to 5,000. The borough of Columbus became the city of Columbus.

In the early days, people spent much of their time along the river. It was a place to swim, to fish and to find a nice place to spend a little quiet time.

It also was a place to have a party from time to time. The numerous islands in and along the river provided an easily accessible venue for people to have a little fun away from the hustle and bustle of Columbus. Some of the people seeking privacy on the islands were simply looking for a nice place away from it all.

Other people had little choice. Former slaves who had acquired their freedom came to Columbus for the same reason most people did -- to find a new life and new opportunities in the new town. In short order after the founding of the capital city, a settlement of freed black people began to be formed in the large ravine that ran down to the Scioto where Interstate 70 passes through downtown today.

Called "The Hollow" and other names less complimentary, this early black community was located near the place where tanneries, distilleries and other businesses with noxious byproducts were beginning to be built as well. The land was cheap and few people wanted to live there.

Like just about everyone else in town, black people in early Columbus looked for a place to entertain themselves and their friends. They found it on the "island." The island was really more of an extended sandbar that ran in a narrow strip from Broad Street to Main Street along the east side of the Scioto River. One early account of Columbus calls the island "a favorite dancing place, it is said, for the manumitted slave population."

This was not the only island with a story.

Farther up the Scioto, past its junction with Whetstone Creek (later called the Olentangy River), was British Island. That island was used during the War of 1812 as an impromptu prison camp for British soldiers captured in the conflict.

It was not a happy place. The island was prone to partial immersion during flood season and many of the soldiers simply wanted to be any other place than on the island. Some tried to escape and were successful. Others were less fortunate and took up permanent residence in shallow graves on the island.

Closer to town was an island variously called Brickell Island, Willow Island or Bloody Island. It acquired its first name from its owner, pioneer settler John Brickell. It was sometimes called Willow Island for the willow trees that grew there. Its final name had a varied history.

One story said the island acquired the name in the 1840s when two young men were seeking the attention of the same woman and decided to settle their differences with a duel on the island. Since the duel was conducted with pistols containing no bullets, no one got hurt and the island acquired its name as a joke.

But there is another reason that particular sandbar was called Bloody Island. In 1774, outraged at the murder of his family, the Mingo warrior called Logan by white settlers rose with a large number of followers and began to attack settlements along the Ohio River.

Partly to deal with this problem and partly to divert attention from taxation protests, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, marched into Ohio with a large army. Camping near Circleville, he sent Col. William Crawford and several hundred horsemen to raid the camp at the Forks of the Scioto where the Arena District is today.

Most of the men were away hunting. The older residents and younger women and children ran for their lives.

According to one account, "One Indian woman seized her child of five or six years of age and rushed down the bank of the river and across to the wooded island opposite, when she was shot down on the farther bank. The child was unhurt amid the shower of balls and escaped into the thicket and hid in a large hollow sycamore standing near the middle of the island, where the child was found alive two days later when the warriors of the tribe returned "

Every single one of these islands in the Scioto is gone now. After more than a century of flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers came to Columbus after the Great Flood of 1913 and helped widen the Scioto to twice its previous width. Any remaining evidence of the islands of downtown Columbus vanished then.

All that remains are the legends and an occasional story about eerie sounds that sometimes echo along the river. Some say the sounds are only the wind. Some say they might be something more. To a mind with memory, they probably are.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.