Observant drivers traveling south on Parsons Avenue from downtown Columbus will notice an occasional reference to a place called Steelton.

The name could be assumed to refer to the recently closed but still prominent buildings of the Buckeye Castings Co.

Steelton was and is much more than that.

At one time, steel mills inhabited the south end of the city, along with a major glass factory and a host of other manufacturing enterprises. Around them were neighborhoods that, with a commercial district along Parsons Avenue, collectively came to be called Steelton.

To understand how that came to be, we have to step back a little farther in time.

Manufacturing had existed in the city since it was founded in 1812. Small foundries and tool-making shops were established along the Scioto River near downtown, along with grist mills, tanneries and breweries. The factories were along the river because most of them required water to make whatever they were making. Factories were built near downtown to be close to the Ohio Canal, the National Road and the railroad that entered Columbus on its near north side.

This setup worked well until the end of the American Civil War in 1865. Soon thereafter, however, the Hocking Valley Railroad was completed into southeastern Ohio. Immense quantities of coal, iron and timber became cheaply available.

That's when manufacturing on a large scale came to Columbus.

In some cases, older manufacturers who had been in Columbus for a while expanded their businesses.

Peter Hayden had come to Columbus from Massachusetts in the 1830s. He acquired a foundry along the river from Joseph Ridgway and did well. John Gill had begun making railroad cars near the railyards and soon was employing a large workforce.

By the 1870s, the cost of land near downtown was rising, and these businesses simply needed more space.

Other newer enterprises needed a lot of space at the outset.

The Iron Buggy Co. began in 1875. By 1900, it was the Columbus Buggy Co. and the largest of 22 buggy companies in Columbus. It took up a lot of what is now the North Market and Short North.

Banker Joseph Jeffrey got into the mining-machine business in 1876 and his company joined Kilbourne & Jacobs tool company on the near northeast side of the city.

All these companies were just outside the city limits.

The largest new industrial district emerged on the far south side of the city. Beyond the German "Alt Sud Ende," or Old South End, a new set of factories was being built on vast tracts of flat, open land close to the new rail lines coming into the city from the south and southeast.

As the United States grew in size and population, with more people came immense demand for a variety of goods. The south side saw the construction of a large glass factory and a number of tool and steel factories.

The Bessemer process of steel production transformed the industry, making steel affordable. America's railroads needed all the affordable steel they could find.

In the late 1800s, no fewer than four steel mills were built on the south end of Columbus. Some of the companies, such as American Rolling Mills, made mostly sheet steel. Others, including Buckeye Steel Castings, made specialized items, such as railroad-car couplers.

In all these places, the work was hot, dangerous and occasionally deadly. The labor force in these new factories needed many highly trained professionals and scores of unskilled workers.

This was the era of the third great wave of immigration from Europe to the United States. It was one of the largest mass migrations in human history. Many of these people ended up in the great industrial cities of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago.

But a significant number of these new immigrants -- from Russia, Hungary, Poland, Croatia and other nations -- ended up on the south end of Columbus. They went to work in the new factories and created new neighborhoods based on religion, language and culture. They were joined by hundreds of people from Appalachian America, also seeking a new place to call home.

That new home was Steelton, and for more than two generations, the area thrived as the factories worked night and day to meet the needs of their customers.

After World War II, the world changed, along with the demand for many of these products. The old neighborhoods changed, too, as second and third generations left for other places.

But the place called Steelton remained, as do many of the descendants of its original residents.

The factories may go, and people may leave as well, but Steelton lives on.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.