The 1820s were trying years for the people of the United States in general and Columbus in particular.
The new capital city of Ohio was founded in 1812 to provide a more central location for state government. High hopes and great expectations accompanied the founding of what President James Monroe called the "Infant City" when he passed through town in 1817.
Expecting the town to grow quickly, people attending the first sale of lots in May 1812 offered to pay $1,000 or more for a small lot near Statehouse Square. In an era when uncleared forest or prairie land was sold for $8 an acre, $1,000 was a lot of money to pay for a town lot.
Nevertheless, people continued to have high confidence in the new capital city. By 1817, the borough of Columbus was home to about 700 people, and more were arriving every day.
Among them was a young couple from eastern Pennsylvania. David Deshler and Elizabeth "Betsy" Green Deshler arrived in Columbus from Easton, Pennsylvania, with energy and enthusiasm about making a new home in this new place.
Mr. Deshler was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker.
He built his home and workplace on the lot he purchased on the north side of Broad Street, about 60 feet west of High Street.
We know most of the details about this remarkable family because Betsy Green Deshler, like her husband, was literate and wrote a large number of letters to her family in Pennsylvania.
Her first letters were happy and optimistic. In October 1817, she wrote to her brother: "I have very good neighbors. People here are remarkably kind to strangers. Several of the neighbor women have told me to come and get any kind of vegetables out of their gardens. There is a little boy who brings me cream every morning for breakfast. Our house is getting along very well."
The house was a simple two-room frame building with a central fireplace serving both rooms.
Early in 1820, Mrs. Deshler wrote to her father: "David works every day, and for the last five months has not got one dollar in money ... All the work that is done in Columbus is for trade, trade and no money."
Money was scarce, primarily because, in 1819, the United States entered a period of economic recession. By 1820, hard times had reached Columbus. Lots that once sold for $1,000 were being sold at sheriff's sales for $100, $50 and sometimes as little as $10.
In September 1820, Mrs. Deshler wrote home: "In the spring David had considerable business, but for some time past, he cannot get a dollar's worth of work to do ... There are but three stores in town that do any business worth mentioning. Formerly there were ten or twelve large stores ... Many families have gone to the Wabash."
But the Deshlers and many of their neighbors stayed through the hard economic times. Then, as the economy improved, the village faced new challenges.
A later account described one problem: "A scourge of malarial disease prevailed in central Ohio. During the spring and summer months the undrained forests of the region, with their rank growth and decay of vegetable matter, exhaled miasma, and filled the atmosphere with poison." Spread by clouds of local mosquitoes, the malarial fevers swept across the region.
In September 1822, Mrs. Deshler wrote to her brother: "There has been much more sickness this season than has ever been known since the settlement of Franklin County. Our burying ground has averaged ten new graves per week, for a number of weeks past."
In 1823, she again wrote to her brother as the malarial fevers continued: "The sickness of this country does not abate ... On a small stream called the Darby about eighteen miles from here, there are scarcely enough well people to bury the dead ... In numbers of families, all have died, not one member remaining."
By 1825, the economy had recovered somewhat: "If there is any change in the times, I think it is for the better," she wrote. Her optimism continued in 1826: "Our town is quite healthy and lively, provisions are plenty and cheap."
But disease remained a serious problem, and on Aug. 2, 1827, illness claimed the life of Betsy Green Deshler.
She was 30; her son, William, was 10 weeks old.
David Deshler would remarry and leave carpentry behind to become a banker. Over the years, he acquired most of the northwest corner of Broad and High streets. On that site, he built the two-story Deshler Bank Block.
The Deshler Hotel replaced the Bank Block in 1915. Many years later, the One Columbus Center was erected on the site.
The letters of Betsy Green Deshler are preserved in the foundation of the building, just a few feet from place where she wrote them.
They are a testament of hope and courage in a time of hardship in central Ohio.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.