Today's photograph is one of the earliest known images from Columbus and central Ohio.

Taken 1857 or 1858, it features gentlemen posing for what will be a final visit to an institution about to move to a new home.

This photograph and three others taken at the same time are the only known images of the interior of the original state office building at State and High streets. Lovingly called "Rat Row" by residents, the building was home to the state treasurer, the secretary of state and -- on the second floor of the south end of the building, above the office of the state auditor -- the State Library of Ohio.

By 1857, the state library was a well-established, if poorly funded, part of Ohio's government. The story of how it got to be that way is worth retelling.

In early 1817, Thomas Worthington rode into Columbus to be inaugurated to a second term as the sixth governor of Ohio. He was the first governor to serve in the new capital city of Columbus, founded by the Ohio General Assembly in 1812. On the day lots first were sold in Columbus in May 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain.

When Worthington was elected governor in 1814, the war was raging, and a third of Ohio was under British control. By 1817, the war was over and Worthington could begin to address other major issues in the young state.

Born in 1773 near what is now Charleston, West Virginia, Worthington was part of a restless generation that came to maturity in the years after the American Revolution.

Endowed with some land and a few slaves after the death of his parents, Worthington trained as a surveyor. Leaving his land and slaves behind, Worthington came to Ohio with his new bride, Eleanor, in 1796.

Settling on a hilltop overlooking Chillicothe, he immediately joined the struggle to carve a new state from the Northwest Territory. Opposing the Federalist faction led by territorial Gov. Arthur St. Clair, Worthington and his friends were allied with Thomas Jefferson and his supporters.

Worthington was so impressed by Jefferson that the young man retained renowned architect Benjamin Latrobe to design his Ohio home in the reflection of Jefferson's home at Monticello. The result was a mansion given the Hebrew name "Adena," meaning a place "gentle" and "delightful."

Worthington left Adena in late 1816 and traveled on muddy forest trails to the new capital city of Columbus. There was not much to see when he arrived. The village in the forest, atop the high banks opposite Franklinton, consisted of a few trails still littered with stumps, a 10-acre Statehouse Square cleared of trees but few other features and a new two-story brick Statehouse at the corner of High and Third streets.

Worthington came to Columbus with many ideas. He wanted to build poor houses in each county for the destitute and homeless. He wanted to replace the dungeon-style jails of the state with clean, modern prisons. He wanted a uniform school system. He wanted to pave roads, dredge rivers and build canals to link the state with the rest of the world.

But the idea he brought first to the Ohio General Assembly was about books.

Worthington's to-do list was long, but his budget was small. He did have a "contingency fund" that he could use without legislative approval.

He used it.

"The fund made subject to my control by the last General Assembly ... has enabled me to purchase a small but valuable collection of books which are intended as the commencement of a library for the state. In the performance of this act, I was guided by what I conceived the best interests of the state by placing within reach of the representatives of the people such information as will aid them in the discharge of the important duties they are to perform."

That first library consisted of 509 books, including Milton's "Paradise Lost" and "the works of authors representing the best literature in ancient and modern times."

The library was inside the state office building for the next several decades. In 1853, the library was opened to public use for reference, and in 1857 it moved from High Street to the Ohio Statehouse. There it stayed until 1933, when it moved to the new Ohio Departments Building, now the Ohio Judicial Center. By 2001, the library had moved to its current home in a former Jeffrey Manufacturing Co. building on First Avenue in Columbus' Italian Village.

Over more than two centuries, the State Library of Ohio has expanded in size, scope and significance. Thomas Worthington would no doubt be pleased -- and so would the men in the reading room on "Rat Row."

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