James Thurber once nostalgically wrote that no matter how far he was from the place he called home, the clocks he heard were the "clocks of Columbus."

It's the "green streets of home" that call me back.

About 150 years ago, the United States was a country undergoing enormous political, social and cultural change. While healing the wounds of a savage Civil War and coping with massive immigration, the country was linking itself together by rail and telegraph wire.

By the 1880s, the U.S. had created the largest and most efficient industrial complex the world had ever seen and was about to emerge as a significant player on the world stage.

In the wake of the Spanish-American War, President Theodore Roosevelt sent the Great White Fleet -- including the battleship USS Ohio -- around the world in 1908 to demonstrate the potential reach of American power.

But the price of that power had been high.

America's cities had grown rapidly after the Civil War. The Columbus and Hocking Valley Railroad opened up southeastern Ohio, and immense quantities of coal, iron and wood became cheaply and easily available to Columbus industries. Large numbers of people, black and white, moved to the city from rural America and complemented new arrivals from foreign shores.

Columbus workers made steel, glass products, shoes and beer, among other necessities. But mostly, they made buggies. The Columbus Buggy Co. was founded in 1875 in a small shop along High Street, where Nationwide Insurance is today. By 1900, there were 22 buggy companies in Columbus, and one of every five buggies was made in the city.

In the course of making all these things, Columbus, like many American cities, literally stripped itself bare to the ground and remade the "high banks opposite Franklinton" known as Wolf's Ridge into a new and different place.

When pioneer settlers first arrived in Columbus, they found high ground covered with "old-growth" forest. That forest contained walnut, oak and maple trees soaring 100 feet high and creating a shaded canopy over the ridge.

Sycamore trees along the river had trunks 30 feet wide at the base. Rotting from the inside out, the trees could be opened by a cleaver axe, and through that doorway, a local settler had a home of his own.

Over the first 40 years of settlement, almost all of these trees were cut down. In 1851, Dr. Lincoln Goodale had given the city a surviving piece of uncut forest as the city's first park: Goodale Park. A few other places that later would become parks survived as well, but most of the great forest was gone.

In 1857, William Green Deshler, a local banker, traveled to Havana and admired the city's tree-lined streets. He returned and made Columbus an offer: If the city provided the land, he and his friends would provide trees.

They did and he did, and East Broad Street from Fourth Street east was lined with four rows of trees. It made that avenue the Victorian dream street of the capital city.

But that was only a brief beginning. By the late 1800s, the great majority of Ohio's forest cover was gone. A growing Ohio furniture industry was importing wood to make many of its products. The realization was growing that the great forests needed to be replaced, and trees were needed on most of the residential streets of the city.

So they began to be planted. It was in this era in the first half of the 20th century that the celebration of Arbor Day to raise public awareness was complemented by the creation of forestry divisions within local and state government.

As leaders realized many species of tree did not lend themselves to urban life, certain trees came to be more common along city streets. Initially, the American elm was popular. Many of the trees along Deshler's Broad Street were elms.

Dutch elm disease combined with increased traffic put an end to that corridor by the late 1930s. Other trees, such as the London plane and the red oak, were more resilient.

And there always was the linden.

Since the 1600s, rows of trees lining the "Unter den Linden" in Prussia had led people from central Berlin to royal Potsdam. Many German immigrants created their own "Lindenwald" or "Linden Woods" in their new homes in America. The tree remained popular as new neighborhoods took the name Linden Heights -- in Dayton, Cincinnati and, in 1901, in Columbus, northeast of the city in what then was a rural area.

Founded originally to be streetcar suburbs, these new Linden Heights eventually became urban neighborhoods that saw growth and change.

These neighborhoods are with us still -- as are the trees.

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