Today, the ground that makes up downtown Columbus seems solid enough under its streets, sidewalks and lawns.
But looks can be deceiving. A close inspection of the trees lining East Broad Street downtown reveals they need a lot of water -- and they get it.
The four men who were the original "proprietors" of the land that became Columbus promoted the property as being "high, dry and salubrious in climate."
The "high banks opposite Franklinton" were indeed high. But dry is another matter.
An early history of the city recalled that in its first years, Columbus had "excellent springs and fine running streams of water." It was said that wells "were easily obtained in all parts of town." The reason for this, according to the same account, was that the ground "had the sponge like quality of retaining much of the water it received, and held more of it, in solution with decaying vegetable matter, than was good for the people who dwelt in that locality.
"The principal morass, with its outlying swales and ponds embraced the present sites of the Fourth Street Markethouse (where the bus station is today), Trinity Church, and the Cathedral, crossed the line of Broad Street, and extended in a northeasterly direction to the neighborhood of Washington Avenue ... Mr. Joseph Sullivant was accustomed to say that he could take a station on Spring Street from which he could shake it by the acre."
In 1836, Alfred Kelley, later known as the "Father of the Ohio Canal System" and a formidable force in the Ohio General Assembly, acquired a large part of this area and built a large Greek Revival mansion on the property. Many people termed the house "Kelley's Folly" since it did not seem wise to build a mansion on what appeared to be a swamp.
In fact, Kelley saw that most of the wet ground was due to a "spring of strongly chalybeate (mineral) water which issued in great volume near the site. ... So copious was the discharge of this spring that its fall over a ledge near its origin, could be heard, during a quiet evening, to the distance of several squares." As soon as Kelley diverted the water away from his property, "the bog began to dry up."
Spring Street "took its name from numerous natural fountains which issued in its vicinity," all of which fed into a creek called Doe Run. That creek had several branches, one of which formed the ravine where the convention center and railroad tracks are today.
Doe Run was joined by a stream called Lizard Creek. Lizard Creek crossed High Street moving west through a gulley 25 feet deep until it reached the Scioto River. High Street originally descended into the gulley until a bridge was erected across the stream. The creek was enclosed in a large brick sewer that continues to carry Lizard Creek to the river.
There were other creeks and ponds, as well.
"About a quarter mile east of Union Station (where the convention center is today) a sulphur spring gushed forth," according to the history.
"On East Broad Street, near its junction with Twentieth, lay an inconvenient body of water, commonly known as 'Crooked-wood Pond' in which the piscatorial boys of the town were accustomed to angle for catfish. A practicable roadway was finally carried through this slough by rolling logs into it."
Near the site of the current bus station on Fourth Street was a pond where boys often went swimming. Small streams near Fourth and Main joined to form Peters Run, which raced down a deep gulley to the Scioto along what is now Liberty Street in the Brewery District. The run was named for Tunis Peters, who operated a tannery along the creek. In addition, the creek turned the wheel of Congers Flour Mill in the 1820s and in the 1830s would provide the water for several German breweries along its path.
The site of what is now Old Deaf School Park originally was a swampy blackberry patch. The land was acquired by the state of Ohio, drained by tiles below the surface and became the home of the Ohio School for the Deaf until 1953. The abandoned deaf school main building burned in 1981. The former deaf school gymnasium is now the Cristo Rey Columbus High School.
Another early body of water was Dick's Pond, "a favorite skating place in winter, (which) was at the junction of Third and Broad Streets, its deepest part being the present site of Trinity Church." Most of that pond had been drained and filled by the time Trinity Church was built on the site in 1869.
As the city grew, the streams, bogs and ponds were filled, drained and covered. As the city built an increasingly complex sewer system, the water that once moistened downtown was removed. But the ravines north and south of downtown remind us that Lizard Creek, Doe Run and Peters Run are still there.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.