They say change is the only constant, and the rapid growth of Columbus proves it’s no exception.
But it wasn’t long ago that most of the United States was a rural, rustic sort of place. Most people lived in villages or on small farms that were self-sustaining.
That all began to change after the Civil War. Large numbers of newly arrived immigrants joined people from the countryside to work in the cities, where new factories were creating an industrial revolution.
Often troubled by crime, disease and decay, America’s cities nevertheless became beacons of hope and opportunity to a waiting world.
In many cities, those beacons took literal form. Along the Atlantic coast, the lighthouse became a symbol of both safety and welcome.
Soon, most major American cities had developed gateway symbols, both to welcome travelers and set them apart from other towns.
The Statue of Liberty in New York, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco are just a few of most prominent gateway symbols.
Landmark gateways are more than streets, structures and places; they are a reflection of the people who made them. Their creation and change can tell us a lot about how a city has grown and evolved.
For many years, Columbus was an isolated place close to the edge of a moving frontier. Founded in 1812 across the Scioto River from the village of Franklinton, Columbus was not free of fear from attack until 1816 and the end of the War of 1812.
For the more than 15 years that followed, Columbus grew to be a borough of 2,000 people. Then, in 1831, the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road arrived in Columbus, and the town quickly transformed into a city of 5,000 people.
The National Road entered Columbus on Main Street, which then became a gateway to the capital city. The road left Columbus on Broad Street across an elaborate covered bridge – another gateway. The Ohio Canal emptied into the Scioto at what is now Bicentennial Park and the canal locks at the river became a gateway, as well.
Over the years, the city’s gateways became a reflection of the town and a changing society.
The original Union Station was a glorified barn erected in 1850. By the 1870s, it was replaced with a brick warehouse building a few stories tall. Then, in 1892, a Beaux Arts Arcade was built as a grand entrance to a new Union Station.
Now those stations are gone. In their place has come motor traffic by road and highway and travel by air. The first Port Columbus terminal – the first commercial air passenger terminal in the U.S. – was built in 1929 and still stands at Fifth Avenue and Hamilton Road. It and the terminals that followed have served as gateways to Columbus.
The neighborhoods of Columbus have gateways as well. Some are simply modest signs welcoming visitors to that particular part of town. Other gateways are more elaborate.
Columbus was known as “Arch City” from 1888 to 1914. Today, new arches marching up High Street and illuminated at night mark the extent of the Short North neighborhood. To the north is the campus of Ohio State University, with its own varied approaches to entrances to the campus.
Brick streets, sidewalks and buildings are the image that meets the eye in German Village. South of the village are a number of neighborhoods in a district once called Steelton, reflecting the earlier presence of nearby steel mills.
For a number of years, the western approach to Columbus featured little more than a bridge spanning an increasingly polluted river. In the wake of the deadly and disastrous 1913 flood, that changed. Coming to Columbus, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it could prevent future flooding by doubling the width of the Scioto. In doing so, a disreputable warehouse and vice district along the river would be eliminated.
With the widening of the river came the development of a civic center and gateway to Columbus along the river with a new City Hall, a new police station, the privately built American Insurance Union Citadel – now the LeVeque Tower – and other new buildings.
East Franklinton became part this redevelopment with Central High School, the T&OC railroad station and Veterans Memorial Auditorium. Central High, with an addition, has become the home of COSI, while Veterans Memorial has been replaced with a new national memorial and center. The railroad station has been restored.
The Near East Side has seen the revival of its classic gateway with the Lincoln Theatre and other landmarks on Long Street and the revitalization of Mount Vernon Avenue to the north.
Columbus is the center of state government, and our Statehouse, in its own way, is a gateway, as well.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.