Franklinton is the neighborhood across the Scioto River and immediately west of downtown Columbus.
It has been in the news recently because of developments in commercial and residential construction. It also is the home of the newly opened National Veterans Memorial and Museum, complementing the nearby Center of Science and Industry.
It is a neighborhood with a lot of history. Franklinton was the original frontier settlement in central Ohio in the wake of the wars with Native Americans that followed the American Revolution. After the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, most Native Americans moved south, leaving the southern two-thirds of Ohio to the new United States.
The area south of the treaty line was divided into several different land grants. Among them was the Virginia Military District in a pie-shaped wedge between the Miami and Scioto rivers.
Among the surveyors of the new district was a young man named Lucas Sullivant. Taking his pay in land, Sullivant would become one of the largest landowners in Ohio.
But in 1797, Sullivant was trying to find ways to lure Americans to the land he owned and wanted to sell. One way to do that was to found towns, then sell lots to new arrivals.
Sullivant laid out several towns. Most of them were never settled. But the town site he liked best was at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers, and it was there he settled in 1797. He established a town plan and called the place Franklinton.
He also later ensured that Franklinton was in Franklin Township in Franklin County. His admiration for Benjamin Franklin knew no bounds.
Franklinton was one of those places that started with great aspirations but found itself in a spiral of less pretensions. The early settlement struggled with flooding, as it sat on low ground. There also was the constant threat of Native American attacks, as Franklinton was one the most isolated of the Yankee settlements in central Ohio.
Then, in 1812, Columbus was established as the new state capital across the Scioto. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, Columbus was an unstructured village of a few hundred people.
Franklinton was a well-established town of several hundred people with stores, livery stables and taverns. The new army to fight the war mobilized in Franklinton, among other places, and the peripatetic Gen. William Henry Harrison called the town home on several occasions.
An 1808 brick house from that period still stands at Gift and West Broad streets. It is called Harrison House in remembrance of the good general and is worth a visit.
With the rise of Columbus, Franklinton found itself passing into a place of lesser significance. Sullivant, recognizing the obvious, built a bridge between the two towns in 1816. He died in 1823, and a year later, the county seat of Franklin County was moved from Franklinton to Columbus.
Franklinton remained competitive as a village in its own right for many years. However, the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road made Columbus into a city, while Franklinton remained a village.
Flooding did not help. The village of Franklinton was inundated no fewer than 11 times between 1797 and 1913. Over the years, ditches were dug, levees were built and sewers were constructed. All of this helped, but the floodwaters continued to come.
With the construction of major state institutions to treat the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled on the Hilltop to the west of Franklinton, a large number of people left the flood plain and Franklinton and settled on the Hilltop.
By the 1870s, few people lived in Franklinton. The village had become a neighborhood, and the neighbors generally worked in one of the nearby factories along the river.
John Gill had come to Columbus in the 1830s. Born in 1806, he soon established himself as an iron founder with Joseph Ridgeway and Peter Hayden. In time, the others moved on, but Gill stayed in Franklinton and began building railroad cars to serve a growing railway industry.
Railroad traffic had arrived in 1850 and by the 1890s was well-established in the flood plains of Franklinton. In 1895, the Toledo and Ohio Central built a rail station in Columbus on West Broad Street. The combination of rail yards, small manufacturing and rail-car construction made Franklinton a viable and vibrant neighborhood by 1890.
In an effort to sell the area to new newcomers, local entrepreneur Dennis Clahane tried to rename the neighborhood “Middletown” in the 1890s. The effort did not succeed, and the area continued to be called variously “Franklinton” or “the Bottoms.”
In recent years, with commercial and residential success, the former name has stuck – and Sullivant’s adoration of Franklin lives on.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.