Columbus is a planned city. There was no town on the “high banks opposite Franklinton” until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being in 1812.
Before then, the high ground “at the forks of the Scioto known as Wolf’s Ridge” had been a green wilderness graced by occasional ravines carrying streams to the river. An anomaly was a 40-foot mound left by the Mound Builders who once called the place home.
Frontier Franklinton on the west bank of the forks had been established in 1797. With the outbreak of the War of 1812, Franklinton became a mobilization center for the war effort, and a brisk trade developed for both that village and for the several hundred people in the village of Columbus.
An early history described that trade:
“Goods were brought from the Ohio River on the backs of pack animals, or were carried up the Scioto on skiffs. Many of the settlers went personally to Chillicothe for their flour and salt. Few of them indulged in the luxury of store goods; their clothing was mostly homemade. Implements of husbandry were bought, by those able to buy them, of traders in Franklinton. Tea, and other luxuries of light weight, were obtained through the mail. ... The exchange of trinkets and cheap, showy stuffs for the peltries and wild fruits brought by the Indians formed an important and lucrative traffic.”
Another important part of early trade in the area was the conversion of large quantities of local corn and wheat harvests to a much more portable form as whiskey:
“Whisky, being a supposed remedy for the prevalent fevers, as well as a consolation for other hardships of the frontier, it was in active demand, and virtually became a standard of values. Numerous private stills for its manufacture were established, and it was offered and received in purchases and payment of debts. Dr. Hoge (of First Presbyterian Church) is said to have lost some of his parishioners, because he would not accept it in discharge of pew rent. All the stores sold it, as a matter of course, along with dry goods, groceries and hardware, and its use was well-nigh universal.”
With the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road in the early 1830s, Columbus became a city of more than 5,000 people and began to overshadow the village of Franklinton across the river.
With that growth came a variety of other merchants and sellers of goods and services. Some merchants built modest shops of frame or brick along the main streets. Others found space in business buildings constructed for their use:
“By this time various business blocks had been erected, and had become locally celebrated by such names as their owners or popular fancy had ascribed to them. Among these blocks was that known as Goodale’s Row, erected by Dr. Lincoln Goodale, on the west side of High Street extending from Chapel Alley south. ... The Commercial Buildings, commonly known as Commercial Row, stood on the southeast corner of Main and High streets.
“The Exchange Buildings, sometimes called the Broadway Exchange, owned by W.S. Sullivant, held, for many years, one of the most conspicuous places, if not the chief distinction, among the business centers of Columbus.
These buildings were situated on the south side of West Broad Street, extending west from the present site of the Huntington Bank.
“The Buckeye Building, or as it was sometimes called, the Buckeye Block, rose on the northeast corner of Broad and High. A warehouse built by the Ridgways (of iron-foundry fame), near the Broad Street Bridge, was known as the Franklin Building. A row called the Eight Buildings stood on West Town Street, south side, a short distance west of High.”
Most of these buildings were 2 or 3 stories tall and eventually would be replaced by larger and taller buildings.
Today, not one of the early business blocks remains. In fact, most of the mid-size buildings that replaced them have themselves been replaced by even newer buildings.
An 1837 business directory for the city listed some of the firms that had come to call the capital city their home:
Confectioners – Ambos and Eigner, High, corner Walnut Alley.
Architect – N.B. Kelley, Architect of the Lunatic and Blind Asylums, over Leiby’s store.
Auctioneer – W.J. Tyler, High, Basement of Brook’s Tavern.
Watches and Jewelry – William A. Platt, High, opposite Statehouse; C. A. Richard, High, east side, near Rich; G. M. Herancourt, High, east side.
Booksellers and binders – Lazell and Mattoon, High opposite Statehouse; Monroe Bell, High, opposite Public Offices; Isaac N. Whiting, High Street.
Stage Offices – Opposition Stage Company, High, next door to Eagle Coffeehouse; Neil, Moore and Company, High, next to National Hotel.
In its heyday from the 1820s to the 1840s, Neil, Moore & Co. became the largest stagecoach company in America north and west of the Ohio River. The family name of founder William Neil was recalled in three Neil House hotels that successively were located across from the Statehouse.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.