To many people of his generation, Thomas Jefferson's view of the ideal life made sense.
In the president's view, living in the country was preferable to city life. Cities were places where large numbers of people, packed together in a small place, were up to no good.
Many others disagreed. They liked the adventure, challenge and creativity that the ever-changing population of a city encouraged. People such as Alexander Hamilton, one of our founding fathers, felt living in the country was, frankly, boring.
Giving Hamilton his due, we should recall he lived in a city – New York – that, due to its previous life as a Dutch colony, was a place with running water, a sewer system of sorts and relatively efficient police and fire services.
Other places were not so lucky.
Founded in 1812, Columbus was a planned city brought into being by the Ohio General Assembly. Before its creation, the "high banks opposite Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto" had been a heavy forest punctuated by trails used by animals and frontier travelers.
People once had lived on the high banks. A 40-foot-tall mound at what is now Mound and High streets testified to that. But those people had been gone for some time.
The new town of Columbus grew slowly at first. Then, in the early 1830s, the Ohio and Erie Canal and National Road arrived, and Columbus was a city of 5,000 people by 1834.
The original "proprietors" of Columbus had induced people to come here, arguing that the high banks were "high, dry and salubrious in climate." The banks never saw the flooding that was prevalent across the Scioto in frontier Franklinton.
But they were not dry. The water table was close to the surface, and most of what is now downtown Columbus was on the wet side.
The wetlands became home to copious diseases, with "cold ague," the "shaking ague" and malarial fevers of all sorts killing many.
Columbus also was in need of basic sanitation. Town lots in the city were small. The proprietors offered a lot of land and money to bring the capital to Columbus and recovered their investment by selling lots to newcomers.
The new settlers either built or found houses on their new lots. They proceeded to dig wells in their backyards and were happy to find clean water only 15 feet below the surface.
But newcomers soon found they had little if any place to rid themselves of garbage and other detritus of urban living.
Trash piled up in streets and alleys. Backyard outhouses filled and overflowed. And the wet ground continued to breed disease and decay.
It took until 1848 – 26 years after it was founded – for Columbus to pay for the installation of its first sewer. Three-and-a-half feet in diameter, the brick sewer was 18 feet underground and ran from the Lunatic Asylum at 11th and Broad to the Scioto River. Built by a man named William Murphy, the sewer later was bypassed by more modern piping.
This original sewer is worth remembering. It not only was the first of its kind, it continued to work well for many years. The same cannot be said for the sewers that followed.
Most early sewers were built to serve a small area, and their main purpose was to get sewage to the river as quickly as possible.
South of downtown Columbus and the mound at Mound and High streets was a deep ravine that led to the Scioto. At the foot of the ravine, the Ohio and Erie Canal entered Columbus on a feeder canal from the south.
Hoping to solve inner-city sewage problems, leaders of the 1840s built a large intercepting sewer that moved through downtown and emptied into the ravine. The sewage could not reach the river because the canal was in the way.
Some suggested using the canal as a sewage site. Others, sensing canal users might not be pleased, suggested other alternatives. An aqueduct that carried the sewage over the canal to the river was the solution.
It was an open aqueduct, so every new arrival to Columbus passed under a wooden trough carrying a moving olfactory challenge. Eventually, a pipe replaced the aqueduct, feeding the raw sewage into the river. This made the canal smell better, but the river remained troublesome.
All this began to be addressed by planned sewage construction in the 1870s. But the completion of modern sewage systems would last well into the 20th century. Construction and reconstruction of those systems continue today.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.