Columbus did not have a police force, per se, until well into its history.
Instead, a local marshal was entrusted with law enforcement.
Columbus is a created city. There was no city on the “high banks opposite Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto” until the Ohio General Assembly brought the town into being Feb. 14, 1812.
The created capital of Columbus was the proposal of four men who owned the land and called themselves the Proprietors of Columbus. They owned and operated the new town and the sale of lots within it until the borough of Columbus was created in 1816 when the Ohio General Assembly met in the town for the first time in a newly constructed, 2-story brick statehouse.
The borough was governed by a locally elected council, which in turn elected one of its members, Jarvis Pike, to be the first mayor.
It also elected Samuel King to be the first village marshal.
We do not know a lot about King. He lasted through two relatively quiet years, enforcing what few laws there were in a village of a few hundred people. Perhaps the fact that he was paid only $80 for a year’s service might have led him to seek work elsewhere.
In any case, King was followed by James Fisher, who lasted just a year before he was succeeded by William Richardson.
Richardson worked one year, as well, before leaving the position to Samuel Shannon. Shannon lasted from 1820 to 1824, perhaps because his salary was raised to $150 per year.
The office of village marshal was held by some other men over the next several years – some of these people succeeding one another repetitively. It seems that enforcing the law in a small village of fewer than 2,000 people for a small salary was not a terribly popular job.
The village council from time to time approved ordinances seeking to keep the village clean and orderly. Among them were ordinances in 1827 banning “serenading ... with drums, bells, fifes, horns or pans” and another in 1828 banning “anyone found in a state of intoxication, or strolling about the streets apparently with an improper or evil design.”
The job of the marshal changed significantly after 1834. In 1831, a branch of the Ohio and Erie Canal reached Columbus. About the same time, the National Road, an all-weather highway across the eastern United States, reached Columbus. Within a few years, the population increased from 2,000 to 5,000 people and Columbus became a city. The office of village marshal was abolished and replaced with the office of city marshal.
The city marshal was elected by the newly created Columbus City Council and could appoint as many deputies as he liked. With the arrival of large numbers of new people, many of whom were recent immigrants from Europe in general and Germany and Ireland in particular, the job of keeping order day and night in a growing city became more challenging.
In 1849, Columbus established a city watch to complement the marshal and his deputies. The members of the watch were appointed by council but reported to the marshal.
Watch members were to report for duty one hour after sundown for roll call and were to remain on duty until morning.
In 1850, Columbus adopted a new charter, and recognizing the expanding role of the city marshal, the office was made into one elected by the people on an annual basis.
In 1851, an ordinance created a captain of the city watch and allowed for the employment of as many watchmen who might be necessary for a period of one year at a time.
Also in 1851, a new Central Market building was completed.
Columbus had had a public market for many years. The location of the market originally was in the middle of the intersection of State and High streets. Over the years, the market had moved as the town had expanded.
Originally housed in a wooden, one-room building on Statehouse Square, city offices also had moved from place to place.
In 1850, City Council decided to solve all of these location problems by building a home for all in one structure. The new Central Market would house a large public market on its ground floor. On the second floor, space was set aside for council meetings, and a room 20 by 13 feet, with two small holding cells, was set aside for the city marshal.
This would be the first permanent home for the city marshal. It soon proved much too small.
In 1855, council ordered the construction of a “station house” for local law enforcement. The 2-story brick building was completed in 1856. The building had 11 cells on its lower level and offices and meeting rooms on the second floor.
It was the first permanent building in Columbus specifically dedicated to law enforcement at the local level.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.