It’s clear when considering the street names of downtown Columbus that many are named for symbolic or physical aspects of the city.
In 1812, surveyor Joel Wright laid out the town in the middle of an old-growth forest on a ridge in central Ohio. He took a simple approach to naming the streets, calling the main north-south street High Street and the streets east of it by number, as in Third Street. The secondary north-south streets had descriptive names such as Wall Street, Front Street and the now-vanished Water Street.
Wright took a different approach to the naming of east-west streets. They were more symbolic, as in State Street and Town Street, or descriptive of the landscape, as in Mound Street and Spring Street.
The boundary streets of the town were called North, South, East and Public Lane.
Over the years, some of the street names were changed. Friend Street became Main Street. Other streets were named for local families who lived nearby: East Public Lane became Parsons Avenue, and South Public Lane eventually became Livingston Avenue.
North Public Lane turned into Naghten Street, and most of Naghten Street later became Nationwide Boulevard. A bit of Naghten Street still retains that name near St. Patrick’s Church.
That short stretch of road is a reminder of an early resident of Columbus. William “Billy” Naghten’s story is worth retelling.
The first half of the 19th century saw a surge of immigration to the United States from western and southern Europe. Many people were fleeing from the political and economic aftershocks of the Napoleonic Wars.
Others simply were seeking a better life. In Ireland, a potato famine combined with economic hardships and political repression sent many people to the United States.
One of them was a young man from County Westmeath named William Naghten. It is believed he was about 28 when he arrived in New York in 1849. He arrived in Columbus in 1852 and made his home in the capital city.
He was not alone. Hundreds of other Irish immigrants had come to Columbus since the 1820s. Some found work building the elaborate canal system, then in construction across the state. Others worked on the construction of the National Road – later U.S. Route 40 – as it made its way across the country. Still others worked in the foundries, mills and other shops along the downtown riverfront.
Most of the Irish newcomers tended to live near one another in a neighborhood extending for several blocks on each side of North Public Lane. The street became home to shops, inns and taverns catering to the needs of the local immigrant population. This also was the home of Union Station and the place where more than 15 railroads came to town. Railroad repair and maintenance shops employed large numbers of Irish immigrants.
North Public Lane often was called “Irish Broadway” by local residents.
Naghten rented a room on Front Street and soon took a job as a carpenter helping to build railroad cars. Within a year, a later local history noted, he had taken a job with a railroad running between Piqua and Columbus, and in time achieved a trusted position in the company.
He was an early member of St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church, and it was in that church that he married a local resident named Katherine Ryan in 1858. They bought a house near the church in 1861 and had two children who lived to adulthood. Naghten became well known in the neighborhood. It was said of him that he “had decided views, yet was much respected by those who differed with him.”
In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Columbus City Council was increased from 10 to 18 members. The town had grown rapidly during the war and several neighborhoods felt themselves to be inadequately represented. Naghten ran as a Democrat for a seat on council from the newly created Ninth Ward, which contained all the city north of North Public Lane.
Naghten won the seat and was regularly reelected. He also apparently won the respect of his fellow council members and was elected council president in 1868 and reelected in 1869.
In summer 1869, council approved legislation to rename North Public Lane to Naghten Street.
On Jan. 5, 1870, Naghten met with an accident, as described by a local history:
“Mr. Naghten was walking on the main tracks of the C.C.&I.C. Railroad toward the Piqua shops. When about halfway between the shops and the city, he noticed a train was coming from the west. He at once stepped off the track and was struck by the yard or pony engine backing up from the east.”
After suffering grievous injuries, Naghten died two days later. A resolution of City Council stated that “his memory should be cherished as green spots of earth that never fade.”
Naghten is buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.