Today, we see a snapshot of the town Columbus used to be.

The view is from 1888, standing on top of the Ohio Statehouse, looking to the north and west of the city.

Today, we see a snapshot of the town Columbus used to be.

The view is from 1888, standing on top of the Ohio Statehouse, looking to the north and west of the city.

We can learn a lot about a city if we look closely at old pictures that were not originally designed to be instructive.

The search for souvenirs is an old urge in the human condition. People have been looking for reminders of the places they have been for a long time.

In earlier days, souvenirs might include battle relics, religious tokens and cultural reminders, such as clothing and furnishings. After the invention of movable type in the mid-1400s, people began to collect engravings of the places they had been. With the invention of lithography and inexpensive printing, new pictures of places began to be collected.

Today’s picture was part of a booklet of sights to be seen in Columbus. Folders of pictures such as this were the forerunners of the inexpensive postcards in “accordion folders” that would become a popular souvenir of the 20th century.

Most of the pictures in these folders were of notable buildings. Included were places such as the Statehouse, Ohio State University structures and the state schools for the blind, the deaf and the mentally ill, in addition to an occasional street scene like today’s picture.

Columbus in 1888 was a bustling Midwestern capital city of about 90,000 people. A village of 18,000 at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the town rapidly had grown with the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

The opening of the Hocking Valley Railway in the 1870s brought immense quantities of cheap coal, wood and iron to Columbus factories. Those factories produced products as varied as beer, hand tools and shoes.

But the biggest business was in buggies.

The Columbus Buggy Co. was founded in 1875 in a little shop on North High Street. By 1900, it was the largest buggy company in the United States, employing hundreds of men in factory buildings west of the Ohio Penitentiary.

It was not alone. By 1900, Columbus had 22 buggy companies. One of every five buggies made anywhere in the world was made in Columbus.

We can see some of that activity in our picture for today. The smoke rising in thin lines is coming from buildings along the Scioto River.

As the city began to build factories in the 1800s, most of them were near downtown. Columbus was a “walking city,” and people lived close to where they worked.

If I could take you back to the corner of Broad and High streets in 1888, when this picture was made, you would quickly notice a few odd things. The first might be that your eyes were watering and the air was smoky.

Columbus was a city illuminated and powered by coal. The smoke from that burned coal lay in a perpetual cloud over the city, and it stained the brick and stone of local buildings.

More importantly, smoke infiltrated hair, clothing and lungs. Respiratory disease was one of the biggest health problems of this period. It would not abate until well into the 20th century.

Something else you would notice is the smell. Columbus in 1888 was a city served by horses.

Horses pulled wagons of goods, coaches full of people and even the occasional rider on a horse of his own.

All these hundreds of horses left behind an unpleasant aroma.

Cleaning up the mess was a job left to an interesting batch of people. Some were prisoners from the local jail working off their sentences. Others were people employed contractually by the city to sweep up and wet down the streets – especially during dusty summers.

The cleaning effort apparently worked, and the streets stayed relatively clean.

As the city grew, the price of land along the river rose. Many of the local factories needed to find cheaper locations. Those new homes often were found along the rail lines leading north and west out of the city.

But the largest new home to local factories was found on the far south side. By 1900, there were four steel mills and a glass factory in the place that came to be called Steelton.

But in 1888, that is a world yet to come. Then as now, Broad and High was a photogenic place in a growing town happy to show its success in a souvenir.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.