New Year's Day in 2020 marked the beginning of a new decade and, for many, a new outlook on life.

On Jan. 1, 1920, people in Columbus heralded the new decade much the same as people did this year.

George Karb had been mayor of Columbus for a long time and a fixture in central Ohio politics for even longer. Born in Columbus, he had apprenticed himself to a pharmacist and at an early age was operating a pharmacy and general store at Fourth and Main streets.

The store was catercornered to the massive Central Market. Karb did a lot of business and made a lot of friends. He was that sort of fellow.

He soon served two terms as sheriff when previous law-enforcement experience was not required. He went on to serve two terms as mayor in the 1890s and then returned to his substantial business interests. He was recalled by political friends to serve again as mayor for two terms -- from 1912 to 1920.

Karb was a tall, imposing man who greeted most of the men he had met with a "Good day, colonel!" and the ladies with a "Great pleasure, ma'am!" He was a difficult man to miss.

But in 1920, he was on his way out, and the new mayor was a different sort of fellow.

James J. "Jim" Thomas did not come out of the ward politics of the old Columbus. He was part of a bright, young movement of men and money that was transforming the United States in the progressive era before World War I.

Elected to City Council in 1898, Thomas was the youngest man ever to serve two terms as council president. He went on to serve as Columbus auditor and in 1920 was beginning his first term as mayor of Columbus.

It would not be his last. Thomas served for 12 years as mayor and presided over the creation of a riverfront civic center and many notable events.

It truly was a changing of the guard -- but amid the celebration of the 1920s decade's beginning, many did not notice. They were too busy having a good time.

A newspaper account from the period described the first New Year's celebration in the age of Prohibition -- or the lack thereof:

"Who was it that said that New Year's Eve 1918 was the last wet one? If he was around Wednesday evening, he found himself a poor prophet for never have liquors flowed more abundantly than they did in hotels, clubs, grills and homes in Columbus. The only difference was that they came from private stocks instead of from club and hotel bar rooms.

"There was no opportunity to haggle with waiters over the price of a bottle. About all the waiters were called upon to do for those who drank without eating was to mix cocktails from the liquor which the celebrants brought with them. Bootleg liquor was selling at $20 to $25 a bottle on Wednesday."

That is somewhere between $300 to $350 in today's dollars. Celebrating was expensive in Columbus on the last day of 1919.

"Managers of hotels and clubs reported record crowds which filled every dining room to capacity. There were practically no tables to be had anywhere after eight o'clock.

"At the Deshler Hotel, the Ionian Room, the Crystal Room, the old bar room and the ballroom were set aside for the revelers. By 9 o'clock, Manager Ben Harmon of the Neil House said that he had turned away 300 persons. The Virginia Hotel was packed at 9:30 and at the Elks Club 250 couples were making merry. 450 reservations had been made at the Athletic Club, the largest crowd in its history.

"In the residential sections, celebrations were quieter. Although many homes were the scene of revelry, smaller numbers resulted in quieter celebrations. Watch night services were held in many churches, with communion services, special holiday music by the choirs and other music. ... Street crowds were far less numerous than in former years and were much quieter.

"By 11 o'clock, bells were beginning to ring and whistles to blow in preparation for ushering in the new year and by 12 o'clock they could be heard from all sections of the city."

A decade of extraordinary political, economic and social change was about to begin. And Columbus seemed to be ready to usher it in.

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