March 17, 1920, was a good day for a parade in Columbus, and all who were Irish -- or felt they should be Irish for a day -- turned out to march.
The march to observe, commemorate and celebrate St. Patrick began with a flourish at City Hall, with appropriate remarks by elected officials, among others.
Among the marchers were two men who had been present for many past iterations of the event.
Jerry O'Shaughnessy was superintendent of the Columbus Water Works; Thomas Dundon listed himself as a "lumber dealer." Both men actually were principal participants in a number of enterprises public and private, profitable and charitable, and both men had been active in the affairs of Irish Columbus for many years.
Both agreed they had been marching in the parade for at least 40 years.
But the Irish were marching in Columbus long before that.
The new state capital of Columbus had been established in 1812 on the "high banks" at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. The earliest settlers in the area came from the eastern and southern parts of the still-young United States.
Frontier Franklinton had been settled in 1797 largely by people from Virginia and Kentucky. Worthington to the north was founded in 1802 by people from Granby, Connecticut, and points nearby. The new town of Columbus reflected a mix of cultures north and south, complemented by legislators and officeholders from across the state.
By 1830, Columbus was a small village with a population of about 2,000 nestled at the edge of a moving frontier. The conflicts with the French, the British and a variety of Native Americans were over in Ohio, and most of the privations of frontier survival had ended.
Then the world changed.
In the early 1830s, the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road arrived in Columbus. In short order, the small village in central Ohio became a center of transportation and trade. The population of the town more than doubled, and in 1834, the city of Columbus had more than 5,000 residents. Many of the new arrivals were new not only to Columbus but to the U.S., as well.
The continuation of economic and political travails in Ireland and the promise of prosperity abroad had persuaded many people from that troubled country to come here.
A large number of recent Irish immigrant men found work in helping to build the elaborate canal system. The pay was low, the work was hard and more than a few men died clearing dense forests and disease-ridden swamps.
When the canal system was completed in the 1830s, many of the new arrivals stayed in central Ohio with their families and found new jobs. Railroad construction began in earnest in Ohio in the 1840s. When the Columbus and Xenia Railroad came to Columbus in 1850, it entered the city on the north side of the city limits.
The north boundary of the city in those days was a street called North Public Lane. Today, it is Nationwide Boulevard. Perhaps it was no accident that a large and growing Irish immigrant community grew up along both sides of that street and adjacent to the nearby railyards.
By the late 1850s, North Public Lane was lined with shops and homes from the river to the west, to St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church to the east. The Irish population was great and growing, and the heart of that community lay along that border street that had come to be called "Irish Broadway."
The Irish community would continue to grow and prosper in the years after the Civil War.
Railroad yardman Billy Naghten wended his way through the morass of 19th-century ward politics to become president of Columbus City Council.
In the wake of his death, the city renamed North Public Lane as Naghten Street in his honor. The street still exists east of North Fourth Street in downtown Columbus.
Over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Irish community of Columbus became prosperous and powerful. On March 17 of each year, that power and prosperity was reflected in the celebration of St. Patrick's Day.
On March 17, 1920, the parade beginning at City Hall moved east along Broad Street. It was led by the Fourth Regiment Band, followed by a contingent from the Ancient Order of Hibernian Rifles.
More than 200 people marched to St. Patrick's Church, where the Rev. F.A. Gaffney spoke of "Irish Ideals." In the evening, a musical comedy called "From Limerick Way" was presented in the chamber of commerce auditorium by the local Ancient Order of Hibernians. It was so popular that it was repeated the following evening.
These were good days for Irish Columbus.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.