OPINION

As It Were: Preservation victories still around us

ED LENTZ
Statehouse Square is depicted in 1854; the artist speculated on what it might look like when it was finished. The existence of the Statehouse in Columbus is one example of a successful historical-preservation effort.

Historic preservation is a movement for those of us interested in local history and the preservation of the best of the past. 

It asks us to take time to recognize the importance of saving places that are vital to understanding who we are and who we have been.  

Ed Lentz

We call such places landmarks, and it is in our interest to preserve them for the benefit of generations yet unborn. 

With that in mind, I thought it might be useful to look back and remember some early preservation victories and losses over the years in Columbus and central Ohio. 

People have been living at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers for several thousand years. Most of the evidence of the prehistoric Mound Builders cultures and the Native Americans who followed them was removed by the settlers from the colonial East who entered the Ohio Country in the late 1700s. 

Once, literally hundreds of mounds, enclosures and earthworks existed in central Ohio, including a 40-foot mound that stood at the intersection of Mound and High streets until the early 1830s. Clay from that mound was used to build the first statehouse on Statehouse Square. Bricks from that early statehouse were used in the current Statehouse, so at least a bit of that mound still exists today, in an alternate form. 

More importantly, other earthworks – such as Shrum Mound in west Columbus, the Jeffers Mound in Worthington and Highbanks Metro Park in Lewis Center – survive and remind us of the Mound Builders. 

Franklinton was established on the west bank of the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy in 1797. The village was a major outpost in the War of 1812 but soon was overshadowed by the new town of Columbus across the river. Frequently flooded, the village became a center of manufacturing and railroad traffic. 

Fortunately, a few of the earliest places in Franklinton have survived.  

Harrison House at Gift and Broad streets was built in 1807 and now is owned by the city of Columbus.  

One block south on Gift Street is Deardurff House. In private hands, the 1807 house is being carefully restored.  

A few blocks away at the corner of Souder and River streets is the Franklinton Cemetery, one of the oldest in central Ohio. 

Perhaps one of the greatest preservation victories in the history of Columbus was the one that kept the capital here.  

Columbus was established as the capital of Ohio in 1812. There was no town in the forest on the high banks opposite Franklinton until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being.  

The new town was a small and isolated village at the edge of the American frontier until the National Road and the Ohio and Erie Canal arrived in 1831. By 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000 people and growing fast – as was most of Ohio.   

In 1839, the Ohio General Assembly decided a new statehouse was needed. The cornerstone was laid July 4, 1839. Work proceeded apace with prison labor to build what would be second only to the U.S. Capitol in size and grandeur. 

Ohioans from other parts of the state knew that if this new building were completed, any chance for the capital to come to their town would be lost. 

The conflict came to a head in 1842 with a concerted movement to stop work on the Statehouse and to move the capital elsewhere.  

But after much debate, Columbus won. Work on the Statehouse proceeded and finally was completed in 1861. Since that time, no one has seriously proposed that the capital city be moved. 

Over the years, other major preservation victories have arisen. 

The first public park in Columbus was Goodale Park. Established in 1851, it still is in service today, as are Schiller Park and Franklin Park in the heart of the city.  

East Broad Street once was a tree-lined street of stately mansions. Many of the homes near the center of the city are gone, but the Columbus Club at Fourth and Broad is a reminder of what once was here. 

Theaters of many styles and sorts once were part of downtown Columbus. The exquisitely restored Ohio, Palace and Southern theaters are reminders of that heritage. 

Perhaps the most important reminder of the living past of the city are its historic neighborhoods. German Village, Italian Village and Victorian Village are the oldest and are complemented by many others across the city. 

Columbus has a preservation past well worth remembering. 

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

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