OPINION

As It Were: Columbus celebrates Valentine’s birthday as capital city

Ed Lentz
Guest Columnist
This drawing shows the first Ohio Statehouse in 1816.

The 209th anniversary of the founding of Columbus as Ohio’s capital city is Feb. 14, which, of course, is Valentine’s Day.

It never has been determined if the members of the Ohio General Assembly either knew or cared about St. Valentine.

My guess is that they did not.

It was a difficult time for the new state. British forts still controlled access to major rivers along the southern shore of Lake Erie. It was rather clear that a second war with Great Britain for control of the Ohio Country was coming.

And in the midst of these difficulties, the Ohio General Assembly was looking for a new home.

Ed Lentz

On the occasion of the birthday of Columbus, it is a story worth retelling.

When Ohio became a state, the first state capital was in Chillicothe because the village was the home of several founders of the state, including Edward Tiffin, its first governor, and his brother-in-law, master politician and statesman Thomas Worthington.  

Every morning, Worthington could stand at his front porch of his hilltop home called Adena and note that the first statehouse was nearby.

The state capital would remain in Chillicothe until 1808, when it was moved to Zanesville for a brief time before returning to Chillicothe. Through many of those early years, several members of the General Assembly persistently had asked that the capital be moved closer to the center of the state.

Responding to these concerns, the Ohio General Assembly did what it sometimes did when confronted with an issue it could not easily resolve: It appointed a committee to study the problem and recommend a solution.

The committee of three men rode into the wilderness of Ohio and looked at many places that wanted to become the capital. The frontier villages of Circleville and Newark expressed interest, as did Delaware and Worthington. 

The committee returned and reported its recommendation that the state capital be relocated to a high ridge along the Scioto River that carried the name of the Sells Plantations. It later would become the village of Dublin.

And as it occasionally had been inclined to do, the Ohio General Assembly ignored the recommendation of its committee and picked a different site.

The place they picked was called the “High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto." It also was called “Wolf’s Ridge.” The land on the west bank of the Scioto where the village of Franklinton was founded in 1797 was part of the Virginia Military District and home to pioneer surveyor and town planner Lucas Sullivant.

The land on the east bank of the river was part of a different land grant called Refugee Tract, which was set aside for residents of Nova Scotia who had lost property in the American Revolution. The Refugee Tract’s recipients seldom came to Ohio. They sold their land grants, and the land itself from Fifth Avenue on the north to Refugee Road on the south generally remained unsettled.

It was a densely forested ridge dominated by a 40-foot-tall Native American mound where the intersection of Mound and High streets is today.

That land was acquired by four men who had called themselves proprietors. Their offer to the Ohio General Assembly was 10 acres for a statehouse where the Statehouse is today and 10 acres for a penitentiary where the Cultural Arts Center in the old armory is today.

They also offered $50,000 – an immense sum in those days – to clear the land and construct buildings. The proprietors would make their money selling town lots in the new state capital.

On Feb. 14, 1812, the Ohio General Assembly accepted the offer. A few days later, at the urging of local representative Joseph Foos, the assembly chose Columbus as the name of the new capital city. Joel Wright, an experienced surveyor, was chosen to lay out the new town and was helped by local surveyor Joseph Vance.

Wright laid out a town with wide streets forming a long rectangle that angled several degrees west of true north. The northern boundary of the new town was called North Public Lane (now Nationwide Boulevard). South Public Lane soon came to be called Livingston Avenue. The eastern boundary of the new town now is Parsons Avenue. 

The first sale of lots in the new town was held June 18, 1812. It was the same day the United States went to war with Great Britain. Notwithstanding that event, work on the town went forward, and by the time the war ended, a modest 2-story brick Statehouse stood at the corner of State and High streets.

The Ohio General Assembly met in Columbus for the first time in 1816 and has been meeting there ever since.

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