COLUMNS

As It Were: Pair saw potential in Columbus' 'distant' land

ED LENTZ
An 1850 photo shows the view looking west from the blind school at Main Street and Parsons Avenue.
Ed Lentz

Town Franklin is a small neighborhood in the heart of what is now downtown Columbus.

Located roughly along East Town Street and nearby side streets between Grant and Parsons avenues, only a few blocks from the Statehouse, is a recognized historic district and home to some impressive houses.

It requires only a momentary glance back to recognize that this whole area was a pioneering suburb of a growing capital city.

Founded in 1812, Columbus was a tiny village for many years. In the early 1830s, the borough of Columbus had a population of about 2,000 when the National Road and the Ohio and Erie Canal arrived.

By 1834, Columbus was a city of 5,000.

In 1850, the first train arrived in Columbus. The city of about 15,000 had a small German neighborhood near the southern city limits of Livingston Avenue. Another ethnic community was located near the northern city limits along a street known as "Irish Broadway," now called Nationwide Boulevard.

Across the Scioto River in old Franklinton, a few people lived in the often-waterlogged flood plain. There were no other "suburbs."

Then Columbus was a "walking city."

People relied on wagons and carriages if they were traveling far, but to get around town, most people walked.

They walked to church, to school, to market and to local inns and taverns if they were of a certain age and inclination.

People of property and standing lived on or near Statehouse Square, where they could walk easily to all those places. Those people liked being close to the action -- unless they were young and assertive and successful, like Philip Snowden and his friend Fernando Cortez Kelton.

Snowden was a local goods merchant. Kelton dealt in a variety of domestic and commercial products. Both men were successful local and regional businessmen.

They had arrived as young men with family, as well as business obligations, and they had been able to easily meet them.

By 1850, they were looking for a place to build permanent homes.

They found that place on East Town Street.

A major stream ran through the southern end of downtown Columbus.

A small branch of that creek passed along what is now Grant Avenue and had left a swampy morass near Grant Avenue and East Town Street.

The state of Ohio acquired several acres adjacent to and east of the swamp and constructed a home for the state School for the Deaf in 1834.

A few years later in 1839, Ohio had found more inexpensive land near the busy intersection of Parsons Avenue -- the east boundary of the city -- and Main Street and the National Road, and built a home for the state School for the Blind.

What people such as Snowden and Kelton recognized was that there was nothing of substance between the deaf school and the blind school along East Town Street.

In 1850, Kelton began to build his dream house in brick and stone on Town Street.

It was built in a style called Federal Revival and was elegantly simple. With large windows and spacious halls and rooms, the place that came to be called Kelton House was welcoming and open.

If Kelton's house were a tribute to a style that was waning, Snowden's home, built just down the street, was an ode to a new style in the country.

It was called Italianate Revival, and Snowden's house was designed to resemble a Tuscan country house.

With elaborate hood molds over the windows and a "belvedere" porch on top of the house, Snowden's dream house was and is wonderful in its intricate detail.

Friends and acquaintances thought people such as Kelton and Snowden were foolish to be living "so far out in the country." Both men politely disagreed.

They recognized that in a city without public parks, their property stood between two nearby green spaces in the grounds of the blind and deaf schools. They still were within walking distance of the Statehouse, and their street was becoming the suburban place to be.

Recognizing this fact, local banker William Green Deshler decided to create his own suburb.

In 1857, he told the city he had been to Havana and had admired its tree-lined streets.

He made an offer: If the city would provide the land, he would provide four lines of trees marching east on Broad Street, from Fourth Street to Franklin Park.

They did, and he did, and a Victorian dream street was born.

As we see the march of mansions along East Broad Street today, we tend to forget that it took a long time for all those mansions to be built.

For many of those years, from 1850 to the late 1870s, East Town Street and nearby Franklin Avenue was the place to be.

In some ways, it still is.

Kelton House at 586 E. Town St. is open to the public as a museum.

The Snowden-Gray House at 530 E. Town St. is a historic performance venue and is privately owned.

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