COLUMNS

As It Were: Bridges over Scioto have spanned the years

Ed Lentz
Guest columnist
This bridge, pictured circa 1866, carried Broad Street over the Scioto River from 1834 to 1882.

Most places in central Ohio have had many names over the years.

Native Americans had a village called Salt Lick Town or Big Lick Town near the place where two rivers came together. A rough translation of what they called these streams was Deer Creek on the one and Whetstone Creek on the other. Together they formed a larger river that snaked through southern central Ohio until it reached the Ohio River.

Ed Lentz

Large herds of deer came to this river to drink in molting season, and the river came to be covered in a layer of discarded fur. The river came to take its name of Hairy River, or Scioto, from all this activity.

Native Americans left their old villages behind in the wake of the American Revolution and the settlement of the Ohio Country by new people from across the eastern mountains.

In 1797, frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant established a town on land he happened to own near what by that time had come to be called the Forks of the Scioto.

Sullivant’s town was flooded a few times but ultimately was successful and well-established in time to serve as a mobilization and training center in the War of 1812. At the same time, a new capital city of Ohio was being established on the “High Bluffs opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto.”

Locals called the site Wolf’s Ridge because wolves serenaded Franklinton nightly from its crest. The Ohio General Assembly decided to call it Columbus.

With all this activity, it soon became apparent that people would need to regularly cross the river from one place to the other. With no bridges across a rather deep and fast-flowing river, it was not long before people found other ways to get where they wanted to go.

An early history recounts how that was done: “The Old Ford as it was called, was at the point where the Hocking Valley Railway (now under a different name) now crosses the river near the foot of Main Street. A canoe ferry was kept there by James Cutler, whose buxom daughter Sally, it is said, sometimes manipulated the oars for the transient traveler.”

Colonel P. H. Olmstead, writing in 1869, said: "Our usual route to Franklinton, then (in 1814) the county seat, was to cross the river just below Comstock’s Slaughter House, generally in a ferryboat kept by Jacob Armitage, the Scioto in those times being much higher than at present. ... Before Mr. Sullivant built his dike to prevent the overflow of the Scioto during the Spring freshets, it was not infrequent for Franklinton to be surrounded by water, and could only be approached by some sort of water craft. In fact, the country to the west of us looked like a lake, and Franklinton like a small island. I have passed in a skiff from this place to that ancient own, and tied up to a signpost.”

With all this traffic, it did not take long for many people to say that a bridge was needed between Franklinton and Columbus. Sullivant, still owning much of the west side of the Scioto, asked the Ohio General Assembly for an act permitting him to build a bridge.

On Feb. 15, 1815, the Ohio General Assembly still meeting in Chillicothe, approved an act “authorizing him and his associates – if any there be – to build a bridge at the foot of Broad Street, and authorized collection of the following rates of toll:

"For each foot passenger, three cents; for each horse, mule or ass one year old or upwards, four cents; for each horse and rider, twelve and one-half cents; for every chaise, riding chair, gig, cart or other two wheeled carriage, with two horses or two oxen and driver, thirty-seven and one-half cents” ... and the list went on.

All “public mails” and all troops and artillery of the state and the country were passed free. The franchise was granted for a period of 60 years, but the right was reserved to change the rates of toll after 1831.

As things turned out, the world did not wait until 1831: “After the lapse of eight to ten years, this bridge became infirm, and in 1826 was replaced by another with its western terminus at the original landing. Like its predecessor, it was destitute of roof or cover.”

This bridge was carried away in a flood in 1834. But by that time, officers of the U.S. Army had designed a permanent bridge to carry the National Road out of Columbus: “The bridge built in pursuance of this arrangement was a covered wooden one, with two separated tracks for vehicles, and an outside walk on each side for foot passengers.”

That bridge would stand until it was replaced by a steel bridge in 1883. It was swept away in the Great Flood of 1913.

Other bridges would follow until the current bridge was opened in 1992.

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