COLUMNS

As it Were: William Ludlow finished job of building Ohio's capital city

Ed Lentz
Guest Columnist

Walking through downtown Columbus, one will encounter immediately to the west of Front Street a north-south byway called Ludlow Alley.  

Because Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton all have a Ludlow Street, it would be easy to assume this alley in Columbus is named for the same Ludlow. 

That is not the case. 

Ed Lentz

The Cincinnati, Hamilton and Dayton streets are in honor of Col. Israel Ludlow, who was one of the original surveyors of the Seven Ranges in eastern Ohio and the Ludlow Line in west central Ohio. He laid out the three cities with streets bearing his name. He died in 1804 and never made it to Columbus. 

But his brother, William, did. 

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Cornelius Ludlow came to the Ohio Valley from New Jersey after the American Revolution and settled near Fort Washington and where Cincinnati is today. His large family included his surveyor and frontiersmen sons, Israel and William.  

William Ludlow never achieved the fame and fortune of his brother, but he was well known to early Ohio political figures as a man who got things done. In 1804, one year after Ohio became a state, he and two other men traveled into the forest north of Cincinnati and laid out a site for a state college. It eventually became Miami University. 

In 1812, Worthington founder James Kilbourne joined Ludlow and another man in surveying the boundary line between public land in central Ohio and Native American villages to the north.

The War of 1812 was underway, and Kilbourne noted later that “we camped two nights on the site of an Indian town which our troops had taken and burned the day before – the smoldering ruins still burning.” 

After this adventure, Ludlow was looking for work, and the Ohio General Assembly obliged.

Pioneer surveyor and town planner Joel Wright had been drafted in 1812 to lay out the new capital of Ohio called Columbus. He chose the site of Statehouse Square and a site for a penitentiary where the Cultural Arts Center is today. He also dug a foundation for the prison and set aside stone and “upward of 300,000 bricks” at the site. 

In December 1812, Wright asked to be relieved of these duties. The Ohio General Assembly complied and appointed William Ludlow to be the “Director of the Town of Columbus” for 1814 and 1815. 

Ludlow built the major buildings specified by the Ohio General Assembly. He began in late 1813 to complete the 3-story brick penitentiary, which was completed first so prison labor could be used in the construction of other buildings.  

According to a later account, the completed Statehouse was “a common, plain brick building, 75 feet north and south by 50 feet east and west, on the ground and two lofty stories high, with a square roof, that is, eaves and cornices at both sides and ends, and ascending to the balcony and steeple in the centre, in which was the first rate, well-toned bell. The top of the spire was 106 feet from the ground. On the roof adjoining the balcony, on two sides, were the neat railed walks, from which a spectator might view the whole town as upon a map, and had also a fine view of the winding Scioto, and of the level country around as far as the eye could reach.

“The principal entrance to the building was at the center of its southern front on State Street. From the interior vestibule adjoining the main doorway flights of stairs rose right and left leading to a gallery and to the Senate Chamber, which was in the second story and had two committee rooms but no gallery. The hall for the Representatives was on the lower floor on the north side of the building. It was provided with two committee rooms and a gallery and communicated with High Street by a door at the center of the west front. A rear door led to the woodyard.” 

The halls were “of good size and respectable wooden finish” consisting in part of “large wooden columns handsomely turned.” The columns “were painted in imitation of clouded marble.” The interior walls were hung with maps of the state “besides various other articles of use and ornament.” 

Ludlow continued with his work. “The building for the executive and administrative offices of the state was erected in 1815.” In time it came to be called “Rat Row.”  

With the completion of these two buildings, the work of Ludlow was done as a new courthouse was built after he left. 

Ludlow left a capital that was a thriving village of 700 people soon to become the borough of Columbus with the arrival of the General Assembly in 1816.  

Ludlow went on to other adventures until his death in 1829, leaving behind little other than a street in Columbus with his name. 

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