Columbus: History

Central Location Makes Columbus Ohio's Capital

After Ohio gained statehood in 1803, the General Assembly set out to find a geographically centralized location for the capital. Congress had enacted the Ordinance for the Northwest Territory in 1787 to settle claims from the American Revolution and a grant was given to Virginia for lands west of the Scioto River. Lucas Sullivant, a Virginia surveyor, established in 1797 the village of Franklinton, which quickly turned into a profitable trading center. In 1812 plans for a state Capitol building and a penitentiary at Franklinton were drawn up and approved by the legislature, which also agreed to rename the settlement Columbus. Construction of the state buildings was delayed for four years by the War of 1812.

During its early history the major threat to Columbus was a series of fever and cholera epidemics that did not subside until swamps close to the center of town were drained. With the opening in 1831 of the Ohio & Erie Canal, which was connected to Columbus by a smaller canal, and then the National Highway in 1833, Columbus was in a position to emerge as a trade and transportation center. Then, on February 22, 1850, a steam engine pulling flat cars made its maiden run from Columbus to Xenia, 54 miles away, and Columbus entered the railroad age. Five locally financed railroads were in operation by 1872.

Columbus, with a population of 20,000 people in 1860, became a military center during the Civil War. Camp Jackson was an assembly center for recruits and Columbus Barracks—renamed Fort Hayes in 1922—served as an arsenal. Camp Chase, also in the area, was the Union's largest facility for Confederate prisoners, and the Federal Government maintained a cemetery for the more than 2,000 soldiers who died there.

Academic Prominence Precedes High-Technology Growth

Columbus prospered economically after the Civil War, as new banks and railroad lines opened and horse-and-buggy companies manufactured 20,000 carriages and wagons a year. The city's first waterworks system and an extended streetcar service were built during this period. In 1870 the Ohio General Assembly created, through the Morrill Land Grant Act, the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, which became a vital part of the city's life and identity. This coeducational institution, renamed The Ohio State University in 1878, is now one of the country's major state universities. The Columbus campus consists of nearly 400 permanent buildings on 1,644 acres of land. Today, the university's technological research facilities, coupled with the Battelle Memorial Institute, comprise one of the largest private research organizations of its kind in the world.

Two events prior to World War I shook Columbus's stability. The streetcar strike of 1910 lasted through the summer and into the fall, resulting in riots and destruction of street cars and even one death. The National Guard was called out to maintain order, and when the strike finally ended, few concessions were made by the railway company. Three years later, the Scioto River flood killed 100 people and left 20,000 people homeless; property damages totaled $9 million.

Traditionally a center for political, economic, and cultural activity as the state capital, Columbus is today one of the fastest-growing cities in the east central United States. The downtown area underwent a complete transformation in the 1990s, and the economy surged as high-technology development and research companies moved into the metropolitan area. Franklin County saw its population top 1,000,000 for the first time in the 2000 census and celebrated its bicentennial in 2003.

Historical Information: Ohio Historical Society, 1985 Velma Avenue, Columbus, OH 43211; telephone (614)297-2510