Dog Days In Columbus – Then and Now

Listen to the Story

It has been pretty hot recently. But that should not surprise anyone who has lived around here for any length of time. Central Ohio is known to have warm summers and cold winters.

And it has been that way for quite a long time.

There was no official notation of the rise and fall of temperatures in Columbus until 1878. Prior to that time, a few local people kept records of their own of summers worth remembering.

One of those was in 1854.

An account written a number of years later by local historian Alfred Lee noted that:

“The streets of Columbus were ‘ankle deep in dust.’ Pasture lands were parched and the corn withered under the burning rays of the sun… The August heat continued into September, during the early part of which the day heat was fierce and that of the night stifling.”

And when these people said ‘stifling’, they meant something different than we do today. This was a world without air conditioning or electricity as we use it today. The only fans worth talking about were the ones people held in their hands.

It was a world where clothing tested one’s moral courage. Men wore wool suits over heavy cloth shirts with high collars. Women wore dresses that reached to the floor and consisted of multiple layers of cloth.

And if this wasn’t bad enough people still had to cope with an era in which sewers were largely non-existent. So people emptied their garbage into the streets where all of this became fair game for roving packs of dogs, pigs and other livestock.

A stroll on a summer night in 1854 could be quite an adventure.

As the nineteenth century moved on the weather became a bit less formidable in the summer – but not by much.

Clothing became a bit looser and easier to wear. The general availability of water, electricity and natural gas coming into homes was complemented by effective sewage systems wending their way away from them. The result was a more comfortable home and a far less disgusting streetscape.

So at the turn of the twentieth century – about a hundred years ago – what exactly did people do in the summer in an era before television, the internet and professional football games in the middle of August?

People did what they still do. They went out.

The turn of the century was the golden age of the Park – and there were many different kinds of parks. There were ballparks where one could go to watch one’s favorite baseball team hold forth. There were Amusement Parks – and Columbus had several of them. And there were the City Parks. In the early days – like 1854 – there had been no city parks. If one wanted to experience nature one only had to walk a few blocks from home and one was in the forest. But by 1900 the city had 125,000 people and green space was harder to find.

To provide some green space, the City had several large public parks in addition to public spaces like Statehouse Square.

In addition theatres, corner drug stores and open air restaurants gave people something to do on hot August nights.

Today as we look back on those bygone days of a city with out comfort conditioning, we might wonder how people managed to survive summer in the city. We really shouldn’t.

People a hundred years from now will wonder how we got by. And the answer will be the same as our forbears. We did just fine, thanks, and had a good time doing it. It might have been a bit hot from time to time, but that was and is summer in central Ohio.

-Ed Lentz

We want to hear from you. E-mail us at feedback@wosu.org

Comments