Columbus – Sometimes Being in the Middle Isn’t Bad

Listen to the Story

Columbus is one of those places that has always been rather proud of being “in the center of things.” And being in the center of the state as well as being the capital of Ohio would tend to make us just that.

But there are hazards to being in the center as well.

Ohio is the place that has been aptly described as the country “from the lake to the river and the land in between”. And we in Columbus are of course – almost as an afterthought – the land in between.

Over the past two hundred years that – “between” – has meant several things. The southern part of Ohio – with notable exceptions like Marietta and Cincinnati – was largely settled by people from the South – places like Virginia, Kentucky and the Carolinas. Northern Ohio on the other hand was settled by people from further North – New England, Pennsylvania and New Jersey come to mind.

Central Ohio – in the middle was a little bit of both – Franklinton in 1797 -now the near west side of Columbus – was settled by people from the South. It was after all the Virginia Military District. Worthington on the other hand was one of the most southern of the Yankee settlements in Ohio – founded by hardy souls from Granby, Connecticut and points nearby.

And the place where cultures clashed was Columbus – established right between the two in 1812.

Now all of this culture clashing would not have been so bad if Columbus had emerged from it as the pre-eminent city in the state. But that did not happen.

In short order, the cities along the Ohio River became the place to be. Cincinnati by 1840 was the Queen City of the West. And then the Industrial Revolution began and Cleveland – The Forest City – became the largest city in Ohio by the turn of the century.

This is not to say that people in central Ohio had been idle. We made a lot of beer and boots and buggies with the help of the large number of Irish and German immigrants who came to the area in the mid- 1800′s. And I suppose you could say we – through the good work of the Ohio General Assembly – made a lot of laws as well.

But most of the people coming to Ohio after 1870 went either north or south and found homes and their futures in the “Golden Triangle” of the state’s northeast or the industrial hub of southwest Ohio.

For those of us in the middle of the state – safe and secure in our diversified if less than flamboyant economy – it appeared as if we were destined to be always second to our northern and southern neighbors.

Which just goes to show how deceptive appearances can be. By the 1970′s, it became quite clear that most of Ohio had become part of the economically challenged “rust belt”.

Most but not all.

Columbus and central Ohio through these years emerged as the economic powerhouse of the state. The diversified economy that had propelled us over the years did not reach the heights of industrial success seen elsewhere in Ohio.

But it did not have to.

When the mighty cities of Ohio fell – as they did in the years after World War II – Columbus became the model for the next generation of state economic development.

Eventually the other cities of Ohio started to become more and more like Columbus and thereby more and more successful.

There is a lesson here somewhere—-and it may be something like –

The people in the middle may not be the biggest or the strongest or even the folks who have the most fun at one party or another. But the people in the middle are the ones who win at the end of the day.