WOSU-TV presents the tenth installment of the Columbus Neighborhoods series. This latest documentary profiles the city of Bexley.
St. Pat’s – A Day to Celebrate All Immigants
Listen to the Story
Each year on the 17th of March, many of us pause and lift our eyes – and an occasional glass – to heaven in remembrance of the Irish and all that the children of the “Ould Sod” have done to make America what it is today.
Scots-Irish pioneers opened the wilderness to settlement. Many of the most renowned names in the early history of America were people of at least some Irish origin. People some of us revere – like Daniel Boone and Simon Kenton, and people some of us revile – like Simon Girty and Alexander McKee – owed at least some of their origins to Irish forebears.
And coming after them were many more. As Ohio was opened to transportation and trade with the Ohio Canal and National Road, it is well to remember that both were substantially built with the labor of recent immigrants from Ireland.
By the turn of the Twentieth Century, Irish policemen and firemen and political leaders had made their mark as had a host of Irish merchants, traders and other business types.
But they were not alone. The story of America is the story of immigration. People from many countries came here seeking new lives in a new world. In some parts of America to this day we can still find little Germanys, little Italys, and little Hungarys.
But not so much so in Columbus.
Columbus was settled mostly by people from the original thirteen colonies that became the original thirteen states. And while some may note a German Village from the years when about a third of Columbus was German, we are hard put to find an Irish Village.
There was once an Irish Village in Columbus. It stretched out on both sides of the railyards on the north end of the city. What is now Nationwide Boulevard was once Naghten Street. Naghten Street was named for Billy Naghten, an Irish President of Columbus City Council and railway worker who had the misfortune to stand in the way of an oncoming train. The street originally called North Public Lane was renamed Naghten Street in his honor. Most people continued to call it by its unofficial name – “Irish Broadway” until well into the Twentieth Century.
Because Columbus is a city – like many others in the Midwest – of little obvious ethnicity, we tend to forget how many other “villages” there have been and still are in Columbus.
Just as German and Italian Village still exist to the South and north of downtown, and Irish Village once did, we can still find traces if we look closely enough of the traces of other villages and other peoples – even in this quite “homogenized” city.
The African-American community of Columbus has always been a bit larger than is the case in cities of comparable size. There is nothing all that unique about this. The same can be said of Indianapolis, Indiana, or Springfield Illinois, or Lansing, Michigan. But the Columbus Black community, united in spirit, did not come together in fact until the Near East Side began to emerge in its modern form in the early Twentieth Century.
At the same time, millions of people were arriving in America from eastern and southern Europe. Most of the new immigrants went to the biggest cities in America. But some came to Columbus. On the south end of the city – near the four steel mills then in operation – the Steelton community encompassed and embraced Hungarians, Slovenians, Poles, Czechs and Serbs – and many many others – all living in tightknit small neighborhoods. They were part of a larger community but with their own identity as well.
Many people still think this process ended sometime around 1924 and we all became “one people.” We didn’t – And for two reasons –
First many people kept at least some of their identity as Germans, Italians, Russians, and Irish well into this century.
And secondly, many people continue to come to America- people from places as distant as Latin America and Somalia – seeking what the newcomer has always sought – a new life in a new land.
It is their success in the making as well as ours in the already achieved, that we celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day. -30-