The Short North: A History

Listen to the Story

The Short North Neighborhood is one of Columbus’s most popular places to shop, eat and live. It’s been called Columbus’s SoHo; similar to New York City’s Bohemian enclave. Monday night WOSU-TV profiles The Short North in the first of a series of documentaries about Columbus neighborhoods. Monday night’s Short North documentary has been two years in the making:

FROM THE DOCUMENTARY: In a city of neighborhoods, it’s the neighborhood that connects us to the past – and to each other – the Short North. It gets backbone and grit from Harrison West, elegance from Victorian Village; it’s anchored in the traditions of Italian Village, and the vivid impressions of Flytown which now lives only in memory. The Short North used to be known as the Near North Side. But police gave the district its new name.

FROM THE DOCUMENTARY: Dispatchers identified the blighted area as short of the university and north of downtown. Still it was the charm of the buildings and the potential for redevelopment that began to attract the adventurous Two of those adventurous people were the husband and wife team of Michael Secrest and Maria Galloway. Galloway says that when the couple arrived 30 years ago to open PM Gallery, the area, especially along High Street, was very rundown.

“It was extremely derelict,” Galloway says. “There was a lot of second-hand stores, there were some strip clubs. And then there were these galleries. And it just looked like something was going to happen here.”

Something did.

Art had come to the Short North. Today the portion of High Street stretching from the Inner Belt north to 5th Avenue is home to dozens of independently owned shops, small art galleries and restaurants. But the area was not always a commercial center. In the decades after the Civil War, it was on the very edge of Columbus. Here a local benefactor gave more than 30 acres of land for the establishment of one of the first public parks in the U.S. That benefactor was Lincoln Goodale, and the park was named in his honor. Stan Sells is president of the Friends of Goodale Park

“Well this is Columbus’s oldest park and in many ways we think it’s the best park,” Sells says. “It’s certainly the gem of the Short North. It has a very long history. We had Union troops stationed here during the Civil War. And so it’s been an important element of the city.”

Decades after the Civil War, the area nearby became a hub for manufacturing. As factories were built, a new neighborhood known as Flytown sprang up.

“Flytown was an integrated area,” says Columbus musician Arnett Howard who is an amateur Flytown historian. “Polish families would live next to German families. Black families were integrated into that. It was an area of poverty.”

It’s said that Flytown got its name because the cheap, raggedy wood frame houses just “flew up.”

By the 1960s Flytown was gone; done in by urban renewal and the construction of I-670. But several elegant Short North neighborhoods still stand – two of them are on opposite sides of North High Street. The older one, east of High was a more working class neighborhood says the Columbus Landmarks Foundation’s Kathy Mast Kane.

“The Italian Village was built up more by the working class people who had been working in the local industries or on the railroad or the things that Italian Village was contiguous to,” Kane says.

On the west side of High is the larger Victorian Village with its impressive architecture.

“Victorian Village; the larger homes were built by more prominent citizens, owners of manufacturing and industry or businesses that were thriving so that they had more money to put into the styles,” Kane says. “They were kind of strutting their prominence and success through their home construction.”

The vision and restoration efforts of people in the Short North have preserved an important slice of Columbus history. Again gallery owner Maria Galloway.

“People sometimes in Columbus don’t know how lucky we are,” Galloway says. “The Short North is really a gem. It’s something very special.”

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