The Short North Has a Long History

Listen to the Story

So there I was sitting in a booth at a saloon along North High Street in Columbus, Ohio, that until very recently had been called the Star Caf . It was the in the winter of the early 1980′s, and the new owner of the place – an acquaintance named John Allen – had decided to clean it up, make it a little more respectable, and call it the Short North Tavern. He needed some old pictures to hang on the walls. I gave him some help finding them.

The Star Caf sat in the 600 block of North High Street. Once a commercial district near the rail yards a few blocks to the South, the area had entered a period of genteel – and then not so genteel – decline in the years after World War II. Adjacent neighborhoods that had once been the home of Irish, German and Italian immigrants had seen better days as well.

A few blocks up the street from the short North Tavern was the Garden Theatre – the last live burlesque house in the City of Columbus. It was not a very nice part of town.

But it had been at one time.

In the years after the Civil War, the area north of the city limits of Columbus, Ohio, at what is now Nationwide Boulevard was largely open farmland. After walking by a barnlike railroad terminal on the right and the Old North Graveyard on the left, there wasn’t much to see until one got to the corner of Goodale Avenue and High Street. Standing by the original home of Capital University, one could see the park off to the west that gave the street its name. Pioneer physician Lincoln Goodale had given the land to the city in 1851.

But the bucolic stillness of college and park were soon to change. In less than a generation, the Old North Graveyard had been replaced by the new North Market. Capital University had moved to the East Side and the opening of streetcar service to the new Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College – now The Ohio State University – a mile or two to the north had made this part of town a nice place to live.

Many of the great old houses – and any number of more modest houses – built more than a century ago can still be seen in the area that came to be called the Short North.

It was called the Short North first by the local police. Based in a central Police Station in downtown Columbus, the constabulary divided the town into districts for patrol and responses purposes. A map showing those districts would have looked something like a dartboard. In the center was the bull’s-eye that was downtown Columbus. Surrounding it were four areas that composed nearby patrol districts. They were called respectively the Short North, South, East and West. The Short South Was German Village, the Short West was Old Franklinton, the Short East was the King-Lincoln District and Olde Towne East.

But in the early 1980′s, a number of people like John Allen saw the promise of the area. Some like Allen built thriving businesses. Others like developer Sandy Wood renovated whole city blocks. And dozens of other people simply bought some of the wonderful old houses and made them their own. With a lot of assistance from the City of Columbus and the local business community, the Short North began to develop new life and an identity all its own.

Now, more than thirty years later, the Short North is the home of Gallery Hop, the Doo-Dah Parade, and some of the best restaurants and nicest people in the city.

Someone asked me thirty years ago why I was working to bring back that part of town. I told them at the time that this had been a great place once and it could and would be a great place again.

I just had no idea how it would all turn out. As it happened, it turned out just fine.

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