Commentary: Columbus – A City Where Dreams are Made

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Columbus turns 200 on February 14, 2012(Photo: (file))
Columbus turns 200 on February 14, 2012(Photo: (file))

Cities are dreams defined. And great cities are places where great dreams are made manifest. Columbus, Ohio, is one of those cities.

Every city is a unique construct that is a reflection of the people who made it. But some cities are much more than that – they are symbols as well of something more than the people who live here.

Columbus is one of those cities as well.

Columbus is a created city. There was no city on the “High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto” until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being two hundred years ago. The original capital of Ohio had been at Chillicothe and then at Zanesville and then back to Chillicothe all within the first decade of the state’s history. Yielding to pressure to locate the capital in the central part of the state, many potential towns had been examined. But in the end the Ohio General Assembly decided to do something rather bold and daring.

In this new state on the edge of the frontier – in a place where only a few years earlier Native Americans had lived for generations – Ohio decided to build an entirely new town to be its symbolic center of state power and authority.

For more than two centuries it has been just that. From modest beginnings with a two story brick statehouse the State of Ohio has become a place where historic things happen with a rather surprising regularity. And Columbus has been in the center of it all.

When the state decided it needed a new statehouse in the 1830’s, it did not build a common building. In the middle of a state with few roads of any kind, Ohio began to construct a building that was second only to the US capitol in size and grandeur. When the National Road came to Ohio, it passed through Columbus. When Ohio built a canal system and a rail system and a highway system, Columbus was linked to all of them.

The state built massive institutions to care for people in need – the blind, the deaf and the mentally ill and put them her in Columbus. It built one of the most progressive penitentiaries in America and put it “near” Columbus – “way out in the country” at Spring Street and Neil Avenue. And it built a one of the world’s great learning communities – The Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College – now The Ohio State University – and placed it in Columbus as well.

One might think that all of these great institutions as well as libraries, cultural institutions and a fabric of truly livable neighborhoods might produce some memorable people. And they have.

The list of truly remarkable people who have called Columbus home for a little while or for a lifetime is a rather long one. But as much as a city shapes its people with its streets and its structures and its sights and its sounds, the city is also a reflection of the people who have made it their own for more than two hundred years.

As we look back on this rather special birthday, we can see how the dreams we have had have defined who we have been. And they still are. That is the magic of Columbus and Ohio and America. We are and always have been a people reinventing, rediscovering and renewing ourselves. We are a restless people who have done many wonderful things. And we are about to do many more.

Columbus, Ohio, on its two hundredth birthday continues to be a radiant symbol in the center of a great state of the people who call it home.