Commentary – Old Town East – A Majestic Paradise

Homes in Olde Towne East, circa 1934(Photo: WOSU)
Homes in Olde Towne East, circa 1934(Photo: WOSU)

By the early 1850’s, Columbus had been the capital city of the State of Ohio for about forty years. During that time the small village on the edge of the frontier had become first a town and then a city with the arrival of the Ohio and Erie Canal and the National Road.

Through most of those years most people –rich and poor – had lived close to the center of the new capital city. In an era without other transportation, this was a walking city. People lived close to one another and walked everywhere – to church, to school, to play and so on.

Now in the 1850’s, the city was beginning to spread out. New people were making new money in railroads and the making of all sorts of things – shoes, glassware, ironware and buggies – to name just a few.

The new people with the new money as well as some of the newer holders of old money began to move out from the central city. Some moved south and joined with the German community rising in that part of Columbus. Others moved north to where the Irish and the railroads came into the city. But most of the new people moved east.

The National Road came into Columbus along Main Street. It was hot, noisy and crowded through much of the year. Instead people of wealth and influence gravitated toward Broad Street. This was the road to Granville. And frankly, not all that many people were going to Granville.

In the early 1850’s, William Green Deshler, the son of a local banker, vacationed in Havana and liked that city’s tree lined boulevards. He returned to Columbus and made city leaders an offer. If they would provide the land along East Broad Street, he and his friends would provide the trees. They did and he did and soon four lines of trees were marching out the Broad Street corridor toward what is now Franklin Park. Houses followed and soon East Broad Street in Columbus became a Victorian Dream Street.

Other streets north and south of Broad Street became fashionable places to live as well. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, if one was looking for the place where the best houses, the best clubs and the best people were to be found – that place was the Near East Side of Columbus.

Cities are cauldrons of change and Columbus is no exception. Changes in transportation, communication and popular taste led to the rise of new communities in all directions from the core of the city. The electrified streetcar had led to places like the Near East Side. Now, automobile suburbs pushed the city even further away from its center.

As the new suburbs developed in the years after World War I and World War II, the old neighborhoods went through a transition of their own. Some wondered if the old city could be saved as the new city marched on.

Others never doubted the destiny of these great and magnificent homes and the communities around them.

By the 1930’s, Dutch Elm Disease had devastated many if not most of the trees along Broad Street. The loss of those trees and increased traffic led to the removal of the trees from Broad Street. Some have been trying to bring them back ever since. More successful were the efforts by new residents – White and Black, rich and poor, young and old – to save this great and good place and make it their own.

By and large they have succeeded. The place we now call Olde Towne East is one of the best of many good results.

Columbus is a city best known by its neighborhoods.  And Olde Towne East is one of the best of them. If character and quality are the marks of excellence in a place and its people – this place and these people are remarkable indeed.

Ed Lentz is a WOSU Commentator and local historian.   You can see tonight’s Columbus Neighborhoods – Olde Town East at 9pm on WOSU TV.

Share your own neighborhood’s story on our website – Columbusneighborhoods.org.

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