This week Columbus is celebrating its 200th anniversary; so, I feel I must take time to honor the city that has been my home for the last 43 years. Happy Birthday, Columbus!
Like so many others living in Columbus, I originated somewhere else. But that is part of what I loved about Columbus when I first arrived in 1969. So many others had come here from somewhere else but were eager to welcome you and make you feel at home. It seemed we were all a part of a growing city and we looked to the future with optimism. We worked together to make this a great city and place to work and live. There has always been a feeling of “can do” in the city. As a result of this I have watched the city I love grow from a medium-sized mid-western city to a thriving, vibrant, metropolis. A city that is proud of its past and looks forward to its future.
Big city with a small town feel
Columbus is a big city with a small town feel. Ironically, that is also one of Columbus’s biggest drawbacks—at least according to the outside world. It is often criticized as having a small town mentality and has been derogatorily called Cow Town. That name no doubt comes from its farming origins and the fact that Ohio State University began as an agricultural school with cows roaming pastures within the city limits. I even recall pictures of cows in the pasture off Lane Avenue with the city skyline in the background. I guess if you are trying to sell Columbus as a sophisticated modern city that image is self-defeating.
Columbus is surrounded by many small communities, each with its own unique history and flavor which helps to create that hometown atmosphere. We have German Village, the Italian Village, Victorian Village, the Short North, Clintonville, Beechwold, Worthington, Westerville, Dublin, Powell, New Albany, Gahanna, Reynoldsburg, and Bexley to name a few. Each area has its own particular architecture, shops, and restaurants that help define what home is in each neighborhood. Most neighborhoods are populated with neighbors who are friendly and look after one another—a place where we can still feel safe in an ever-increasing hostile world. Why then should we feel we need to apologize to the big sophisticated cities for wanting to maintain this atmosphere?
PR people and marketers are busy trying to make us another New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles. Why? We have something better than all of those cities. We have people who are genuinely down to earth and who want the best for themselves, their neighbors, their state, and their country. Unlike those larger fast-paced cities where the unspoken rule is to rush down the street never looking anyone in the eye, we actually look at the stranger on the street, we are not afraid to smile at them and occasionally say hello and wish them a good day. We have been known to strike up a conversation with strangers waiting in line or seated at a table next to us in a restaurant. These are the things that should be the heartbeat of a great city, not how many museums, art galleries, sports facilities, or concert venues we have (although Columbus has a good many of these).
A melting pot of food and cultures
Columbus is the home of many different cultural groups and as a result numerous delicious and exciting ethnic restaurants. The Germans were perhaps the first large ethnic group to call Columbus home and German Village boasts wonderful old and new restaurants brimming with brats, beer and kraut along with newer and lighter cuisine. The Brewery District is reviving the old German staple—beer in all its incantations. Many handcrafted micro breweries have sprung up in the last several years not only in the brewery district but in other parts of the city as well.
Columbus is also the home of a large Hispanic population. Scores of Asians, Somalians, and those from the middle East have also migrated to Columbus in recent years. Columbus is the typical American melting pot. Perhaps it is no coincidence we were an important stop on the Underground Railroad. That is not to say we haven’t had our share of racial strife at times but just call it growing pains.
Because of the unique mix of people and their tastes, Columbus has been called “Test City USA”. Frequently new products will be tested on Columbuscites before going nationwide.
Famous people from Columbus
Many famous people have called Columbus home. Those include: Eddie Rickenbacker, World War I ace, famous race car driver, and entrepreneur; writer James Thurber, golfer Jack Nicklaus, WWII pilot, Paul Tibbots, who dropped the first atomic bomb; boxing champ Buster Douglas; Gen William Henry Harrison during the War of 1812; artist George Bellows; zoo director Jack Hanna; Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas; the Limited founder Les Wexner; first man to orbit the earth John Glenn; first and only two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin; Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes; and someone who called Columbus home involuntarily—O. Henry when he was a guest of the Ohio State Penn.
Home of many businesses
Columbus business community is alive and well, even in this down economy. It is the home (there’s that word again) of several insurance companies the largest of which is Nationwide Insurance. It is also the seat of government and the home of several universities, the largest being Ohio State University. It has a thriving arts scene and sports scene. In addition to the Buckeyes we have the Crew (professional soccer), the Blue Jackets (professional hockey), and the Clippers (farm team of the Cleveland Indians baseball) with their award-winning ball park—Huntington Park. The world’s largest private research organization, Battelle Memorial Institute also calls Columbus home. Battelle’s research lead to innovations such as Xerox copiers, CDs (compact discs) and tamper resistant packaging.
Several large chains have their home base or beginnings here including The Limited, Wendy’s Hamburgers, White Castle hamburgers, Net Jet (formerly Executive Jet), Big Lots, and all the ladies know about DSW shoes.
Several firsts occurred in Columbus including the first junior high school and the first kindergarten in the U.S., the first public school for the blind in the U.S., and the first teaching hospital in the U.S. (Starling medical College/St. Francis Hospital on the site of Grant Medical Center). Ohio State was the first football stadium to be built with two decks. Abraham Lincoln first learned he had been elected President during a stop at the State House, and the first transcontinental flight began at Port Columbus. The first shopping center, Town and Country Shopping Center opened here in 1949. The Columbus Zoo gained notoriety when the first captive born gorilla, Colo, was born here in 1956.
Three important organizations were founded here—the American Federation of Labor, the Temperance League, and the NFL.
Better than the City of Oz
I was absolutely captivated by Columbus when I first came here for the Ohio State Fair in the mid 1960s. I vividly remember coming into the city on the newly built I 71. Helicopters were buzzing around the interstate giving fair visitors rides around the city. The Fair was big, exciting, exhausting, fun, dirty, and delicious. The smells along the midway were mouth watering. That is where I had my first Schmidt’s Bahama Mamma. I can still recall the smokey flavor coming straight off the grill and the juicy pop it had in my mouth as I bit through the sausage casing. I recall driving out of the city looking backwards through the back window and watching the fireworks closing the fair for the day and thinking this was better than the City of Oz.
All of this was new and exciting for a girl from the hills of West Virginia. My boyfriend at the time came with us that day. Several years later we married and made Columbus our first choice as a place to call home. As luck (or fate) would have it, we both found jobs very quickly and moved here as soon as possible after graduating from college. We never looked back.
Home at last
James Thurber said, “Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has.” I think that is a perfect description as it suggests a certain excitement and spontaneity. As Columbus celebrates its 200th birthday and marketers continue to search for a catchy phrase I offer my own humble contribution—
COLUMBUS, HOME AT LAST—HOLEY COW!
Below is a picture taken on that momentous day of my first visit to Columbus. Left to right are: my mother, Phyllis; my sister, Bari; my future husband, David; my brother, Kelly; and my father Jim (I’m the one behind the camera). Notice the OHIO gate in the background.
- Descendant cherishes ancestor who gave ‘Columbus’ its name (dispatch.com)
- Charm and history attract residents and visitors to German Village, one of the city’s best-known neighborhoods (dispatch.com)
- Columbus Chamber Book to Commemorate City’s Bicentennial (prweb.com)
- The Clarmont Closes (webnerhouse.com)