Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Columbus Before and During the Civil War

Franklin County in 1860 was agrarian: the fourth most important grain producing county in the state, ranked third in corn, third in horses, second in hogs. A city ordinance was passed because hogs roamed at large. In 1862, one hundred hogs were impounded within a few days.

Columbus was served by steam packets on the canal feeder and its location on the National Road gave it some importance, but railroad travel took over. By 1861, five railroads were serving Columbus, with twenty-four passenger trains daily. And the rail load only increased due to the War.

Small manufacturers got quite a boost from the War as well. Officials and institutional employees worked at the new Capitol building, the Central Asylum for the Insane, the Deaf and Dumb Institution and the Institution for the Blind. Hotels such as the United States, the American House, the Neil House, the Goodale House, the National and the Exchange employed others.

The chief newspapers were the Ohio State Journal (Republican and pro-Union), the Columbus Gazette (pro-War), the Ohio Statesman (moderate), the Crisis (anti-War), and the Westbote (German-language, Democratic).

There was loss of business from Southern outlets, but new markets were reached by the Ohio Canal and Lake Erie. Business was also stimulated by the many soldiers who were in camp or on furlough in Columbus.

In the fall of 1863, workmen were busy digging the cellar for the new United States Arsenal (Ft. Hayes). Construction of fine homes and new factories dotted the city.

Central High School was thought to be one of the biggest and best schools in the nation. In September, 1864, the new Opera House was opened. Nearly everyone went to their choice of the numerous beautiful stone churches. Camp meetings were held outside the city and the roads would be jammed with buggys.

Lectures, plays and concerts were attended well. The Maennerchor had hoped to host German singing organizations from many cities, but the event was postponed due to the War. Various small circuses, animal acts and minstrel shows came to town.

Billiards, target shooting, horse-racing, and cock-fighting were common entertainments. The Franklin County Fair was held on the site of present Franklin Park. The Ohio State Fair was held at Stewart’s Grove, south of Columbus.

Saloonkeepers found it profitable to defy Sunday closing laws by keeping their rear entrances open.

NEXT: the firing on Ft. Sumter, and how the War changed Columbus.

Christine Hayes

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