Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Barrel of Pigeons: The Central Market

The first Market House in Columbus, built in 1814, was located in the middle of High Street, near Rich. It was a substantial frame structure, but in three years, when Columbus was incorporated in 1817, the City

Council contracted John Shields to build a two-story building on West State Street.

Shields provided the building in exchange for using the top floor; he rented the rooms out to various businesses including a print shop. Within a few years Shields sold out to John Young who used the rooms for amusement and gaming.

A site was found for the third and final building in 1847, with ample parking, the west side of Fourth Street between Town and Rich. A second story was used as City Hall, which included a council chamber, offices, a jail, a court room for mayor’s court, and even rehearsal space for the Ninth Battalion Band practice. The grand opening was in 1850 – a year that saw large growth for Columbus and expanded duties for the mayor such as supervising city officers and maintaining the peace. Lorenzo English was the first mayor to serve in the new City Hall.

In the early years of the Central Market, the building was crowded with busy patrons and horse-drawn vehicles unloading produce. Pigeon was considered delicious and cheap; you could buy three hundred pigeons in a barrel for twenty-five dollars. A good “netter” with helpers could catch seven barrels of pigeons per day. No wonder some species of pigeon became extinct!

For more than five months a year, fresh fruit was mighty popular. Cherries, blackberries, peaches, pears, quinces, apples, and apple cider were some of the more wanted items. Many of the merchants and farmers who rented space at the Central Market stayed at the adjacent Farmers’ Hotel (southeast corner of Walnut and Fourth). The hotel was crowded during the Ohio State Fair and the Franklin County Fair, also in the times of Labor and Mine Workers’ meetings.

In addition to pigeons, many people bought doves, quail, rabbits, and squirrels skinned and dressed for eating. Most merchants got up at four a.m. to be ready for the six o’clock opening. Market operated on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. At 9 p.m. on Saturdays people scrambled to get bargains.

Central Market House was razed in June of 1966. There were still a few merchants operating at that time; the building had a lifespan of 116 years.

Christine Hayes

Paintings by Harvey Gilliam


  1. My Great Grandparents sold their wonderful German pretzels there and I remember buying a Christmas tree there in the 40's. Good memories!

  2. What a fascinating and delightful article. Some of my earliest memories are of the old Market. They are just fragments - I recall my father buying cut flowers for my mother.

    Christine, Grandview is a far less interesting place since you two closed down Acorn. Like Nicholbys - it was a "Camelot" didn't last forever, but its wonderful that it existed at all. Since Acorn went out of business, I have no where to go buy old Ohio Geologic Survey books.