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Curious Cbus: Five Questions You Always Wanted To Ask About Columbus

Columbus, Ohio skyline
Wikimedia Commons
Columbus was founded on February 14, 1812.

The city of Columbus's founding anniversary is on February 14. We take pride in our city and its history, and we’re always hungry to learn more about our home.

That hometown pride is evident in questions we receive for WOSU’s Curious Cbus project. You ask the questions and vote for your favorites, and we investigate them. We’ve reported on butter sculptures, streetcars, the ZIP code 43210, Mound Street and more.

In celebration of Columbus’ birthday, we compiled five quick Curious Cbus questions about the city for a lightning round-style round-up—plus a bonus question.

1. Why was Columbus picked as the capital of Ohio? —Ray LaVoie

Before Columbus existed, surveyor Lucas Sullivant founded a village named Franklinton on the west bank of the Scioto River in 1797.

Chillicothe served as the first capital city of Ohio from 1803 to 1816, except for two years. In 1810, the capital was moved to Zanesville, the county seat of Muskingum County, for—why else?—political reasons. Democratic-Republicans (Thomas Jefferson's party) wanted to lay claim to eastern Ohio, hence the eastward move.

Then, in 1816, the Ohio General Assembly started searching for a capital near the center of the state.

Four men—Lyne Starling (brother-in-law of Lucas Sullivant), John Kerr, James Johnston and Alexander McLaughlin—came together to offer the legislature a plan for a capital city: 10 acres for a statehouse, 10 acres for a penitentiary and $50,000 to erect buildings on the other side of the Scioto River, across from Franklinton. 

The legislature accepted the proposal on Feb. 14, 1812. One week later, they named the new capital city Columbus.

2. John Glenn was the ninth person to lie in state at the Ohio Statehouse. Who else has lay in state at the Statehouse? —Anonymous

On Dec. 16, 2016, visitors flocked to the Ohio Statehouse to pay their respects to astronaut and longtime U.S. Senator John Glenn as he lay in repose in the rotunda.

Terminology here is key. While a government official "lies in state" in the U.S. Capitol Building, they would be lying in “repose” elsewhere.

"The only place someone can lie in state is the U.S. Capital, and that can only be done as an act of of the federal government," says Luke Stedke, deputy director of communications and marketing for the Statehouse. 

This tradition of honoring public figures is a rarity—and yes, Glenn was only the ninth person to lay in repose at the Ohio Statehouse. Here are the other eight, according to Statehouse records:

  1. Elisha Kane. On March 8, 1857, the Arctic explorer and scientist lay in repose in the Senate Chamber (the rotunda wasn't yet finished).
  2. Abraham Lincoln. President Lincoln lay in repose in the Statehouse rotunda, with a service on the east terrace, on April 29, 1865.
  3. Januarius MacGahan. The war correspondent, who was best known for his journalism during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, lay in repose at the Statehouse in 1884.
  4. James Campbell. On Dec. 20, 1924, Gov. Campbell, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, lay in repose the Statehouse rotunda. His funeral was held at Broad Street Presbyterian Church, and he was buried at Green Lawn Cemetery.
  5. Myrl Shoemaker. Lt. Gov. Shoemaker served in the Ohio House of Representatives for 24 years, until he died of cancer while in office. He lay in repose at the Statehouse in 1985, with a service on site.
  6. Vernal G. Riffe Jr. The longest-serving speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives held the office for 20 years. Speaker Riffe, for whom the Vern Riffe Center for Government and the Arts was named, lay in repose Aug. 4, 1997, with a service in the Statehouse atrium.
  7. James Rhodes. Gov. Rhodes, who served four terms in office, lay in repose in the Statehouse rotunda on March 7, 2001, with a service in the atrium. The tallest building in Columbus, the James A. Rhodes State Office Tower, was named for Gov. Rhodes.
  8. Paul Gillmor. Congressman Gillmor served as the U.S. Representative from the 5th Congressional District of Ohio for 18 years. On Sept. 11, 2007, he lay in repose in the Statehouse rotunda, with a service in the atrium.

3. How did Columbus get the nickname "Cowtown"? —Haley D. Vest

“Cowtown” is sometimes used as a derogatory term to describe a “hick” small town, but Columbus actually came by the nickname honestly. Around the turn of the 20th century, Columbus was home to the largest cattle farm in the world, Hartman Stock Farm.

Founder Samuel Hartman became famous for his Peruna tonic, and he used the profits from those sales to build the farm on South High Street. The 3,000-acre plot that also included a resort and schoolhouse. Hartman also built a theater, a factory and two hotels in what’s now downtown.

4. Why does the capitol building not have a dome like those in most other states? —Theresa Huston

The Ohio Statehouse was built between 1839 and 1861, based on a combination of designs from multiple architects. Likewise, while the architectural style is often described as Greek Revival, the final design incorporated some Roman architectural elements as well.

“The dome is Roman; the cupola is Greek,” says Luke Stedke at the Statehouse. “So it’s kind of a mix-match of the two architectures. The best way to explain it is a half an egg with a tin can on top.”

In 2015, Broad & High took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the top of the statehouse.

5. How many “neighborhoods” are there in Columbus? —Shari Veleba

Long story short, it depends who you ask and how you define “neighborhood.” For example, Columbus has several neighborhoods within neighborhoods, like Beechwold, which is located in the northwest corner of Clintonville.

Even the city of Columbus has a hard time pinpointing the number of neighborhoods.

“Depending on who you talk to, there could be 28 or 300,” says Robin Davis, director of media relations. “So we don’t have a list of neighborhoods we officially recognize.”

Perhaps the most comprehensive resource is this map, which shows 279 civic associations, subdivisions, neighborhoods, planning areas commissions and areas outside of Interstate 270 (with about 250 of those inside I-270).

Aaron O'Donovan and intern Kim Siphengpheth of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Local History department created the map last year, based on civic associations reports and other research, and have since continued to update it.

Bonus: Who originally began German Village? —Tracey Smith


To be serious though, between 1820 and 1920, more than 30 million Europeans immigrated to the United States in search of a better life. German immigrants to Columbus established a community by purchasing cheap land to the south of the city limits, creating “Die Alte Sud Ende” (the Old South End). These German immigrants were particularly successful in the brewing industry. By 1865, one-third of Columbus’ population was German.

For the full story, watch WOSU's "Columbus Neighborhoods: German Village" documentary.

Nick Houser contributed reporting to this article.

Got your own question about Central Ohio? Ask us below for Curious Cbus.

Emily joined WOSU Public Media in 2016. As the digital producer for arts and culture, she works at the intersection of WOSU TV and Radio, leading digital initiatives for Columbus Neighborhoods, Broad & High and Classical 101.