Before and After April 2017

I haven’t done a Before and After installment for a while. This time around, I chose to not focus on any single neighborhood.

First up is a photo of the construction of the Columbus Interurban Terminal, looking northwest from 3rd. The photo was taken on October 5, 1911, about 3 months before the building opened. The interurban system was relatively short-lived in the city, and the terminal closed after only 26 years in 1938. The building survived as a grocery store through the mid-1960s before the building was demolished in 1967 as part of the construction of the Greyhound Bus Terminal across the street. The actual location of the building was not on the Greyhound site, but was used as an overflow parking lot. It remained a parking lot until the mid-1980s, when it became part of the City Centre Mall site. Today, plans are for the site to become the location for the 12-story, Two25 mixed-use project.

Here is the same place in September 2016.

And the near future.

The second historic photo is of the #57 streetcar on Kelton Avenue just south of the Oak Street intersection. The photo, which looks north, was taken on June 30, 1915 and includes 3 separate visible buildings as well. The house on the left actually survived until 1977, when it and the rest of the east half of the block was demolished. The building visible on the right is the surviving streetcar barn. Today, it is in bad shape, and while many would like to see it renovated and saved, time seems to be running out. The other surviving building, barely visible in the 1915 photo, is the tenement building on the northwest corner of Oak and Kelton.

And in November 2015.

Third in this list is a photo of the demolition of the old Franklin County Jail, once located at 36 E. Fulton Street in Downtown. Built in 1889, the structure survived until the fall of 1971, when the building, which by then had become outdated for its intended purpose, was torn down to make way for- what else- a parking garage. The parking garage remains to the present day. Columbus leaders at the time should’ve been flogged for such short-sighted thinking, something that was repeated over and over and over again during that era. Today, such a very cool, gothic building would’ve made an excellent candidate for mixed-use conversion.

And in August 2016.

Finally, this next photo isn’t really historic. It was taken a mere 15 years ago in February, 2002, looking northwest from the corner of N. High Street and 10th Avenue. At the time, this area had been made up of low-rise historic buildings that had long held bars for OSU students. All these buildings in the photo, and many more, were demolished not long after the photo was taken in order to make room for the South Campus Gateway, now more or less just called the Gateway. Similar large-scale demolitions are taking place to the north and south as the entirety of the High Street corridor around Campus is transformed. Whether that is good or bad depends on who you ask. What can be agreed upon, however, is that the corridor will be almost unrecognizable in the end.

And in October, 2016.

Why Doesn’t Columbus Have Rail? Part #1

Rail in some form existed in Columbus from the 1850s through the mid-1970s. For generations, rail travel was the way to go. It was the connector of distances, the driver of local and state economies. On the local scale, it brought folks to and from their city’s downtown areas for shopping and employment, and the trolley, interuban and other rail systems were as prolific as the horse and buggy before them. So what happened? Where did Columbus’ passenger rail go?

Most people today are aware of the Union Station that existed on High Street where the Convention Center is now, but there were actually 2 more depots that proceeded it.
Columbus got it’s first real taste of rail travel in 1851, when the Columbus Union Depot opened, a year after the city’s first railroad, the Columbus & Xenia, entered the city. It was followed by the Cleveland, Columbus & Cincinnati Railroad in 1851. Both railroads wanted their depots to be as close to the downtown area as possible, as this was the center of the city’s population and commercial activity. At the time, the city was significantly smaller than it is now. Today, Chestnut and Naughten Streets are within the heart of Downtown, but in the early 1850s, there was almost no development north of these streets, so the two railroads collaborated and purchased a plot of land at the northeastern corner of the North High Street and Naughten intersection, about where the Hyatt Regency is today. This would be the location of their new terminal, the Columbus Union Depot.

The first Union Station: 1851-1875. Notice the near-forested area just north of the site.

This was the first depot in the city and resembled a barn, in some ways similar to the first North Market building that would go up nearby. It was built to handle 3 railroads but by the early 1870s was handling the traffic of 5, well exceeding capacity. Beyond the inadequate size, the depot’s trains dangerously and regularly blocked traffic on High Street, much to the anger of many residents. The push for a new depot began.

Plans were approved in 1871 for the new depot and it was completed and opened in February 1875, with the old depot torn down and many of the old tracks relocated/rerouted to the much larger depot, now located further east of the old depot location, just north of Naughten. Not only was it much larger, but much grander in design. No longer a giant, single story barn, it was instead a 3-story red brick structure and had many architectural features that the previous depot lacked. Tracks still crossed High, but a 160 ft tunnel underneath helped to relieve congestion. For years, this new setup solved many of the previous problems, but a steady increase in train traffic (there were over 120 daily trains by the early 1890s), as well as pedestrian and horse and buggy traffic getting too and from the depot began to cause major problems in the area once more. A new depot was once again needed.

The second Union Station- 1875-1897

The High Street tunnel connected to the 2nd depot- Circa 1888.

The third and most recognizable depot was completed in 1897: Union Station. It was, by far, the largest and most elaborately designed depot of the three, with 45 ft ceilings, a grand concourse and ornate plaster details. Much of the glamour was lost in a 1920’s remodeling, however, and falling numbers of daily trains gradually eroded maintenance levels. Union Station continued to serve passengers for nearly 50 more years, until the last passenger train passed through Union Stion on April 28, 1977, ending over 125 years of passenger rail in the city. Demolition of Union Station had begun almost 7 months earlier, in an underhanded tactic to make way for a proposed convention center. The depot, particularly the arcade section along High Street, had been put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and preservationists had won an injuntion to stop demolition. However, a coalition led by Batelle rushed to demolish the building anyway, and by the time preservationists could act, most of it had already been lost. A single archway was all that remained, and today it sits on the northern corner of McPherson Commons park in the Arena District, a lonely testament to what was lost. The rest of the station was demolished by the fall of 1979. Ironically, the best evidence of how preservation attitudes have changed is just a bit further north with the I-670 retail cap. It is designed to resemble the Union Station arcade.

The third and final Union Station- 1897-1977.

Beyond heavy passenger rail, Columbus also had a streetcar system. The Columbus Street Railroad Company was formed in 1854, but the first streetcar did not come about until June 1863, when a horse-powered car arrived on High Street. By the 1890s, more than a dozen street rail companies were in the city and had almost 35 miles of tracks. Most of these were also horse-drawn until the early 1890s, when electrified lines proved far more efficient, making horse-drawn lines obsolete.

Camp Chase Streetcar

Electric lines and passenger totals continued to grow over the next few decades and, by the mid 1910s, annual passenger tickets exceeded 65 million, equating to almost one trip per day for every man, woman and child living in Columbus at the time. By the 1920s, streetcar lines had spread to almost all of the urban core neighborhoods and inner ring suburbs, but passenger totals were already falling as the automobile increased in popularity. In the 1930s, an attempt was made to adapt to this changing transit environment and the fixed-track streetcars began to be replaced with trolley buses, with the last streetcar decommissioned in 1948. They too, however, only lasted until 1965, when they were replaced with the standard diesel bus.

In part 2, I’ll examine what happened and why rail has, to this date, not returned to the city.