SCARE M ... 1870-1950
To scare developers and employers away from prime land, just make it overflow with:
Lunatics & Imbeciles
With government funding pouring in, Columbus got off to a very fast start in 1816.
However, at that time the size of cargo boats used on America’s rivers grew tremendously, which was not something Ohio’s politicians had anticipated. By 1830 most cargo ships being built in America were far too large for the Scioto River.
In 1825 Ohio opened the Erie Canal system, which connected the Scioto and other rivers all the way from Lake Erie to the Ohio River using locks to handle elevation changes. However, these connecting canals were also based on the tiny cargo boats that were becoming obsolete by the time the system opened. This meant that much of, if not most of the cargo coming to or from Central Ohio, had to be transferred to or from far large boats when it reached Lake Erie or the Ohio River.
This major shipping clog basically scratched Columbus off of the nation’s cargo delivery networks, at least as far as the nation’s large shipping companies were concerned.
So after that initial economic rush of government building projects, and the homes for politicians and city workers, this new technology of huge riverboats stagnated Columbus’s growth.
However, this limited access problem vanished just 20 years later with the arrival of the railroad.
Suddenly massive amounts of cargo and passengers could reach and leave Columbus, and this city was suddenly a Hi-Tec frontier town that did not even need waterways for tremendous access. Also being much flatter land with a central location, turned Columbus into major rail hub by 1860, with trains heading toward every large midwestern city. Columbus was literally and physically back on track and it became the fastest growing city in the state.
However, as Columbus’s economy blossomed, Franklinton continued being avoided and its population dwindled to just a couple hundred.
The Curse of Mayor Meeker
Although Franklinton citizens never stopped asking for improvements, services, and levees, their concerns remained ignored until 1869 when Mayor George Meeker took the reigns in Columbus. His first important official act was to announce that Franklinton, plus another couple miles up and over Sullivant's Hill (that’s the steep rise on West Broad Street, now called the Hilltop), needs to become part of Columbus.
There was a more sinister reason for this annexation than just neighborly love.
A year-and-a-half earlier, a fire destroyed Columbus' first Lunatic Asylum (pictured below), which had been located where 1-71 goes under E. Broad Street today, on the north side of the road, downtown.
No one wanted to build or be anywhere near Columbus's first Lunatic Asylum
Built in 1838, Columbus’s first Lunatic Asylum was still huge for its time, at about 300’x 300’, and yes, the official name for these places was “Lunatic Asylums”, until around 1890.
In its 30 years of existence, neither private developers, homeowners, nor state leaders were interested in being anywhere close to this place. It was like economic poison to its surrounding area.
What if the lunitics escape? Would you be interested in some beautiful land near the big looney bin?
Mayor Meeker’s business associates and family controlled land tracks to the north and east of the city’s first asylum. His son Claude would later be involved in developing Bexley in 1908.
The massive fire of the original asylum, which only killed 7, created an opportunity to increase the value and desirability of the property east of downtown if only the city had a distant location that was out of the way of Meeker's desired progress.
But instead of using some hidden out of the way location, deep in the backwoods, far off any main trail, Meeker convinced the state to buy the north half of the beautiful hill at the western edge of Franklinton, which was half of the most visible ridge in Central Ohio from America's east-west National Trail (Rt 40), to build their new Lunatic Asylum.
Then he used his powers as mayor to seize control of every remaining inch of the ridge on the south half of Sullivant’s Hill, also overlooking Columbus. On this hill, above the Franklinton flood plain, wealthy Franklinton residents had built a community of upscal homes. The city and state apparently compensated these wealthy folks well enough to make them very happy and complant free.
I learned about the destruction of the homes on Sullivan's Hill from elderly Hilltop residents in the 1980s, while I was making a fine living on W. Broad St. I found nothing about the homes located on this county property from history books.
So if you have information, plans or images of the homes of Sullivant's Hill, please hook me up and the interested world up at Craig@uppercolumbus.com.
Anyways, the state's new Lunatic Asylum (background image and the ‘from above image’ right below), opened in 1877, after seven years of construction. It was so huge that the big one it replaced would look like it's doghouse. It was so far beyond enormous that until the Pentagon opened in 1942, it was not only the World's Largest Lunatic Asylum, it was the World's Largest Building!
Ohio must have had the mother load of lunatics, even before it had many citizens.
Yes, that is all one building!
This image that was taken from a balloon, somewhere around 1900, captures its size, all of this is just one building! This house of horrors was so dominant on Columbus's western horizon that many people were too frightened to walk or ride past it. They would go a couple miles out of their way to avoid it.
I also remember reading or hearing that it was designed to look like a bat from above, bats have often been a symbol of horror, ideal for Count Dracula. This bat is much more obvious on the 1895 map below.
Mayor Meeker was not finished, this only deleted half of the hill, so on the other side, he had the "Columbus Imbecile Asylum" (image below) built. It was not as large as the Lunatic Castle, but it was still one of, if not the largest Imbecile Asylum on earth, ensuring that no one else could develop anything else on that big beautiful ridge overlooking Columbus, even if they were not scared away.
Together these two sites, for two buildings, took up about as much space as downtown at that time, and about half as much as all of Franklinton (see map below). Meeker made sure that Columbus' brand new West Side could not compete for upscale private developments because he took every inch of its upscale property (every inch it had above the Franklinton floodplain), off of the market.
As soon as he had the shovels in the ground for these two monstrosities, still in 1870, he left his job. He only served in 1869 and 1870 and then he launched his law practice, including 'upscale' land development. He also became a representative in the state legislature.
In another wild note is that in 1879, an intentionally set fire (land records soaked in lamp oil), inside the vault of the Franklin County Courthouse, completely destroyed every record of land ownership records from Sullivant's Hill. Columbus records claim the city of Columbus was the first owner of the southern half of the hill. The Virginia Commonwealth records show that Lucas Sullivant owned this land since 1797.
Anyways, Meeker's two enormously crazy and stupid projects paralyzed the West side's economic growth until the end of World War II when future Ohio Governor, then-Mayor James A. Rhodes intentionally saved the westside's economy, curing the curse of Mayor Meeker.
Columbus's Lunatic asylum was known as the Ohio State Mental Hospital when it was finally demolished in 1991. However, through the 20th century, its towers balconies and scary symbols were removed or covered, and many trees were planted in front of it making the place less intimidating for passers-by.
Meeker' not only took out every inch of the west side's prestigious land, he gave West Columbus the reputation as the home of Lunatics and Imbeciles, virtually from the first day he annexed it, that would last for more than 70 years. That makes this a curse.
Meeker was just the worst, the West Side has really never enjoyed a seat at the big decision table when it comes to political representations. I could determine that only three of Columbus's 53 mayors since 1816, ever had much connection to West Columbus and only one in the last century. Send me an email if I missed someone.
There are no powerful advocates for a community when officials do not live in it, work in it, or even care about it. This is still the problem for almost 2 dozen Columbus and "no city" communities within 8 miles W-SW of downtown Columbus.
In Columbus's over 200 year history, only Mayor James A. Rhodes ever seriously tried to bring powerful prosperity to this side of town, and he made the west side boom, so it can happen again.
Mayor Rhodes also spent little time west of the Scioto, he was just a truly responsible representative.
There is yet another, obvious factor behind the West Side’s politically hindered development which is at the root of all three political attacks exposed on this site.
When most of Ohio became available for $1 an acre in 1803, wealthy East Coast investors were naturally inclined to interest only in lands east of the Scioto River for a few obvious reasons: The Scioto River carves Ohio into eastern and western halves, and it was too large to safely drive horses and livestock through in 1803, and there were no bridges crossing it yet.
It is not that the western half of Ohio was of lower quality, it just made financial sense to big east coast investors that the closer, easier to access half of this state would naturally develop first, and so the value of eastern investments would increase sooner.
So the flow of investment capital large enough to influence politicians stopped at the Scioto River. Much of, if not most of western Ohio was purchased in far smaller tracks, by farmers, hunters, and ranchers who intended to work the land, not just flip it for profit from their fancy east coast homes.
There’s not one factor behind the struggles on the West Side. There are many contributing factors. While the West Side cannot change its past, by understanding it, we can end this political abuse with exposure, thus giving the West Columbus area the bright future it has always deserved.
The Columbus Imbisel Asylum
It looks as if the world's largest building was just drawn like a few spots on this map from 1895, but the scale is close, if not exact. Look at the size of city blocks in Franklinton and downtown, it would have covered eight to ten.
By reserving every inch of the prestigious westside lands (that overlooked Columbus) for only thousands of "Imbusals and Lunatics", state and city representatives not only kept all upscale developers away from this new side of Columbus, they even forced Franklinton's wealthy, who had already had big homes on this hill, to rebuild on the other side of the river.
If you have any doubt about this being a political attack on the Westside's economy (since this is not mentioned in any history book I could find) just add up the facts. The day two governments operating only on the east of the river, annexed the first inch of land on the other side of the Scioto, and also seized every inch of it above the Franklinton flood zone, so it from day one it had no highly desirable land for upscale developments.
It did not even matter that these extremely undesirable monstrosities would scare upscale developers away, they could not buy a piece of upscale land in West Columbus anyway, because Meeker took every inch of it off of the table. This was not the first or last time I uncovered a scam from non-present politicians meant to keep private upscale developers away from the Franklinton Area. Experience the first at:
You are only going to learn these stories here. All the local history books and sites I found are gentle gingerbread. It is amazing that from 1872-1942 Columbus was home to the world's largest building, yet this is almost never mentioned when studying its History. The internet is also full of misleading information about this exact time, for example, many sites, including Wikipedia, claim that Franklinton was annexed in 1859. Columbus became an important railroad hub in 1859.
It was annexed in 1870, during Meeker's two years as mayor. I could post documents, but this Franklinton monument, says it best. Why would anyone want to fudge this date besides trying to cover Meeker's curse?
Anything you can show I am mistaken about I will not only change but I will give you credit for pointing it out, right on that page. I try to very accurate, there are many things I wanted to write here that I could not substantiate enough. Send me what you know about this to and then: