Henry Howe’s photos offered perspective of Columbus

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The picture above this column is south of Broad and High Streets in Columbus. It’s 1846, and this is a memorable picture drawn by a remarkable man 125 years ago.

First, why is this drawing unforgettable? It’s worth taking a closer look, as there aren’t many early images of most places in America, and certainly not of a small town of around 10,000 people that lives near a still moving but rather nearby border. Although Columbus is the state capital, there are few images of the city.

To see a picture of a typical intersection in the American small town it had to have been drawn for all practical purposes. Then the problem becomes finding someone to do the drawing.

Enter HENRY HOWE

In a foreword to the book in which the picture appears, Howe explained how he got to Ohio.

Howe was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1816, the son of a printer who also ran one of the most famous bookstores in America. Howe grew up with an above-average education in art and literature. As a young man, he was working in an uncle’s bank in New York when he received a copy of John Barber’s Connecticut Historical Collections. The book was a travelogue as well as a treasure trove of local history and memories of people. Some of the people were prominent. Others were just interesting.

Howe was intrigued. He contacted Barber and became his assistant, copywriter and eventually co-author.

“In early 1846, with some time previously spent preparing, we began our tour of Ohio, the fourth state we have traveled through on such a property. So it’s been more than a year, we’ve been to 79 of the 83 (now 88) districts, sketching landmarks and getting information everywhere through conversations with early settlers and men of the intelligentsia. We have also used all published information sources and received around 400 pages of manuscript in communications from gentlemen from all over the state.

“Our job was pleasant.”

Howe arrived in Columbus and saw a rapidly growing city with government taking up about half of the picture and commerce taking up the other half. The intersection of Broad Street and High Street wasn’t quite the center of things in downtown Columbus. But it turned out to be just that.

The original center of commerce and trade in the new capital, Columbus after it was founded in 1812, was on High and State Streets on the southwest corner of Capitol Square. A few blocks south of High were inns, taverns, and stables.

When the State Road arrived in Columbus in 1831, it came into town along Main Street – then called Friend Street. The original assumption was that it would leave town along the same road. However, this would mean that immense traffic would miss the business district. So the State Road in Columbus came to Main Street, turned right and drove up High Street, turned left on Broad Street and left town on a new Broad Street bridge.

That made the intersection of Broad and High a very busy place.

On the left side of the picture is Statehouse Square today. The current statehouse was under construction and was nowhere to be seen. Immediately to the left in the foreground is the Supreme Court building. Adjacent is a two-story brick structure with state offices, which the residents call the “row of rats”. At the end of the block is the brick statehouse, completed in 1816. It served as a statehouse until it was destroyed by fire in 1852.

There are a number of commercial structures across the street from all of these government buildings. The most impressive is the 5-story Neil House Hotel.

William Neil came to Columbus in 1818 with his wife Hannah. After failing as a banker in Urbana, he opened a tavern across from the statehouse. Neil left the tavern in Hannah’s able hands and got into the stagecoach business. “Billy Neil, the old king of the stage” put a large part of his fortune in the country and in his rather large hotel, which opened in 1839. It would be the first of three Neil House Hotels to occupy the site.

Howe returned to Ohio in the 1880s, and his new version of the Ohio Historical Collections compared the 1846 descriptions to his new ones. It was a success too.

Howe spent his final years in Columbus in a house in what is now the short north. He concluded the foreword of his first book and wrote: “To all who have helped us … we feel a permanent obligation.”

How we are to him.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.