Columbus Ohio a river runs through it…

by Maureen McCabe on December 17, 2008

A river or two, actually.  I noticed immediately that article about America’s Best Places to Grow Old (Columbus is the number one) called Columbus a river city…   and I thought are we really? Is Columbus a river city?

We have rivers, two of them,  the Scioto and the Olentangy and they converge… at a confluence, coincidentally or not.

… I thought right away Cincinnati is a river city…

Then I tried to remember others.  St. Louis?  Louisville?

In a comment on Forbes a local resident voiced what I thought:

Posted by marfff | 12/14/08 07:17 PM EST
“Thanks for discovering Columbus, but you have mischaracterized the city as a river city. Although two small rivers run through it, neither one is navigable. Long-time residents would never refer to Columbus as a river city”

When people show photos of Columbus they often show the Scioto, the view from the south, is that giving the false impression that those are navigable waters to journalists and outsiders?

Places I’ve lived have always had a river or lakes.  I thought water was a prerequisite for towns to sprout up but did not know whether that made them river cities. Maybe it takes more to be a “river city” than a river running through it.

A big river?  Do the cities on the Ohio, the Missisippi, the Missouri or the Rio Grande get river city status because the rivers are big?  Does the river have to be navigable to make a city on it “a river city”?

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1 J.Merrill December 18, 2008 at 12:19 pm

The Scioto once was a navigable river, just as much as the Ohio. Dams and locks on the Ohio made it a much broader river than it would be otherwise. During the summer months, in some places, you could wade across the Ohio and not get your head wet. There were small waterfalls and rapids on the Ohio throughout its length. It was not a very friendly river to try and navigate, but as they say, it was the only show in town if you wanted to go west from Pittsburgh.

The Scioto was indirectly responsible for Columbus being chosen as the capital site. Franklinton, located on the west bank of the Scioto, just south of the confluence, was the first town created here. That was founded by Lucas Sullivant. Some of his buddies purchased big chunks of land on the east, high side of the Scioto. then later donated part of that land to the state, along with some cash, to create a new town to relocate the capitol. When they said they’d throw in a state prison, that did the trick, and Columbus was created.

The reason they didn’t just chose Franklinton as the capitol site was because the Scioto River flooded too often. The way the Scioto looks today is nothing like it existed in the early 1800s. We have put 2 big dams across the river, plus numerous spillway dams on the Scioto and Olentangy to help manage the river. It was highly navigable. The reason it didn’t continue to be used in this fashion is primarily because of the railroads. Columbus became a major east-west/north-south rail center in the mid 1800s. The river was strictly north-south only. So, there was no need to develop the Scioto River the way the Army Corp of Engineers did the Ohio.

2 Maureen McCabe December 18, 2008 at 01:11 pm

I love history!!!

I read a great history of Columbus a few years ago, of course it talked about Franklinton and the flooding. I have never read about river history though. I know there are “low head” dams on the rivers? or at least on the Olentangy that they want to remove. Thanks for the comment.

3 Erik Hare December 18, 2008 at 01:18 pm

Forbes loves to do these rankings, and perhaps they’re just getting desperate or lazy. Columbus has a lot of things going for it, but I honestly can’t remember even seeing the rivers you speak of when I spent a week there.

I think that as a magazine, Forbes ranks #1 on the “Best Hyperbole” ranking.

4 Maureen McCabe December 18, 2008 at 01:32 pm

They are there Erik… two from the north combine just before downtown, downtown is east of the river. Mostly. Not the mighty Mississippi so to you they may have just seemed like streams.

I bite each and every time Forbes ranks Columbus.

5 Columbus Man April 27, 2011 at 02:39 am

I think the journalists screwed up. Columbus is probably the biggest city where you can’t go boating near downtown.

6 Maureen McCabe April 27, 2011 at 10:35 am

Does Indianapolis have a navigable river? Atlanta? Been there but do not really remember…

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