Did you know that taverns in frontier Columbus had live bears tethered to treadmills, pumping water stored in underground cisterns to the upper floors of the tavern so that overnight guests could bathe? How about the origin of the “shotgun” house, the narrow working-class home whose interior rooms and doorways are positioned in a straight line from the front door to the back door? The term “shotgun” derives from a misunderstood pronunciation of “togun,” the West African word for house, because this building style originated in Haiti and became popular in New Orleans.
You can rattle off fun facts like these if you attended the fourth season of “Art Walks & Landmark Talks,” a series of 21 free tours offered by the Columbus Landmarks Foundation and Columbus Public Health on most Monday evenings between May 2 and October 10. Expert guides led hour-long walking tours focusing on the art, history and architecture of several Columbus neighborhoods, including the Discovery District, the Arena District, the Short North, the University District, and the Brewery District.
On a picture-perfect June evening, family friend Martin Cataline pointed out some highlights of his neighborhood, Merion Village. Its namesake, William Merion, journeyed on horseback from Massachusetts to Columbus in 1808, joined his siblings to purchase 1,800 acres of land located in what is now the South side of Columbus, and built a home on what is now the corner of East Moler Avenue and South High Street. German, Irish, Italian and eastern European immigrants settled in this area as it became an industrial and manufacturing center that was home to two large iron and steel mills.
Interesting discoveries abound in this neighborhood where you can spot walls built from Ohio Penitentiary stones, as well as Jaeger Village, built on the site of the former Eyerman Meat Market, a slaughterhouse from which cows accidentally escaped once and ran through the neighborhood. Who would have guessed that St. Paul United Church of Christ contains a building where members of a German hunting club once convened for target practice…
and the Gates Fourth United Methodist Church, an 1895 creation of local architect Frank Packard, is one of the last German-speaking parishes in Columbus?
On another walk originating at the former Barrett Middle School, dozens of people made their way down Mithoff Street, passing the former homes of Henry Heinmiller and Charles Isaly, whose family owned the Isaly’s regional chain of deli-ice cream parlors and created its signature Klondike Bars, “Chipped Chopped Ham” and “Skyscraper” ice cream cones, created with a tall scooper resembling an Art Deco skyscraper.
In nearby German Village the next week, still more people strolled through Schiller Park, originally known as Stewart’s Grove but renamed in 1905 to commemorate the centenary of German poet Friedrich Schiller death. Here, you can see the caretaker’s cottage, built in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project, and the Umbrella Girl statue fashioned by local artist Joan Wobst in 1996 in tribute to the original statue that once stood in the park.
Homes bordering the park range from the modest houses on Jaeger Street that were built for brewers to elegant Queen Anne Vernacular homes on Deshler Avenue. For example, the home of Ludwig von Gerichten, the German emigrant who started a prizewinning art glass studio, features an eight-foot stained glass door featuring the initials of its owner.
A few doors down the street stands the Italianate-style home of Friedrich Wittenmeier, a stone contractor who installed swings and a roller-skating rink on the top floor to entertain his children in bad weather.
One sweltering June evening, dozens of people kept cool with complimentary fans illustrated with images from the Gateway History Murals painted on the railroad underpass on East North Broadway between Indianola Avenue and Interstate 71. As we walked up Milton Avenue, crossed North Broadway, turned left on Kenworth Road to Orchard Lane and back to High Street, we learned to spot unique architectural details like the bay windows on the side of a home that were built to accommodate pianos.
And those Arts & Crafts-style window and door frames that are thicker at the bottom than at the top? They’re known as “battered” frames, and you can see some fine examples of them in Clintonville, especially along Brighton Road.
As dusk fell on a subsequent evening, we were introduced to “tramp” walls – those topped by vertical stones to keep hobos from perching on them. We paused in the parking lot of the Southwick-Good & Fortkamp Funeral Chapel at 3100 N. High St., near the former home of Mathias Armbruster. The German art glass and portrait painter opened the first scenic design company in the United States, Armbruster and Sons Scenic Studios, which painted scenic backdrops for Vaudeville, minstrel and magic touring shows until it closed in 1958.
Although this season’s Art Walks & Landmark Talks have concluded, click here to download self-guided walking maps and audio tours highlighting artistic, architectural and historical sites in several Columbus neighborhoods.
For more on these Columbus neighborhoods, see We Too Built Columbus, edited by Ruth Young White; Images of America: Clintonville and Beechwold, by Shirley Hyatt; Historic Columbus Taverns: The Capital City’s Most Storied Saloons, by Tom Betti and Doreen Uhas Sauer; and Klondikes, Chipped Ham & Skyscraper Cones: The Story of Isaly’s, by Brian Butko. The Armbruster Scenic Studio Collection at the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute, part of The Ohio State University Libraries Special Collections, includes set designs for minstrel shows, theatre, and other stage performances, as well as, inspirational source material clippings from illustrated journals, financial information, and other miscellaneous materials relating to the studio. For more, see A History of the Armbruster Scenic Studio of Columbus, Ohio, a dissertation by Robert S. Joyce, and a 2014 “Broad and High” segment about it, which you can watch here.