History of how Columbus, OH became “Arch City”
One hundred and twenty years ago, the image of Columbus was quite well defined. When a traveler was heading to the Arch City, they undoubtably were heading to Columbus, OH.
And why was Columbus called the Arch City? The answer was readily apparent to anyone who saw a picture of Ohio’s capital city. Marching through the middle of downtown was a long series of street-spanning metal arches. Impressive enough in the daytime, at night they were lighted and transformed the city -- especially right after a spring rain -- into something of a fairyland.
Passing underneath the lighted arches along High Street was a continuing flow of electrified streetcars. To the astute observer, the reason for the arches could be seen at once. They carried the power that propelled the streetcars along the streets of the city.
But that does not really explain why Columbus became a city of arches. In fact, most major cities had electrified streetcars by 1900. And most cities carried the power to operate them along overhead wires. So why did Columbus have all of these arches?
Therein lies a story worth retelling.
After the Civil War, Ohio probably had more Union Army veterans per capita than any other state in the Union. Most of these former soldiers belonged to the largest and most powerful veterans’ organization in America, the Grand Army of the Republic. Recognizing this fact, the GAR decided to hold its 22nd annual encampment or convention in Columbus in 1888. More than 250,000 people descended on the city of about 90,000 for 10 days in September. To put this in perspective, imagine 3-million people showing up in Columbus today with the intention of staying for a few days.
To hold all of the newcomers, huge tent cities were erected near the downtown.
To enhance the safety and security of all of these people, Columbus erected wooden arches lit by gaslights. The high point of the encampment was the review. In the largest single parade of Union soldiers since the end of the Civil War, more than 90,000 veterans marched down High Street -- under the arches.
It was a sight to see, and after the soldiers left town, the arches remained for a time as a reminder of one of the great moments in the history of Columbus.
Today some of that brilliant glory has been re-created with the addition of arches on High Street, through the Short North, lit by hundreds for color changing LED’s.