Want to learn more about your street or neighborhood? The Columbus Metropolitan Library has you covered.
CQ often cites historical research in answering questions about Columbus. What exactly are some of your major sources of information?The Main Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library is our go-to source. The Local History and Genealogy department on the third floor is the mother lode—amazing resources and a staff that seems never to be stumped by any question.
Our favorite information source is the historical city atlases. Some are facsimile reproductions from the mid-19th century. Then there are the Baist's atlases dated 1899, 1910 and 1920. Along with the 1937 Franklin Survey atlas, these show how our city evolved, street by street and block by block, over more than 100 years. These are big and heavy, so you might need help using them. Also large and even more detailed are the Sanborn Map Co. maps used to rate fire risk for insurance companies. Printed in 1922, they were updated into the 1960s by means of pasted-in revisions.
To learn about the people and businesses of Columbus historically, go to the city directories; CML has most of them from the 1850s on. They list people and businesses alphabetically, with addresses and, usually, individuals' occupations. Remember, though, that the city changed all the street numbering in 1888. After about 1910, the directories have a section that lists every street address and occupant in order, so you can trace changes at a single address over time—and even occupants on every floor of a high-rise.
The resources in the Local History and Genealogy department don't end there. CML maintains extensive building and subject files, often cross-referenced to particular newspaper stories available to view on microfilm.
Columbus has a pretty sophisticated water supply system. But what happens to the water that goes down the drain? How does our sewer system work?Columbus has a large, complicated and very good water supply system, but it seems that the sewer system is even more complex, driven by a spider web of sewer lines under our feet. All told, there are 5,486 miles of sewer lines in Columbus—enough pipe to run from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and back. They're not all connected. There are 2,537 miles' worth of lines to handle stormwater and 2,782 miles of sanitary sewers that dispose of our household, business and industrial waste. Then there are the combined sewers, mostly in the oldest parts of town, built in the days when everything went into a single sewer. Fortunately, only 167 miles of those remain in operation in Columbus. They're the ones that can be odoriferous during hot, dry weather.
At one time, everything went untreated into the Scioto River, and stormwater still does (those street drains with the little fish symbols that say “drains to river” aren't kidding—so don't pour your used oil or gasoline in them). The sanitary and combined sewers serving Columbus and 22 suburbs that contract with Columbus now flow to two treatment plants, Jackson Pike and Southerly, both on the far South Side.
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the answer might appear in a future column.
Sources: City of Columbus and other websites