Jeff Darbee on the city's railroads and the story behind a South Side schoolhouse

As I drive around Columbus, I see a lot of railroad tracks. Are these being used, and where do they go?

Columbus has always been an important railroad center. Between 1850 and the early 20th century, the Columbus railroad landscape was dominated by five big companies: the Pennsylvania Railroad, the New York Central, the Chesapeake and Ohio, the Baltimore and Ohio and the Norfolk and Western, which combined controlled 14 Central Ohio routes radiating to all points of the compass.

Things have changed a lot since then. Our late, lamented Union Station (demolished in 1977) once hosted more than 100 passenger trains daily, but the city's last one passed through in 1979. Freight trains, on the other hand, are busier and more numerous than ever. We have only two railroad systems today; CSX Transportation and Norfolk Southern are the result of many mergers, but they, and some smaller local companies, still operate on 12 of the 14 historic routes. Where do they go? Direct lines reach places such as Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Portsmouth, Sandusky, Steubenville and Toledo. Through connections these lines reach New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and pretty much any place of consequence in the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico. At most places in Columbus, you pass over or under the tracks, but there still are some grade crossings, usually with flashers and gates. A Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission report states that 50 to 65 trains pass through the city every day.


Way down on South High Street, a little north of Scioto Downs, there's an old schoolhouse at the intersection with Rathmell Road. This seems an odd location for a school. What is its story?

Dr. Samuel B. Hartman (1830–1918), one of Columbus' best-known residents at the turn of the 20th century, looked, perhaps appropriately, like the Wizard of Oz and made his fortune from the elixir Peruna. He actually purchased the formula from its inventor and by the late 1800s was selling $100,000 worth a day at a buck per cobalt-blue bottle, with a profit margin of around 85 cents. Peruna's 25-percent-plus alcohol content probably nudged users to swear by its beneficial effects.

Hartman built a factory at East Rich and South Third streets, the Hartman Theater Building on Capitol Square, where the Sheraton Columbus is today, and his "Surgical Hotel" near Fourth and Main streets, in addition to the Hartman Hotel, which is the only Hartman building still standing Downtown, and today houses residential condos.

But that schoolhouse? With his fortune, Hartman built the Hartman Stock Farm on both sides of South High, raising prize-winning horses and cattle and supplying Columbus with fresh fruit and dairy products. The farm, said to be Ohio's largest, had massive barns and a row of worker housing that lasted into the 1980s. The already-existing school educated the workers' children. Like many "snake-oil" products of the era, the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act pretty well shut down Hartman's business. But Hartman enjoyed his huge farm for another dozen years.


Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to cityquotient@columbusmonthly.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.

Sources:www.forgottenohio.com;www.bizjournals.com; Hartman Stock Farm National Register of Historic Places nomination form