Our columnist explains what caused the massive round boulders, and what became of an ambitious public art proposal.

There are massive round boulders in the creek bed of the ravine at the west end of Royal Forest Boulevard in Old Beechwold. How did they get their consistent shapes?
Geologists call those odd things “concretions” and have a theory about how they formed. They’re found in sedimentary deposits—rocks built up in layers of waterborne sediment. For a very long time, that Old Beechwold creek has been cutting through Devonian black shale, a common rock in our area and in the whole Appalachian Basin.

This shale is high in organic matter (the reason gas and oil can be found in it), and this gets to why the concretions formed. Dead organisms, or the material they leave behind, trigger the formation of carbonates that cluster around the organic material, gradually building up a solid mass of calcium carbonate—the stuff that makes up both limestone and antacid pills, among other useful things. In contrast to usual geologic processes, concretions form, the theory goes, very quickly over just several months or years.

The resulting masses—often spherical as in our local creek, but also found in other shapes—vary in size. Some are tiny, while others are bigger than a house. They remain suspended in the shale, separate from and much harder and more durable than the surrounding material. They can pop up, though, when erosion removes the surrounding rock much more quickly than the concretions, which is why they often are found in creek beds. Because they form quickly, scientists have found them to be a rich source of fossils of all kinds of formerly living things. And just imagine how many more must underlie Old Beechwold.

What’s the story behind the controversy some years ago over art for the Broad Street Bridge?
Our main Scioto River bridge, completed in 1990, is also called the Discovery Bridge, a reference to the city’s namesake and to looking toward the future. It was designed to have artwork, and in 1995 the Greater Columbus Arts Council sponsored a design competition. Nancy Recchie (CQ’s wife then and now) coordinated artist selection for a commissioned work to be funded by a variety of sources. One finalist was internationally known Columbus artist Todd Slaughter, the creator of Vanitas, the series of wooden globes hanging in the Main Library.

His idea got a huge amount of buzz. Inspired by the prehistoric Serpent Mound in southwestern Ohio, Slaughter’s design was for a serpentine glass canopy to cover the entire bridge. However, the county engineer at the time, John Circle, was adamantly opposed to an artwork that would suspend a glass “roof” over traffic lanes. Careful study showed that it could be done quite safely, but Circle had the final say and eventually stopped the selection process. The project died, much to the consternation of all involved in the monthslong endeavor.

At one point, The Other Paper, a long-gone alternative weekly, ran a front-page story asking whether the project was “Too Cool for Columbus?” Even today, two large pedestals at each end of the bridge remain art-less. Recchie calls all this a big missed opportunity to put Columbus on the art map: “Look what a sculpture shaped like an enormous bean has done for Chicago.”

Sources: Matthew Saltzman, Ohio State University Geology Department; geologyin.com; pubs.er.usgs.gov; columbusunderground.com; Nancy Recchie; The Other Paper

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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.