Institutions for the disabled are one of Ohio's claims to fame

I've heard that Ohio was a leader in establishing institutions for the disabled. Can you tell me more about this? Yes: This was one of Ohio's claims to fame (the other has to be LeBron James). But as you read these original names, remember that words we find offensive today once were clinical terms: the Ohio Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, 1827; the Ohio Hospital for Lunatics, 1835; the Ohio Institution for the Education of the Blind, 1837; and the Ohio Asylum for the Education of Idiotic and Imbecile Youth, 1857. Note that education, rather than just warehousing of the disabled and mentally ill, was a shared goal—a rather novel concept for that time. The lunatic hospital was the first institution for the insane built west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Only remnants remain. The lunatic hospital (later the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital) and the Ohio Asylum (Columbus State Institute) moved to opposite sides of West Broad Street in the 1860s and 1870s. The psychiatric hospital was replaced in the late 1990s by the Ohio Department of Transportation and Ohio Department of Public Safety offices. The State Institute is still standing.

The blind and deaf schools moved to the Far North Side in the late 1950s. The former blind school on Parsons Avenue was renovated in 2002 as the Columbus Health Department. The former deaf school on East Town Street succumbed to fire in 1981, but its former education building is now Cristo Rey Columbus High School. And the Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital was not lost entirely; you can walk on some of its floor tiles in the Hilltop Library and in the crypt under the Statehouse rotunda.

What became of the shopping/entertainment complex called the Continent? This pioneer “lifestyle center” (some say it showed the way for others like Easton) dates to the early 1970s, the brainchild of developer Bill Bonner who, among other projects, kept the Great Southern Hotel from disappearing. Styled as a tree-shaded French village boasting narrow streets with names such as Rue Moliere and Rue Bonaparte, the Continent was immensely popular, featuring restaurants and shops with living space on upper floors, offices, a cinema and a comedy club. Most popular was the French Market, which had a lot of unusual retailers atypical of your everyday shopping mall. A pleasant place to linger, with benches and fountains, it did have a villagey feel (including a statue of a World War I French soldier) despite its location off Route 161 in the Busch Corporate Center.

By around 2000, the Continent had been through several owners and had trouble competing with new venues, such as City Center, Tuttle Mall, Polaris and Easton. More than 40 years on, it's apparent the place has seen better times. Retailers are gone, but some night clubs are still there, and even though the cinema was quiet on a recent visit, it appears to be operating. The Continent now is mainly an apartment complex, with what looks like good occupancy.

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

Sources: Architecture: Columbus; “The AIA Guide to Columbus;” Robert Loversidge, architect of the Capitol; online blogs and reminiscences; Columbus CEO and Columbus Underground websites; Google Earth