The new memorial is one of several built to honor those who served.
The new National Veterans Memorial that opens this month is a replacement for an older memorial. What was there before that earlier memorial was built? Although it’s nationally important now, that was just a working part of our city for about 160 years. Originally part of Franklinton, it was settled by Lucas Sullivant in 1797. In 1842, Franklinton (part of Columbus after 1870), was only 36 square blocks, centered on the National Road.
Sullivant’s sons, William and Michael, owned the surrounding farmland, which was platted into building lots by 1856. In 1850 and 1870, east-west and north-south railroads crossed the area and shaped the land where the memorial sits today. By 1883, John Gill’s railroad car works occupied the northern area next to the railroad, with a soap factory to the east. A few houses stood to the south, and several warehouses were along the river. By 1899, a stove factory, machine works and a cigar factory stood along Broad, with a few houses interspersed. The Columbus Electric Light & Power Co. was on the river.
To the north, the Ohio Central Railroad’s freight terminal and tracks took up much of the land. By 1910, railroad tracks and terminals dominated the site, and most of the houses along Broad Street and to the north were replaced by businesses and warehouses. Beginning in the 1920s, the eastern part of the site was cut away to widen the river. Major change came in 1955, when all these different entities were removed in preparation for the first Veterans Memorial.
Why is the building Downtown at 280 E. Broad St. marked “Franklin County Memorial”? After the Civil War there was a movement in Columbus and elsewhere to memorialize those who served in America’s wars. In 1902, the Ohio General Assembly authorized county bond issues to build memorials honoring all military veterans, but the aging of Civil War veterans seems to have been a particular impetus.
Many counties, Franklin included, took action, and in 1903 prominent Columbus architect Frank Packard got the commission for the memorial that would rise along East Broad Street. Dedicated in 1906, the building had an auditorium seating 4,200, expandable to 5,000 by adding chairs, and was said to be second only to Madison Square Garden in capacity. Over time, Memorial Hall hosted conventions, sports events and more. Food was distributed there during the Depression, as were World War II rationing coupons.
When the newer Veterans Memorial opened in 1955 on West Broad Street, it created competition with this one. The Franklin County Historical Society moved there in 1956. Fortunately, the FCHS opened COSI in 1964, saving the building from neglect. In 1973 front solar panels were added to the building, providing entrance and display space, as well as protecting the historic building’s façade. That glass front placed on the building in the ’70s protected the building’s façade for years. It was removed in 1999 when Franklin County renovated it for office spaces after COSI moved to its current location on the west side of the river.
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to email@example.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.
Sources: Columbus Metropolitan Library map collection, oldcosi.com/memorialhall.htm, Architecture: Columbus