The story behind an elegant flourish in the street pattern

What’s the story behind the “Circles” near the Victorian Village neighborhood? Those landscape features look pretty unusual.
In the late 1820s, William Neil, builder of the first Neil House Hotel on Capitol Square and a successful stagecoach operator, acquired several hundred acres north of Downtown Columbus. In 1870, the year he died, Neil donated much of his land to the state of Ohio to establish the “State Agricultural College,” known today as Ohio State University.

By this time, Neil also had transferred some of the land to his children, one of whom was eldest daughter Anne Eliza Neil (1821–1911). She was the wife of William Dennison, governor of Ohio in the early Civil War years. As the city grew northward and land values increased, Anne saw opportunity, and in April 1888, she platted the Dennison Park Addition west of Neil Avenue between Fifth and King avenues.

Perhaps to distinguish the area and to signal that it was intended for high-end housing development, the street pattern included six 68-foot-diameter landscaped circles where Sixth and Seventh avenues crossed Pennsylvania and Michigan avenues and Perry Street. Sure enough, the area gradually filled in with the elegant late Victorian and early 20th century homes we see today. However, only four circles survive. Perry Street, its houses and two circles were removed in the late 1970s to provide an access road and parking for Battelle.

Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.

City Quotient has written about Central High School before, but weren’t there other landmark city high schools from the same period?
There were indeed. The school system built North, South, East and West high schools between 1922 and 1929, a massive program for a city of under 300,000. East High School at 1500 E. Broad St. (home of the Tigers) was finished first in 1922, the same year as Central. Well-known Columbus architect Frank Packard did the design, and the school was fully renovated for continued use in 2008.

Next, in 1924, were North and South. North is at 100 Arcadia Ave.; its students were the Polar Bears, and the design was also by Packard. The building is currently closed, but renovation plans are underway. South High School, at 1160 Ann St., was designed by St. Louis architect William B. Ittner (he also designed Central). It’s the home of the Bulldogs (if you visit, do not step on the image of the bulldog in the hallway) and was renovated in 2009.

And finally, the Cowboys call West High School their home. It opened in 1929 at 179 S. Powell Ave. Howard Dwight Smith, the Columbus architect who designed Ohio Stadium, did the plans for West. It featured a tall spire that over time became deteriorated. In 2018, it was replaced with a new one, returning the building to its proper appearance. And let’s raise a glass to Columbus City Schools, which over several years has renovated rather than torn down more than a dozen historic schools, making them safe, efficient and modern, and keeping them as treasured landmarks in their neighborhoods.

Sources: City atlases from 1856, 1872, 1899, 1910, 1920 and 1937; “Architecture: Columbus”; touringohio.com, “We Too Built Columbus”; various schools’ websites; city maps at Columbus Metropolitan Library

***

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.