Arter's "Vignettes" Told the Story of Columbus

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly

I've recently heard the name Bill Arter, a local artist and newspaperman. Can you tell me more about him?

Bill was not so much a newspaperman as an artist whose work appeared in the newspaper. He loved Columbus and loved digging into its stories, and he was best known for his "Columbus Vignettes" series in the Dispatch's Sunday magazine. It ran from March 1964 to July 1971, and its 350 installments were collected in a four-volume series of books. They're out of print now, but still can be found in dusty used-book shops.

But he did a lot more than just his "Vignettes." He taught advertising and journalism classes for almost 20 years at Ohio State and Ohio Wesleyan. He was vice president and creative director at the Byer & Bowman advertising agency and was widely known for his watercolors. He worked in advertising for several Columbus industrial companies, wrote features for Advertising Age and wrote parts of advertising textbooks. An OSU graduate, Arter lived with his wife Mary on Dover Court in Riverlea and had several children. His busy and creative life was cut short by cancer at the age of 60 in March 1972.

Why does King Avenue have the name it does? It seems out of place, since there aren't any other "royal" street names nearby.

CQ's first thought was that, obviously, this east-west street north of Fifth Avenue must have been named for King Thompson, one of the developers of Upper Arlington. King Avenue runs west from North High Street straight to UA, so there must be a connection, right? Wrong.

The first clue was a map from the 1890s, where King Avenue is clearly shown, but Upper Arlington was yet to be founded. Turns out this street was named for William Neil King. Neil, of course, is a well-known name hereabouts: Neil Avenue, the Neil House Hotel and the Ohio State University, which sits on land donated by William Neil. Here's the connection to King: William and Hannah Neil's second daughter, Elizabeth Jane, was married to Thomas Worthington King, and their son, William Neil King, was born in 1849.

Thomas W. King came from well-known lineage: His grandfather Rufus King was in the Continental Congress and was a framer of the Constitution; his other grandfather was Thomas Worthington, Ohio's sixth governor and its first U.S. senator. So ?William King had a good start in life and made the most of it: Harvard grad in 1871; Hasty Pudding Club member; French scholar; banker in Paris, Boston and Cincinnati and a railroad-builder in Mexico and California.

In Columbus, King was involved in railroads, banking and the Hannah Neil Mission (its building still stands on East Main Street) and numerous other causes. Not long before his death in 1917, he donated a window at Trinity Episcopal Church. Seems fitting that such an accomplished fellow should have major street named for him.

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

Sources: Citizen-Journal and Dispatch clippings at Columbus Metropolitan Library; Ed Lentz, Columbus historian; Hooper, "History of the City of Columbus," 1920.