City Quotient: Making music ring downtown for more than a century

Jeff Darbee

What's the story behind the church bells we hear ringing every day around Capitol Square? That music is courtesy of Trinity Episcopal Church at Third and Broad streets and has been issuing forth since 1910, when 10 bells were installed there. They did not swing back and forth; they were played manually by a console of levers connected to hammers that struck the bells. Known technically as chimes (which have nine to 22 bells; carillons have 23 or more), they worked that way for 95 years. In 2005 the system was upgraded and digitized. Four added bells enabled the playing of a greater range of music, and electronic controls gave the church's carillonneur (“bell-ringer”) a rest, though they still work the same way—stationary bells struck by electrically powered hammers. The system can also be manually overridden and played the old-fashioned way.

Some 110 songs were originally programmed into the new system, and others are being added from the more than 700 songs in the Episcopal hymnal. In our hustling and bustling in a busy Downtown, we might not realize what a comprehensive daily musical program Trinity offers. Like your grandma's old mantel clock, Westminster Chimes mark the quarter-hours, followed by the striking of the hour, the last bell pealing exactly on the hour. Seasonal hymns play on rush-hour weekdays—morning, noon and night. And (little-known fact) the largest bell is rung to mark state-sanctioned executions. On September 11, 2002, that bell rang more than 3,000 times to commemorate those lost in New York City one year earlier.

I've heard someone say there once was a zoo in the now-residential Beechwold neighborhood at North High Street and Morse Road. True? Yes, one of only a few that served our city over the years. One was in Goodale Park (see CQ for July 2015), and, of course, the current Columbus Zoo and Aquarium near Dublin. In between those was the Columbus Zoological Company, founded by local businessmen in 1895. The enterprise moved slowly and by 1902 had assembled a collection of bears, birds and a lion and had offers for wolves, deer and a rattlesnake. Thinking big, the group had acquired more than 200 acres on the far north side between what today are Morse and Beaumont roads, from the Olentangy River to Indianola Avenue. The zoo itself was west of North High Street, where the Old Beechwold neighborhood is today. Though far from Downtown Columbus, it had ready access via the High Street track of the Columbus, Delaware and Marion interurban railroad. To raise funds for the zoo, the promoters platted and sold the land east of North High, calling it the Zooland Addition. That enabled the zoo to open in late May 1905, but it was declared bankrupt by August and defunct by early October of that same year. The zoo's monkey house is today a privately owned and well maintained outbuilding on Beechwold Boulevard, and stone columns along High Street are said also to be from the days of the ill-fated Columbus Zoo.

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

Sources: Kevin N. Wines, Director of Music/Liturgist, Trinity Episcopal Church; Joe Blundo, “Bells Give Downtown A Peal,” Columbus Dispatch, 12/2/07; Sam Roshon, “An Early Zoo in Columbus;” Columbus Zoo and Aquarium website.