The Santa Maria still sails over Capital Law School

Jeff Darbee

Over the entrance door of the Capital University Law School, there's a panel with the image of a sailing ship. What does a law school have to do with sailing the seas? Since we in Columbus have not been shy about celebrating our city's namesake, it should come as no surprise that the bas-relief sculpture over the entrance at 303 E. Broad St. is the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus' flagship on his legendary voyage to the New World. (Recall, too, that we once had a replica of that vessel floating in the Scioto River across from COSI.

The East Broad building was built in 1942 for the Columbus Mutual Life Insurance Company, so the ship's image only seems appropriate (but is it a coincidence that “1942” is an anagram of “1492?” Just asking). Then, in 1968, the company commissioned a 300-pound, 5-by-6-foot sculpture of the Santa Maria, the work of New York artist Ralph Menconi, and mounted it on a 12-foot arched base on the sidewalk in front of the building. Things change, though, and in 1989 Columbus Mutual merged with Western & Southern Life of Cincinnati, but remained here for a few years. In 1996, the ship sculpture moved to Cincinnati with the company.

Capital's law school later moved into the Broad Street building. So even though the Queen City claimed our city's eponymous life insurance company over 20 years ago, Chris' flagship still sails proudly both on East Broad Street and at the front door of Columbus Life Insurance at 400 E. Fourth St. in downtown Cincinnati. Try street views on Google Earth, and you'll find it.

Along the west side of the Ohio State Fairgrounds, there's a long concrete viaduct that runs between 11th and 17th avenues. Trains run on top of it, but the State Fair appears to use the space under it, too. What's the story here? The Pennsylvania Railroad, biggest of five historic rail companies that served our city, had a major coal-hauling line from Columbus to Sandusky. Its coal trains originated at Grogan Yard (you go under the mostly abandoned yard when you drive on I-71—it's up on that long, dark underpass between Cleveland and 11th avenues).

At the yard's west end, the track turned sharply north, crossing 17th Avenue around where the driveway to the Ohio History Center is today. Growing traffic forced the railroad to consider enlarging the yard to the west, where the main track would turn north on a new alignment along another already-existing railroad. This would have placed the new line on the state fairgrounds, though, and the state was reluctant to give up land for a high embankment for the new track. The solution was a half-mile-long viaduct, built of reinforced concrete and supported by concrete pillars.

This structure served two purposes: it avoided a steep grade on the railroad and carried it above several streets, and it provided useful space for the fairgrounds. Special banding on the support columns enabled the installation of fencing for livestock at the fair. The 3.5 acres underneath the viaduct could also be used for covered storage.

Statistics for the viaduct's construction were impressive: 22,000 cubic yards of concrete, 2,250 tons of reinforcing steel, carrying four tracks at a cost of $3 million. The concrete-arch bridges over 11th and 17th avenues were part of the project, which was completed in 1931. Today, though Grogan Yard is no more, the Pennsylvania's successor, Norfolk Southern, still operates the Sandusky line, so the fairgrounds viaduct still sees heavy, daily train traffic.

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

Sources: Columbus Dispatch articles, courtesy of Nick Taggart, Columbus Metropolitan Library; Columbus Mutual Life Insurance Company; Railway Age magazine, September 1931, courtesy of Wes Shankland