City Quotient: Columbus is thirsty

Jeff Darbee

As a big and growing city, we must use a lot of water—like thousands of gallons—every day. Where does it come from? In Columbus, we use about 122 gallons of water per person per day, roughly 50 billion gallons a year.

The Columbus Department of Public Utilities operates three treatment plants, 37 storage tanks, 3,485 miles of piping and nearly 27,000 hydrants. But where does all that life-giving liquid come from? Early on, our rivers provided most of it. The problem was that we were a little unclear about sources of disease, so the rivers also were sewers; typhoid fever was a major problem and a real killer before we figured out not to soil what we sipped. In Columbus, a 1904 outbreak sickened 1,800 and killed 200, among them U.S. Senator (and Cleveland power broker) Mark Hanna.

Enter the Columbus Experiment, in which our city was a water-purification pioneer. Working with a New York consultant, Clarence and Charles Hoover of OSU in 1908 established a water treatment plant upstream on Dublin Road (it's still there), and a sewage treatment plant downstream on Frank Road (also still there). To assure a steady supply of water, Griggs Reservoir on the Scioto was completed in 1908 and, farther up, O'Shaughnessy Dam was finished in 1925. But by 1945, water was running short nonetheless, so the city dammed Big Walnut Creek and created Hoover Reservoir in 1953. Today Griggs, O'Shaughnessy and Hoover reservoirs provide our main source, with the ability to tap Alum Creek Reservoir when needed, as well as an underground reservoir in northwest Delaware County. The southern part of the city gets water pumped from deep wells tapping a large aquifer.

I just discovered there's a street in Columbus called Bide-A-Wee Park Avenue. It's in the Driving Park area on the southeast side. What's the deal with that name? Agreed, that's an eye-catching name, and catching the eye seems to have been its purpose. Driving Park, located south of Livingston Avenue between Kelton and Seymour avenues, was established in 1873 as a horse track. In 1903, it became a racetrack for motor vehicles. World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who grew up nearby, was one of the winningest drivers there. By the mid-1920s, however, the growing city had a voracious appetite for land and Driving Park was subdivided for housing. Today only the Driving Park name survives.

Bide-A-Wee Park, a little north and east of Driving Park, was platted in 1924 with 40 lots. Homes had been built along Bide-A-Wee Park Avenue by 1928. Interestingly, the three lozenge-shaped parkways that divided (and still divide) the street in Bid-A-Wee were once included on lists of Columbus city parks, but not anymore. The parkways are still there, however, with big trees, surrounded by modest, well-built homes of brick, stone and frame construction.

But what about that name? It's a Scottish expression that means, “Stay a little.”

Turns out, it wasn't the only example of that name in town. There was a Bide-A-Wee theater on North High Street near OSU, and in the 1940s the Child Conservation League had a Bide-A-Wee Group looking out for children's well-being.

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 Department of Public Utilities; City of Columbus, “Near Southside Area Plan, 2011;” Aaron O'Donovan, Columbus Metropolitan Library