City Quotient: The Ohio Supreme Court Building

Jeff Darbee
Sources: Ohio and Erie Canal Southern Descent Historic District National Register of Historic Places nomination form

I know that big white building at 65 Front St. along the Scioto River is home to the Ohio Supreme Court, but that’s only since the 1990s. What role did it play prior to that?

This marble building with inspiring inscriptions opened in 1932 as the Ohio Departments of State Building to house government offices that had outgrown both the Statehouse and the Wyandotte Building at 21 W. Broad St. Unusual for the time, the upper floors had movable partitions to allow reconfiguring of offices. But the public spaces make this a true gem.

On both the lower level (Civic Center Drive) and the first floor (Front Street), the interior is an art gallery of sculpture, bronze work, mosaics and paintings. Harry Hake of Cincinnati was the architect, and nearly a dozen nationally known artists provided artwork—bas-reliefs, mosaics, painted murals. Once most offices moved to the Rhodes and Riffe buildings and to the Senate Building next to the Statehouse, the Ohio Supreme Court’s late Chief Justice Thomas J. Moyer (he passed away in 2010) sought to move the court and its judicial functions to its own building. He was the driving force behind a complete renovation, which was finished in 2004.

Today, the building is known as the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center. Visitors are welcome during weekday business hours. After passing through security (picture ID required), you can tour the main and lower levels and sit in on court sessions. Be sure to see the main courtroom, the bronze elevator doors, the telephone and telegraph office off the Grand Concourse, the historic murals in the hearing rooms, the Native American-themed lower level lobby and the top-floor law library where the State Library once was.

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I recently saw a reference to something called the “Columbus Feeder Canal.” What is this and is it something I can still visit?

Between 1825 and 1831, inspired by New York’s Erie Canal, the state of Ohio built the Ohio and Erie Canal, a 308-mile waterway between Lake Erie at Cleveland and the Ohio River at Portsmouth. Though winter weather closed the canal several months each year, it spurred a lot of economic development, as did the later Miami and Erie Canal between Cincinnati and Toledo.

The O&E, however, bypassed Columbus due to hilly country east of the city. Not to worry, though—the Columbus Feeder was built to supply Scioto River water to the main canal and to enable passenger and freight boats to serve the city. The feeder extended about 12 miles from Downtown Columbus to the main canal at Lockbourne in southern Franklin County. As for visiting the Columbus Feeder, time has been unkind to it. In Bicentennial Park just north of Main Street a marker notes the point where the feeder met the Scioto, but the actual site was destroyed by later development. The village of Lockbourne, however, has preserved two easily-accessible locks—the stone chambers that let canal boats ascend and descend hills—on the main canal near where the Columbus Feeder joined it. Those locks and a dozen other canal features were recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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