City Quotient: What's 'Upper' About Upper Arlington?
On West Broad Street, across the river and next to the railroad bridge, there’s a pagoda-like building. What’s its story?
That is a former railroad station and one of our city’s true landmarks. It was built in 1895 and designed by the Columbus architectural firm Yost and Packard. Frank Packard went on to design many of Columbus’ signature buildings, including the Atlas Building, the old Governor’s Mansion (now the Columbus Foundation) and the Columbus Athenaeum. On the north side of the railroad station’s tower is a stone panel lettered “Ohio Central,” the name of one of several predecessor railroads that ultimately became the Toledo and Ohio Central Railway, known commonly as the “T&OC.”
As for the unusual design, in the 1890s, a lot of buildings had features from all sorts of architectural periods and places, and this station could be a poster child for this “eclectic” era. The tracks across West Broad were originally at grade but were elevated around 1910 to relieve traffic problems. This required a ramp along the side and rear of the station so passengers and vehicles could reach the platform. Immediately across the tracks was the even more ornate Macklin Hotel, which boasted not one but three “pagoda” towers. The hotel and ramp are long gone, but the depot is intact.
It almost wasn’t, though. In January 1975, it lost its entire roof to fire, though our firefighters valiantly saved the interior, the corner turrets and the tower. The owner at the time, Volunteers of America, did an excellent restoration, and today, appropriately, the station is the local firefighters’ union headquarters.
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Why is Upper Arlington called “upper”? What’s upper about it?
The first thing that comes to mind is that “UA,” as it’s called, is up the Scioto from Downtown Columbus, meaning cleaner water for that suburban community. Or, UA is on a rise of ground up above pretty much all of Columbus. Or, sometimes suburban developers use words such as “upper” or “heights” or “hills” to suggest that you could live up and away from the bad old city.
The real story, though, is a little more complex and interesting. The area between the rivers and south of King Avenue was divided into farms around the mid-19th century. By 1901 this land had been organized as the hamlet of Marble Cliff (named for quarries west of the Scioto). As sometimes happens, there was a community dispute over development, and in 1903 a small area along the Scioto broke off, enabling much of the rest of the hamlet to organize as Grandview Heights in 1906.
Various parts of the “secessionist” area (just over a quarter of a square mile) were called Arlington, Grandview and Chester Heights. Once Grandview Heights was established, though, it appears that only the name Arlington was used; it later went back to Marble Cliff. Jump to 1913, when Ben and King Thompson purchased around a square mile and a half for development of their country club district. Because their land was just north of little Arlington, they renamed it Upper Arlington. Once Marble Cliff dropped the name Arlington, UA could have dropped “Upper,” but why would it want to be known simply as “A”?
Sources: columbusunderground.com; “Architecture: Columbus”; Judith B. Williams, historic preservation consultant; Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society and Upper Arlington Historic Society websites
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to email@example.com, and the answer might appear in a future column.