What's the History of The Boat House at Confluence Park?

Though the name has changed over the years, The Boat House has remained a one-of-a-kind culinary destination.

Jeff Darbee
The Boat House

What’s the history of The Boat House at Confluence Park, the restaurant on the riverbank where the Olentangy flows into the Scioto? 

CQ thinks this is a pretty interesting star in the firmament of Columbus restaurants, a daring building on a unique site, up on steel stilts above a flood plain. Appropriately, it was called the Confluence when it opened in 1987. Though outside Downtown, the restaurant was the first step in redeveloping the central riverfront area. Ideas for dense development along the Scioto eventually morphed into the great open space we ultimately got, but this left the Confluence largely on its own as a destination. It’s had a difficult life, hampered originally by the fact that motorists could only reach it from the westbound lanes of West Long Street. That has been remedied, so the helicopter access once seriously considered (true story) now appears unnecessary. Still, closings and reopenings, changes in management, concept, menu and name (Confluence Park Restaurant, The River Club and now The Boat House) have ebbed and flowed.

So what is The Boat House today? For starters, its name is right for its weathered wood exterior, just what you’d expect of a boathouse. The interior is warm and welcoming, with a not-too-heavy-handed nautical theme, and the views—through the large windows or from the open deck areas—remain spectacular. It’s open now only for special events (the Columbus Metropolitan Club’s forums are held there), but it certainly appears that The Boat House really is The Venue That Refuses to Die.

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum on West Broad Street is pretty impressive. How did Columbus become its location? 

It sure wasn’t by chance. The mid-1950s Veterans Memorial at 300 W. Broad St. didn’t really honor service members in a meaningful way. Since there was no national museum recognizing veterans of all service branches, Ohio officials, numerous veterans, Franklin County (the landowner), and local business movers and shakers began to promote a new memorial and museum to replace it.

Political support was essential for the project: Former Ohio Sen. John Glenn chaired the planning committee, and U.S. Reps. Steve Stivers and Joyce Beatty and Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman were fully on board. Several dozen meetings with various members of Congress over a year and a half led to a unanimous Congressional vote to make Columbus the location because of the groundwork it had done. Construction began at the end of 2015, and opening day was in October 2018. Supporters raised $82 million for the effort, including $40.6 million from philanthropists Les and Abigail Wexner. The concept was that “it’s about the stories,” the experiences of the veterans themselves, with an undercurrent of their love for their country. One of the museum’s most compelling images, for instance, is the grief in the face of a mother standing by her son’s casket.

Columbus residents should be proud of this great accomplishment and should visit expecting an experience both sobering and uplifting.

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

Sources: Columbus Dispatch archives; Amy Taylor, president, Columbus Downtown Development Corp.