City Quotient: Columbus' Lost Downtown Market

Before it was a bus station, the Downtown Greyhound site was a bustling retail area.

Jeff Darbee
Central Market

The Greyhound bus station south of Town Street pretty much fills up that block. What was there before the station was built? Bounded by Town, Rich, South Third and South Fourth streets, this block was on the 1812 Columbus plat and saw a lot of history. By 1856, most of its street frontage had buildings: a church, commercial structures, houses and a school.

Central Market (1850) was along the west edge of South Fourth and lasted over a century. By 1872, the church and school were still there. A city jail sat near the market, joined in 1899 by both a livery stable and a police station. Central Market lured wholesale produce businesses to this and nearby blocks. (Fun fact: James Thurber’s grandfather owned one where the Ohio Police and Fire Memorial Park is today.) By 1910, the church on South Third was the “Masonic Cathedral,” and the school site just to the south was occupied by an interurban railroad station. Big commercial buildings filled almost all the rest of the block. By 1920, there was a hotel on Town Street and a garage, a harbinger of the auto era. And by the early 1960s, there was a large parking lot on Rich west of the market, with a nearby car wash.

The controversial Central Market demolition was in 1966. The Greyhound station opened in 1969, filling the entire block except for its setback behind commercial buildings on Town Street. By the way, if the bus station looks pretty quiet, it’s because COTA has bought and closed it, and Greyhound now shares COTA’s Downtown South Transit Terminal. Plans for the old Greyhound site have not been announced.

A friend recently said she was driving into Columbus on I-70 West and saw a small cemetery on the north side near the Hilltop area. What can you tell me about it? Modern-day maps call this the “State New Insane Cemetery.” In June 1868, Ohio completed its new Ohio Asylum for the Education of Idiotic and Imbecile Youth. (Those adjectives are pejoratives today but once were clinical terms.) Ohio was a pioneer in establishing institutions for people with disabilities; the former school for the blind and one building from the deaf school still stand east of the Downtown area.

The asylum in the Hilltop area was for people with mental illness. Over time, it had various names: State of Ohio Asylum for the Insane, Columbus State Hospital and Central Ohio Psychiatric Hospital, or COPH. Many sources claim the 1868 building, rebuilt after an 1881 fire, was the largest building in the U.S. under one roof until construction of the Pentagon in 1943. COPH closed in 1987 and later was demolished. The Ohio Department of Transportation headquarters is on the site today, though the hospital’s memory lives on in the salvaged red and white stone tiles installed in the floor beneath the Statehouse rotunda during its 1990s restoration.

The hospital cemetery likely was the final resting place of residents whose remains were unclaimed. On July 7, 2009, a poignant memorial stone was installed at the cemetery “to recognize the courage of past state hospital residents who lived with mental illness and inspired future understanding.”

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 Metropolitan Library Map Collection; Bob Hunter, “Thurberville”; digital-collections.columbuslibrary.org; findagrave.com; several websites under “Columbus State Hospital”