What's the Story Behind Grant Hospital and Why Does the Arena District Look So Industrial?

Dr. James F. Baldwin’s innovative medical center has grown with the city.

Jeff Darbee
Dr. James F. Baldwin

How long has Grant hospital been in Downtown, and who established it? 

OhioHealth Grant Medical Center is our only Downtown hospital. It fills the block bounded by Grant Avenue and Sixth, State and Town streets and has other adjacent facilities. In the early 19th century, Lyne Starling bought land that is now Downtown Columbus. Successful in business, he was a benefactor of Starling Medical College and St. Francis Hospital, founded in 1849 at the northwest corner of State and Sixth streets to combine both medical teaching and patient care.

In 1900, Dr. James F. Baldwin built Grant hospital, named for Ohio native Ulysses S. Grant. Born in New York state in 1850, Baldwin received a bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College in 1870 and a medical degree from a Philadelphia medical college in 1874. He soon moved to Columbus and lived on East Town Street in a home that later housed the O’Shaughnessy Co. funeral home. Baldwin was a brilliant and innovative surgeon who created controversy by mistrusting blood transfusions at a time when blood types were not known, calling out the dangers of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic and criticizing doctors’ use of medications that had not been proven effective.

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The original Grant hospital was just east of St. Francis at 125 S. Grant Ave., a four-story brick building with open porches offering fresh air considered helpful for healing patients. The hospital grew with the city, gradually filling up its block; one wing required demolition of the old St. Francis in 1956. Baldwin died in 1936 but was memorialized in 1968 when Baldwin Tower opened as a school of nursing. It was demolished in 2004 for further hospital expansion.

On Front Street in the Arena District, there’s an old brick building with “Ohio Moline Plow Co.” over the front door. Moline is in Illinois, so what’s the connection? 

The area known today as the Warehouse District is mainly along North Fifth Street, but for many years the whole north edge of Downtown hosted dozens of such buildings. In today’s Arena District, most of the old warehouses are gone, but some really nice ones are left, the Moline Plow among them.

The original Illinois company started in the 1870s to compete with other horse-drawn plow makers such as John Deere. As it expanded, it established branches to sell and service its products. The Ohio Moline Plow Co. building at 343 N. Front St. was built in 1913 to offer warehouse, sales and office space. There was not much call for plows in Downtown Columbus, but our Central Ohio location and dense railroad network made Front Street a logical choice.

You’ll notice that the new buildings in the Arena District tend to have an industrial look. It’s because district developer Nationwide Realty Investors liked the character of the Ohio Moline Plow building and wanted new development around it to reflect how the old warehouse district looked so many years ago.

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: George W. Paulson, M.D., “An Exraordinary Surgeon”; historical marker at State and Sixth streets; 1899 and 1910 Baist atlases at Columbus Metropolitan Library; Ohio Moline Plow Co. National Register nomination

This story is from the March 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.