Ohio History Journal

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Had James Thurber spent his youth in Columbus two generations

before he did, he would now be regaling us with anecdotes about

a curious little railroad operation that enlivened the city for a few

years. By antiquarians and connoisseurs of the early iron horse, it

is sometimes whimsically hailed as the first railroad into Columbus,

a palm that more literal-minded scholars award to the Columbus

and Xenia line.

Looked at, on the other hand, in a cold, material light, the little

railroad in its early stages is seen to have been the key to the

legislative maneuvers of a group of Columbus businessmen. By

capitalizing on the return of the Whigs (the Republicans of their

day) to power in the state government, and using the tiny rail line

as a stalking horse, these men succeeded in selling the state a

quarry, in providing some indirect state aid for their Columbus and

Xenia Railroad, and in warding off the recurrent threat to move the

capital to another city.

When Ohio decided in 1838 to build a new capitol, or statehouse

as it was always called, it began to look as if the state fathers would

ere long be as well provided for as the state's convicts and lunatics,

both of which groups had just been supplied with fine modern

quarters. Much limestone was bought, the cornerstone laid, and a

rousing celebration held to start the building on its way. Suddenly

the legislature repealed the entire project. Their sagacity had been

foully reflected on by certain young men of Columbus, the law-

makers declared in a fit of pique, stimulated by some clever anti-

Columbus politics. Sentiment flared for moving the capital to a

more appreciative city.

A little group of Columbus businessmen stepped into the breach.

They got through the legislature a harmless-looking resolution

which said nothing as to a statehouse but appointed commissioners

* Walter Rumsey Marvin is executive director of the Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana

Library Association. The subject of his doctoral dissertation was "Columbus and the

Railroads of Central Ohio Before the Civil War" (Ohio State University, 1953).