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Mr. Wright Makes A Map

It must have been quite a sight. Moving through the great green forest on a path along a ridge next to a river of clear clean water was a small group of men dressed as if they were going to a meeting of some importance.

And of course they were doing just that.

Leading them was a man of medium height and firm build who was dressed in a long coat with flap pockets and a long waist coat, with knee breeches and low shoes trimmed with silver buckles. The final touch was a broad brimmed beaver hat that helped identify him as a member of the Society of Friends called Quakers.

His name was Joel Wright. He was sixty-two years old and he had come to this place to make a city from the wilderness. He had done this sort of thing before. But this would be his most important task. For here - in central Ohio - he was going to create a capital city.

Joel Wright was a surveyor and so was his assistant Joseph Vance. But they and the chain crew that accompanied them in the spring of 1812 were not just measuring the length and the breath of the land. They were laying out a town that would soon become the center of state power and authority.

Laying out cities was something Joel Wright had been doing for quite some time. He had platted and surveyed Louisville, Dayton and a number of other places as well.

But this place was different. It would take the best from Wright's previous work and add a bit more. In Louisville, Wright had learned that cities had to be sensitive to the rivers at their edge. If one built too close to the water, a flood would be the end of things. In Dayton, he made central streets where one might turn a coach and six horses. Cities in the Midwest would not be hindered as places like Boston or New York were with narrow curving streets that were inefficient and infuriating.

This would be a different place. On the "High Banks opposite Franklinton at the Forks of the Scioto known as Wolf's Ridge" - because wolves ran in packs there from time to time - Joel Wright laid out a town fit to be capital city.

It had wide streets - like Dayton and other cities in the Midwest. It sat above the Scioto River along the ridge and was anchored by a 40' Indian mound - where Mound Street is today - on the south and a creek with adjacent wetlands - where Nationwide Boulevard is today on the north.

In between, Joel Wright laid out ten acres for a Statehouse - where the Statehouse is today - and ten acres for a Penitentiary - where the Cultural Arts Center is today.

In some ways it is a strange plan. The whole street system is angled twelve degrees west of true north. No one is quite sure why. But there have been and continue to be good guesses.

But the town plan - as grandiose as it was - was accepted by the people who lived here - all seven hundred of them - and it became the template upon which the largest city in Ohio came into being.

Columbus was the last major town surveyed and planned by Joel Wright. He returned to his home in southwest Ohio and lived there until his death in 1829 at the age of 79.

We owe a lot to Joel Wright. He not only laid out the town and planned for the location of its public places. He named the major streets - Broad, High, Town and Front - as well. And he did all of this in middle of the War of 1812 with a few men and very little support from the government that had hired him. And when he was done, he simply went home.

I'd say we could use a few more men like Joel Wright.