© 2023 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

After Floodwall, Franklinton Continues To Struggle

Born of optimism but ravaged by occasional flooding, Franklinton, Columbus' oldest neighborhood, carries a twin burden of history and poverty. While the area remains one of the city's poorest zip codes, a quiet revitalization is trying to transform the district. Almost from its founding in 1797, Franklinton was plagued by flooding. The particularly disastrous flood of 1913 killed more than 90 people. “The flood swept in that direction. It would just plow down the streets and many of the houses just went over like dominoes." Brenda Dutton, who managed the Franklinton library for 20 years, knows a lot of the neighborhood's history. Dutton says plans for a floodwall began taking shape shortly after the 1913 flood. But actual construction did not begin, she says, until 1993. Eleven years and more than $120 million later the floodwall was complete. But prosperity for the neighborhood remained elusive. "We thought, the floodwall is dedicated in 2004 and 'bingo,' Franklinton is ready to move,â€? Dutton says. “We've been waiting for decades; we're ready to grow, we're ready for new business. And it didn't happen.â€? Before the floodwall, the federal government had prohibited new construction in Franklinton because it was in a flood prone area. Meanwhile houses and business establishments deteriorated. Before the floodwall, not a single new house had been built in Franklinton in 80 years. Jim Sweeney is executive director of the Franklinton Development Association. "There's not a lot of reason for people to come here in the last 50 years,â€? Sweeney says. So I describe it at times as sort of a black hole in the general collective cognitive map of Columbus." Over the decades Franklinton has struggled. Brenda Dutton points to the neighborhood's low average household income. "Franklinton is a working class community; it always has been. It's an area that is very under-educated so that people have difficulty getting well-paying jobs," Dutton says. For many, Carol Stewart is the face and voice of Franklinton. She's a neighborhood activist, chair of the Franklinton Area Commission and president of the local historical society. She says Franklinton has been a place of refuge for those who are struggling. “If people had hard times they moved to Franklinton,â€? Stewart says. That's the case with Chris and Judy Graessle who live with two teenage sons in a typical Franklinton home. It has two bedrooms, a bath, a small living room and kitchen. “The reason why we moved to Franklinton was to start all over,â€? Chris Graessle says. Chris and Judy both had jobs before a variety of health problems intervened. The day I visited the Graessles, Chris, who's 51, had just returned home from the hospital where he had lung cancer surgery. He had open heart surgery last July. “The jobs haven't always been there. I mean we've got a hell of a landlord. Ray has really worked with us. There's times that I've only been able to give him ‘x’ amount of dollars; sometimes I ain't even been able to give him no rent but with me doing the upkeep on this house and taking care of that, he's kind of put that on the back burner,â€? says Chris. Judy adds, “We've got a lot of help from agencies down here; through Saint Vincent DePaul Society; through Gladden Community House; through Job and Family Services, family, people in the community, friends, neighbors.â€? Job and Family Services has been the Graessles' lifeline. They receive a little more than $500 a month in welfare plus they get food stamps. But the family's rent is $400 a month so there's not a lot of money left over. Still, Chris has a vision of owning their home on Franklinton's Hawkes Avenue... “Hopefully I'll stay right here in this house until I die,â€? Chris Graessle says. “I'm not trying to go nowhere else. I'd like to buy the house - if I had the money. I mean I've been offered a good price -- $30,000 ain't much but when you don't have a full-time job and you ain't worked a fulltime job in two years and everything it's not feasible to get that.â€? The face of Franklinton is changing, however. Since the floodwall was completed, about a hundred new homes have been built; while dozens of existing homes have been gutted and remodeled. The Franklinton Development Association's Jim Sweeney. "People, I think, are starting to have a different perception of the neighborhood," Sweeney says. “Whereas they used to consider the area The Bottoms as it's called by some to be a roving band of criminals and gangs such, now I think we've been able to change [the] perception." Brenda Dutton remains optimistic about the neighborhood's future. “Franklinton, I think, is just kind of poised, right now, to move forward in a big way,â€? Dutton says.