Columbus has become an expert at preserving the past, from its 1800s neighborhoods to memories of military veterans. The ways in which the city has been enriched because its citizens cared enough to protect and invest in their heritage are many. Here are several examples, worth a stop on any visit.
It took a village to save German Village
German Village, a thriving 233-acre neighborhood on downtown’s south edge, was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1970s and is considered a model for historic preservation.
The entire neighborhood is now on the National Registrar of Historic Places and it’s quite a contrast to downtown’s nearby skyscrapers. No building, save a church steeple, rises higher than three stories. Houses and businesses are packed tight, often within inches of one another.
It’s a cozy, charming and walkable place, and its neighborhood association shows it off by offering step-on guides and walking tours. Most popular are Explore Beyond the Door tours, where visitors step inside a home or two and see what living in German Village is like today. Although homes look just as they did when they were built, there are surprises behind the facades like contemporary decors and hidden gardens bursting with flowers and blue pools. After a tour, groups can stop by Barcelona, where drinks are still delivered from an oak bar that’s original to the early 1900s building, or visit Valter’s at the Maennerchor, in the former headquarters of a German singing society and social club. Chef Valter Veliu is known for his Jaegermeister wings, marinated for two days in German mustard, espresso and other ingredients.
Colonial spirit lives in Old Worthington
Old Worthington, north of downtown, predates German Village by about 40 years. Its Colonial style echoes a New England town, and its village green remains a gathering place. The Worthington Historical Society, housed in a 1845 church rectory, is home to a collection of 19th century china and bisque dolls and a gift shop that sells packets of the town’s signature bean soup mix. Walking tours can be arranged, and although the area is historic, many merchants are quite modern, like Ride Home, a bike/coffee shop, and House Wine, a wine shop and bar. Groups especially like The Candle Lab, where they can make scented candles to take home. It takes about an hour for candles to set, allowing time to wander the neighborhood.
Prominent family paved path to freedom
The Kelton House, a few blocks east of downtown, is another preserved piece of Columbus’ history. It is far more than a pretty, restored 1852 Italianate/Greek Revival filled with Victorian antiques that belonged to the Kelton family. On guided tours, groups learn about the Kelton family’s dedication to the Underground Railroad from an interpreter who portrays Sophie Kelton, the family matriarch. Prominent and prosperous, the Keltons risked everything to help slaves make their way to freedom.
Singing the praises of the Ohio Theatre
When they weren’t busy saving German Village, preservationists were raising $2 million to save the Ohio Theatre, across from the statehouse.
It’s hard to imagine how 1928 moviegoers could concentrate on the show in this stunning baroque movie house that feels like a brocade ball gown, all gleaming gold and red with fancy scrollwork and an ornate dome.
Tour guides share the 2,791-seat theater’s history and also sing the praises of its Mighty Morton pipe organ. Groups might get to hear a tune or two and sing along.
Salutes to our military past
With the addition of a national museum honoring all veterans, Columbus has become even more connected to our nation’s military history.
A museum with a different twist
The new National Veterans Memorial and Museum turns heads. From above, it is an infinity circle, its curves of concrete topped with green grass. No surprise, its design made it one of the most eagerly anticipated new buildings in 2018.
The museum is also unorthodox in its approach to collecting, with an emphasis on telling stories instead of displaying artifacts. Multimedia presentations allow patrons to hear about veteran experiences firsthand and a Share Your Story space allows veterans who visit to share theirs. Guided tours are a good overview, but groups should include free time so tour members can revisit exhibits that interest them most.
Motts showcases a private military collection
Warren E. Motts has amassed military artifacts from Colonial battles to current conflicts at his Motts Military Museum. There are large items, like helicopters and jeeps, but also small, personal pieces like medals and uniforms, donated by veterans and their families. A Higgins boat is one of the few this World War II landing craft that remain. Motts also claims the second-largest collection of artifacts from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and is raising funds to house and display the items.
Meals take flight at 94th Aero Squadron
Dinner at the 94th Aero Squadron Restaurant is a great way to end a day spent visiting military sites. Memorabilia and artifacts from the two world wars decorate the French-style farmhouse next to runways of Columbus’ airport. It’s a place where groups can ponder the comings and goings as planes take off and land, and consider their place in history.
Gain a broader perspective
As Ohio’s capital, Columbus is a good place to gain an understanding on the entire state.
A capitol idea
Ohio’s Greek Revival statehouse — long, low and crowned with a round cupola – sits on 10 acres at the heart of downtown. Guided tours include its rotunda, brightened by a massive skylight, where citizens filed by Abraham Lincoln’s casket in 1865. Salutes to leaders, including the first six women to serve in the legislature, are among the exhibitions in the capitol’s museum. A gift shop sells items made by Ohioans.
History center has it all
The Ohio History Center is just what history should be—eclectic, lively and full of fun twists. Its museum’s collection is wide-ranging—from mastodon bones to World War I memorabilia. The 1950s return to life in a full-size Lustron house—a prefab design made in Ohio – filled with all things ‘50s like record albums, a phonograph and Roy Rogers toys. Not just nostalgic, the exhibit interweaves issues of the era: the Civil Rights movement, women’s rights and the Cold War. In the summer months, the center’s 1890s village is a lively place where visitors can pose in a photographer’s studio or watch the Ohio Village Muffins play baseball, 19th century style.
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