University District History

Entrance to OSU Campus at 15th Avenue, 1944The area known today as the University District was not originally part of the City of Columbus. Platted in 1812 as a city designated by the Ohio General Assembly to be the new state capital, Columbus was a small town until late in the 19th century. The first boundaries of the city ran from Nationwide Boulevard on the north to Livingston Avenue on the south and from the Scioto River to what is now Parsons Avenue.

The major event in the evolution of what is now the University District was the decision to locate Ohio's new land-grant agricultural and mechanical college on the site of the Neil farm in 1870. The Ohio State University grew slowly at first, but began to expand significantly under the presidency of William Oxley Thompson from 1900 to 1925.

Freddie's on Neil Avenue, 1976As it did, fashionable residential suburbs grew up around the campus in places like the Dennison Addition and the Indianola subdivision with its curved roads and remarkable ravines.

But the well-to-do were not the only people to come into the area. The electrified streetcar made its appearance in Columbus in the 1890s and transformed the city. Working people could now live in the University District and make the 30-minute journey to work in downtown Columbus. The end of the line was at the city limits at North Street near what is now the northern boundary of the University District.

As Ohio State grew in size, the neighborhoods surrounding it did as well. Expediting that growth, even more than the streetcar, was the availability of the automobile in the decade of the 1920s. No longer linked to the streetcar, neighborhoods could now be developed around the automobile. Suburbs developed in Clintonville, the Hilltop, and in new areas like Bexley and Upper Arlington.

GI Village Move In, 1946

At the end of World War II, the University District was occupied by more homeowners than renters. But this balance changed rapidly as the return of thousands of veterans sparked a huge adjustment of the economy. The return of good economic times meant that an entire generation could begin to indulge in the largest surge of delayed gratification in history. Sales of houses, cars and appliances accompanied the famous post-war Baby Boom. And with this general growth came growth at the university as well. After the end of World War II, the population of Ohio State's Columbus campus doubled and doubled again. By the 1960s, the Columbus campus was the largest in the United States.

To house all of these students, the university constructed high-rise dormitories at the north and south ends of the campus. In the adjacent neighborhood, hundreds of owner-occupied houses were either converted to rooming houses or rental units, or were torn down to make way for apartment buildings. The ever increasing density of the adjacent neighborhood gave rise to problems of vehicular congestion, crime and inadequate municipal services.

To cope with these problems, a number of organizations came into being. Among these were the University Community Association which was founded in 1961 as a membership-based civic organizations for residents; the University District Organization, created in 1971 to be a neighborhood planning and development organization; the University Community Business Association, established in 1984 to be the voice of economic enterprise in the University District; and the University Area Commission, created in 1972 as an advisory commission to Columbus City Council. All of these groups have been supported by the university, local government and the major institutions in the community.

 For more information about the history of the University District check out Columbus Neighborhoods

[This historical summary is taken from A Guide to University District Community Organizations and Services, 1996.]