It’s no secret that The Ohio State University student body is anything but small. With over fifty thousand students the campus is exploding with people from every nook and cranny. But the classes and population are not the only things that give definition to the culture of the university.
High Street draws a line through Columbus, cutting right into the center of campus. While graduations have come and passed, and the revolving door of students has never stopped this one length of land has always been prominent. Offering everything from clothing shops to dining to nightlife, with an occasional tattoo parlor, hookah bar, and record shop in between it would appear High Street has it all. For Columbus it has become the one stop destination for outings and adventure, throughout multiple decades.
Quintin Lindsmith, alum from OSU’s 1981 class, closely links his college experience with the landmark street. For Lindsmith the expansion of the street is a reminder of the range of people because of it. “No other single street cross-sects as many diverse areas – starting with a northern tap on Delaware County, down through affluent Worthington, through the older suburbs of Beechwold/Clintonville, through the massive OSU college community, through the Short North, including Italian Village, through the Convention/Arena District, through Downtown, along the justice centers of the county and municipal courts, on through German Village, and then on through the South side,” Lindsmith gauges.
More than the vast length and diversity Lindsmith is awed by the High Street of today versus during his college days. Now proclaiming many fine restaurants this was not always the case. “If you went to OSU in the late 70’s and early 80’s, things were at their worst for the students who attended then. A pretty nice place had just been trashed by the 60’s and early-70’s crowd. Bick walkways on campus were paved over with asphalt so that protestors could not tear out the bricks and throw them. Riots accelerated flight to the suburbs leaving behind hollowed neighborhoods around campus. Crime statistics rose literally every year – every year – and never leveled or went down.”
Students today, like current OSU graduating senior Patrick Murphy get to experience the college on an upswing according to Lindsmith, who reflected that those before the late 60’s and now have benefitted from an amazing upturn. For Murphy the location is the greatest tie to the student community, and in contrast of the early 80’s, one of the safer streets to maneuver around.
“My favorite thing about High Street is probably all the people you run into that you know. With OSU being such a large campus (both number of people and size of the campus), people would think you would hardly run into people, but that is not true at all, and most of that occurs on High Street,” Murphy said.
The apparent and inevitable connections made by classmates in passing while on a walk to class expand on night’s out and afternoons shopping. Murphy emphasized that the only change he would like to see along the long strip would be fewer vacancies. The more options, on top of the current myriad of options, the better.
While students like Murphy have come to see High Street as common ground for locals and OSU during their college career, some others have watched it evolve for much longer. Senior Director of Off Campus Student Services, Willie Young, began working for OSU twenty-one years ago. In his time on and around High Street he has seen a lot. However, one thing he always associates with the bustling environment is what it once was. Now with every bar a stone’s throw away from the next it is hard to imagine that there were once just thirty-two bars throughout, according to Young.
“The stores, apartments and Gateway have emerged. All of the old bars are gone. High Street is still alive with traffic, locals, youth and visitors, and businesses . Papa Joe’s is gone but you can still find “some kegs and eggs” on before the football games,” Young said.
Young has also witnessed the camaraderie and union of students as described by Murphy. “In June on ‘Senior Crawl’ night 6-7000 students initially walk up and down High Street to socialize, visit with friends for the last time and culminate OSU experience.”
Now that the ashes of the old bars have been placed over by new complexes like the Gateway Young didn’t feel much had changed in regards to the sentiment of the street. It remains a “magnet for the many.”
While current students may not have the same nostalgic spectrum of Lindsmith and Young, they certainly have their own connection. Sarah Wagner fellow senior classmate of Murphy finds the main strip down campus to be a place of unity. As Wagner has found the campus connection to be a “happening” one where all students can find a desired outlet.
“High Street is the central station of campus and offers a place for everyone to come together. OSU would not be the same without it,” Wagner said.
But in spite of the magnitude of OSU, its student population is not the only group navigating the array of High Street’s offerings. As Young and Lindsmith both confirmed, it has always been a means for the masses. Columbus Historical Society’s Associate Director Heather Jones offers a similar perspective about the range of the street and its visitors. “There are a variety of ways it contributes to each different neighborhood it runs through.”
The undeniable link to campus students isn’t the only focus along the path. As Jones reminded there are many other stops along the way. “The Statehouse celebrates it’s sesquicentennial this year, the Great Southern (Westin) Hotel is also historic. Sullivant Hall on the OSU campus is the original home to the Ohio Historical Society. There are many other buildings along the stretch that are historic.”
Yet like Young recalled, change of scenery is unavoidable. “Parts have fared well, parts
have gone through decline and revitalization. The Union Station contributed greatly to the over streetscape and vitality of the area surrounding it. Now the convention center also draws people to the area,” Jones reflected.
Despite the wear of the years Young sounded confident in the belief that the well-grounded street will always attract. “High Street is a “lifeline”, a point of destination for the city that attracts visitors throughout the world. High Street will always have the traffic, the people and its culture; and most importantly will have the football crowds.”
For decades more it will remain a place to walk, to live, to listen, to learn, and to enjoy, Young said.