Ohio Capitals

I enjoyed researching the migrating state capitals of Alabama and Georgia. Why not try another state? Yes, I think I will focus on Ohio. I discovered an interesting website in the process too, Ohio History Central "researched and written by staff at the Ohio Historical Society" It seemed to be a well-written site in plain English; simplified without being dumb. Nice.

Ohio’s Wandering Capital

Ohio History Central listed four capitals.

  1. Chillicothe: 1803 – 1809
  2. Zanesville: 1809 – 1812
  3. Chillicothe: 1812 – 1816
  4. Columbus: 1816 – present

The same Chillicothe site served as a capital city twice so maybe that counted as one. Also Ohio formed from the Northwest Territory so maybe we should include the territorial capitals (one of which was Chillicothe). Thus, I might make a case that Ohio had three, four or five capitals. What was the point of splitting hairs amongst friends? Let’s examine the progression.


Campus Martius, Marietta, Ohio

Marietta served as the capital of the Northwest Territory from 1788 to 1799. It might be difficult to conceptualize Ohio as "northwest" within the current boundaries of the United States, however that was an apt description when the nascent nation first expanded beyond the Atlantic seaboard. That was literally the northwestern frontier.

Areas beyond the Ohio River attract settlement in the late Eighteenth Century, and the Ohio Company of Associates formed in 1786 to exploit that possibility. It acquired land from the government and recruited pioneers willing to move deep into the wilderness. Marietta was formed in 1788 as a beachhead, the first permanent Non-native settlement in Ohio. The larger area acquired an official designation too, the Northwest Territory. Marietta became its capital.

Relations with the Native American inhabitants soured, devolved into the Northwest Indian War, and left frontier settlements vulnerable to attack. Residents of Marietta constructed Campus Martius, a civilian fortification, and it provided a safe space to govern the territory.

Settlers dismantled Campus Martius after hostilities abated except for the personal blockhouse of Rufus Putnam. Gen. Putnam was instrumental in the formation of the Ohio Company and led many of the pioneers to Marietta. He continued to live in his home at the original Campus Martius site, the earliest capital of the Northwest Territory, for the remainder of his life. Later the Campus Martius Museum of the Northwest Territory incorporated the old Rufus Putnam home at its original spot, preserving it in perpetuity. I couldn’t find a Creative Commons image of the house although I did see a good copyright protected image that showed how the museum protected Putnam’s fragile wooden structure within a safe cocoon; a building inside of a building.


Ohio's First State Capitol
Ohio's First State Capitol by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
via Creative Commons via Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
NOTE: This is a replica constructed in 1940

Ohio History Central noted that Chillicothe "grew quickly, becoming a center of political influence within the Northwest Territory." Ultimately Chillicothe eclipsed Marietta in stature and importance to became the territorial capital in 1800. The territorial capital stood there in 1803 when Ohio earned its statehood and Chillicothe became the new state’s capital by default. Today the City of Chillicothe proclaims itself "Ohio’s First Capital City."

The original Statehouse became the Ross County courthouse once the capital moved away from Chillicothe, although it was razed in 1852. The current Ross County courthouse (map) stands on the same spot. The local newspaper, the Chillicothe Gazette, also built a replica of the old Statehouse for its office space in 1940 (and still occupies it).

The capital moved to Zanesville briefly, returned to Chillicothe and then moved permanently to Columbus in 1816.


Former Statehouse, Zanesville, Ohio

Zanesville served as the Ohio capitol for barely a blink of the eye, 1809 to 1812. The explanation "for this change was an attempt by Democratic-Republicans in Ohio to solidify their control over eastern Ohio" and it was included "as part of a state legislative compromise to get a bill passed."

Remarkable Ohio noted,

In 1809 both Zanesville and Putnam (then a separate town across the Muskingum River) vied to become the capital city of Ohio. Zanesville erected a new county courthouse and Putnam erected a new school building – both towns hoping that the state legislature would find their building suitable for the state house. When the legislature settled on Zanesville, the Putnam building, known as the Stone Academy, was used as a school and as a meeting place.

That "new" Muskingum County courthouse served as the Ohio Statehouse, then reverted to county courthouse once again when the capital moved. It was later demolished. The current Muskingum County courthouse found much greater longevity, remaining at the original site of the former Statehouse since 1877.

The capital returned to Chillicothe.


Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, Ohio

The second incarnation of Chillicothe didn’t stick. Legislators considered Columbus a better central location and more convenient for Ohio’s growing population. The final relocation occurred in 1816.

The initial Statehouse in Columbus was a "modest two-story building on the corner of High and State Streets." The General Assembly soon outgrew this structure and various outbuildings nearby. They needed a proper statehouse. Ohio constructed its current Statehouse between 1839 and 1861, with the help of convict labor from the state penitentiary.

Where’s the dome? It doesn’t have a dome. That’s a cupola: "One of the Statehouse’s most distinctive exterior features is the low, conical roof atop the two-story cupola, positioned where most viewers expect to see a dome." Well, if the absence of a dome had to be explained, 12MC considered, it probably needed one.

One Reply to “Ohio Capitals”

  1. We were also domeless on the Oklahoma capitol building for the first 80 years or so, but ours was built specifically to accommodate a dome, which was finally completed in 2002.

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