Vintage Film & Old Photos of Columbus, Ohio

Columbus Ohio

Columbus has been the state capital of Ohio since the war of 1812, and the city’s university opened in 1873. We can’t take you back that far, but these selected images show you what the city looked like over the past century and more.

In March 1913, a terrible storm brought heavy winds and 6 -11 inches of rain to the state of Ohio in just two weeks. It caused massive flooding that saw 40,000 homes destroyed. Unfortunately, 426 people also lost their lives.

After the storm, many sites across Columbus were rebuilt. As the twentieth century brought change and population expansion, office blocks and later apartment blocks grew ever higher.

Memories of the 1913 Ohio Flood

1913 Great Flood Columbus, Ohio, posted to YouTube by Michael Riser

The memories of Martha Louise Riser (July 26 1902 – October 3 1988). Accompanied by black and white photos taken of the event.

Martha Louise Baxter, who later married Mr Riser, was a survivor of the 1913 Great Flood. Her grandson Michael Riser made a voice recording as she talked about her memories of this significant event.

On 25th March 1913 the levee on the Scioto River broke. It caused devastation to the village of Franklinton, Columbus, as the neighbourhood disappeared under nine to 17 feet of floodwaters.

Thousands of local people suddenly found themselves homeless. Many sheltered in trees or on rooftops, waiting for rescue boats to arrive. Martha’s family fled with few possessions and no food, which left them desperately hungry in the following days.

Nearly a hundred people in the neighbourhood perished. Martha talks of a building catching fire because of the gas being left on, and a dangerous junction where boats tipped over.

1950s Columbus

Ohio, 1950s, posted to YouTube by travelfilmarchive

This is an excerpt from an episode of “This Land of Ours”. Although it’s looking at the State of Ohio, the excerpt opens in Columbus.

We see images of downtown buildings and streets, the busy city university, and an agricultural fair.

1960s Columbus

Scenes around Columbus, OH ca1965, posted to YouTube by Gothpapa

In 1964-65, Gothpapa and his brother filmed street scenes of everyday life in downtown Columbus. It includes the deep excavations at the State House site where the underground parking garage was under construction.

Later scenes include the library, supermarket, motel, park, parade and graduation.

You’ll see lots of construction workers, local residents, old vehicles, and streets which have changed beyond all recognition.

The footage is accompanied by a soundtrack of Chuck Selby and his orchestra performing at Valley Dale. Chuck Selby was Ghospapa’s uncle.

Columbus High Street in 1973

Columbus Neighborhoods: Columbus’ High Street in 1973, posted to YouTube by WOSU Public Media

In 1973, five photographers spent a year taking photographs of the High Street. They also used film to record people’s stories.

At the time High Street started with a dirt road in open countryside to the south, went through the centre of the city and continued out to what was then open countryside in the north. 

Since High Street is several miles long and traverses through different neighbourhoods, the images are an important record of the communities who lived there. The recorded interviews captured tales from the early decades of the twentieth century.

When these photos were taken, retail units and businesses were owned in large part by local people. Shabby accommodation provided valuable living space to the poor, disabled and old. There’s mention of the police regularly hitting ‘winos’ with their ‘sticks’.

The 1970s fashions of the university area are entertaining.

This is a highly entertaining and informative short film.

Move to Columbus in 1980

Columbus 1980 Relocation Film, posted to YouTube by American Electric Power

In 1980, American Electric Power (AEP) moved its corporate headquarters from New York City to Columbus. Employees planning to relocate to Ohio watched a long film about the reasons to live there, of which this is an excerpt.

It opens with Pete White, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He’s speaking from his office at 2 Broadway. There’s a big phone on his big desk, and his briefcase on the cabinet behind. But no computer is seen!

There are dozens of locations shown, and hundreds of local people appear.

Rena Cobury, President of the Columbus Board of Realtors, reads out her pre-prepared segment. She moved to the city from New York fifteen years earlier.

The average price for a home in the city in 1978 was $44,300. Commuting to downtown took no more than 30 minutes from any of the suburbs.

She gives a wonderfully in depth summary of each part of the city, including the local population and the house prices. All are accompanied by good images of typical houses in each area. A one bedroom apartment rental started at $175 per month. You’d be paying $70-90,000 to own a house in Arlington.

Then there’s a look at the wide range of religious sites, which extended far beyond Christian denominations.

One local resident explains the good shopping outlets available. He prefers it to Boston, because you can go shopping on a Sunday.

A 1985 Drive Around Columbus

Driving in Columbus, Ohio – 1985 – pt. 1 of 2!!, posted to YouTube by videoholicreturns

The man recording the footage spent three years living in the city as a student, and came back fifteen years later for a trip down memory lane in 1985. He remarks how much has changed. Luckily he also brought a video camera, and talks about the locations as they pass them. 

Ignore the technical glitches. Technology has come a long way since the Panasonic 1 piece VHS camcorder.

Then there’s the second part of the drive:

September 1998

A High Definition Look at Downtown Columbus – September 9, 1998, posted to YouTube by WBNS 10TV

Hundreds of downtown office workers look smart as they make their way into work on a bright sunny morning.

Old Photos of Columbus

This fascinating collection of old photos of Columbus tells the story of a city rebuilding itself after the great flood of 1913.

Downtown Columbus Ohio 1913 to today, posted to YouTube by Ron Milner Jr

The devastating flood of 1913 hit the downtown area as well as the surrounding neighbourhoods. 93 people lost their lives in Columbus, while hundreds died in other Ohio communities.

A building boom started just 11 years later.  On the corner of Broad and Front Streets, the art deco style American Insurance Union Citadel rose 47 storeys and 555 feet into the air. Today, it’s known as the iconic LeVeque Tower.

By the 1950s through the 1960s downtown Columbus started to look a bit shabby. Then in the early 1970s a construction boom started, which saw much of the downtown area change before the mid 1990s.

The James A Rhodes state office tower, or the Rhodes Tower, was named after Ohio’s longest serving governor. Construction started in 1971 and lasted for two years, with the official opening taking place in 1974. The 66 million dollar building had 41 storeys, rising 629 feet into the air.

In the twenty-first century, central city living has seen a revival. Therefore, new apartments and condos now tower up above the busy city streets.

Discover more vintage films of locations across the United States

Categorised as Ohio