Road Trips

Photographs that don’t show the best of Columbus, Indiana

I have given Columbus, Indiana, short shrift on my road trips. It is well known, prized even, for its stunning architecture and public art. (See some of it here.) Yet every time I visit I miss most of it.

It’s because on my road trips I stick to the old roads — and Columbus is served by a great one, the Madison State Road. It is one of Indiana’s first highways, from the 1830s, connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio River at Madison. It enters Columbus from the north on old US 31 and exits to the south on State Road 7. Also, it’s well worth exploring US 31 and its old alignments south from town, as well as State Road 46 laterally across town and then through some of Indiana’s loveliest scenery.

So I’ve been to Columbus several times, but I always pass through the same sections of town. Next time I’ll make Columbus a destination, get off the main routes, and come back with art and architecture photographs. Until then, you’ll have to make do with these photos of the heart of Columbus’s downtown. These first shots, starting with the Bartholomew County Courthouse, are from a trip I made in 2008.

Bartholomew County Courthouse

At the time, Columbus’s downtown mall, The Commons, was being renovated. It’s right across the street from the courthouse, where State Road 46 intersects Washington Street.

Columbus, IN

This was my first visit to Columbus, and on the ground Washington Street felt like the main downtown drag. So I walked it for a couple blocks.

Columbus, IN

Downtown Columbus feels like any other Indiana downtown — except that it’s remarkably tidy and every building is occupied. Most small Indiana cities are not so fortunate, with crumbling facades and entire vacant blocks. What makes the difference is the excellent employment available in Columbus: Cummins Engine is headquartered here.

Columbus, IN

The Crump Theater stood around the corner on State Road 46, looking a little worse for the wear. Its facade is of porcelain steel and Vitrolite (pigmented structural glass) panels.

Columbus, IN

On a return visit this October, the Crump was in much the same overall condition even though the deteriorated details had changed. A missing Vitrolite panel had been replaced with a board painted the same color, a boarded-up portion of the entrance had been reopened, and its marquee was missing some panels.

The Crump

At least this time we got to see some of the public art. This photo is a detail of a work called Chaos 1 by Jean Tinguely, who was Columbus’s artist in residence in the early 1970s. Weiging seven tons and standing 30 feet high, it’s inside the renovated The Commons mall. I wish I had thought to photograph the mall exterior, as it looks very little now like it did in 2008. And I wish there had been enough room for me to back up to get this entire kinetic sculpture in my lens.


Looking out from the sculpture, The Commons is a lovely public space.


Remarkably little had changed on Washington Street since 2008. I’m sure some businesses have closed and others have opened, but the street looks just as tidy as ever.


As we walked through, many of the trees were tagged with yellow bands like these. I couldn’t discern a pattern, but all of the tags had words on them. I’m sure they were part of a temporary public-art installation.


This Washington Street alley is also a public art installation called Friendship Way. I hear it lights up at night.

Alley in Columbus

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom and Pentax K10D, 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA

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History, Photography, Preservation

Goodbye Rife’s Market

Word reached me the other day that Rife’s Market, in the Grandview neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, has closed. It was a five-aisle mom-and-pop grocery that would have been a throwback even 30 years ago. Fortunately, I photographed it in 2012 while it was still operating.


I was shooting Kodak Tri-X in my Pentax ME with a good old 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens. My goodness, could I ever shoot that combo happily for the rest of my life. I got some good, gritty shots of Rife’s. My friend Alice and I walked by midafternoon, and then again at dusk.

Rife's Rife's

Curiosity took us inside. The butcher counter and produce section were right up front, filled with Ohio meats, fruits, and vegetables. Wandering the aisles for a minute, I found some Ohio-made potato chips. I love a good chip, so I bought a bag of each brand. One brand, Gold’n Krisp, was fried in lard. Oh lordy were they delicious.


I hear that Rife’s owners were ready to retire, but didn’t want the family store not to remain in the family, so they closed it. It’s got to be a ton of work to run such a store, for probably meager profit. But I imagine the family knew most of their customers by name. While I know not the first thing about the grocery business, and would probably stink at it, being part of a community’s fabric in that way appeals to me deeply.


How may stores like this could possibly remain around the country? Not enough, to be sure.


Captured: Rife’s Market


I visited my friend Alice in Columbus, Ohio, the weekend before last. We ended up taking in the galleries, thrift stores, and specialty shops along Grandview Ave. and 5th Ave. near the Upper Arlington neighborhood. Rife’s Market stands on the southeast corner of 5th and Grandview. It’s a real throwback – meat and produce in the front, a handful of shallow grocery aisles in the back. We went in mostly to have a look, but when confronted by a giant display of Ohio-made potato chips I couldn’t resist and bought a snack bag. I love a good potato chip. Most of what’s available at the grocery these days is all crunch and salt. You should be able to taste potato, too, and the fat used for frying should impart a slightly creamy mouth feel. I liked the little bag of Ballreich’s chips so much I went back later for a full-sized bag to take home. I also bought a bag of Gold’n Krisp chips, as the ingredient list on the back said they are fried in a blend of vegetable oil and lard! My arteries are cursing me, but holy cow are these chips delicious.

Twilight had fallen as I left Rife’s and headed for home. My Pentax ME hung around my neck, with the 50mm f/2 lens attached and some Kodak Tri-X 400 inside. That good Pentax glass and fast Kodak film let me make the most of the available light for this shot. I love how the grainy Tri-X makes this photo look like it could have been taken in 1962, not 2012.

Road Trips

The Main Street Bridge

Columbus, Ohio, has long been known for its beautiful bridges across the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers. Built in the early 20th century, these multi-span concrete arch bridges frequently had open spandrels and lovely decorative touches that helped create a vibrant and beautiful downtown.

And then, one by one, city officials started knocking them down and building new bridges. Only a couple of the old bridges remain. The truth was, many of these bridges were crumbling and needed to be either restored or replaced. City officials chose to replace, which of course made many in Columbus unhappy as those bridges were part of the city’s identity.

The 1937 Main Street Bridge, which carried the old National Road across the Scioto River, was among those razed. Because of its open spandrels and art deco design touches, its destruction was a real loss.

Calvin Sneed photo

At least the city commemorated this bridge by placing its builder’s and dedication plaques on a concrete marker at the replacement bridge’s west end.

Main Street Bridge, Columbus Main Street Bridge, Columbus

Fortunately for the people of Columbus, city officials intended the replacement bridges to have their own beauty and give a new look and feel to downtown. The Main Street Bridge was to be unique, with a grand arch soaring high above its two decks – one for motor vehicles, and one for pedestrians. Unfortunately, nobody was happy when the bridge cost $40 million more than budgeted and Columbus residents found themselves on the hook to pay for $15 million of the overage. The bridge was completed in 2010 and opened to one-way traffic. It was finally opened to two-way traffic two days before I visited it.

Main Street Bridge, Columbus

The arch is dramatic.

Main Street Bridge, Columbus

As I stood on the pedestrian deck with my camera, a steady stream of bicyclists rode by. I waited for several minutes for a break in the action, as I generally prefer my road and bridge shots to be free of cars, bicycles, and people so you can really see the road or bridge. (It does sometimes occur to me that the shot would be more photographically interesting with cars, bicycles, and people in them.) Notice how the pedestrian deck is higher than the motor-vehicle deck.

Main Street Bridge, Columbus

I run afoul of many of my fellow bridgefans when I say that if the old bridge had to be replaced, this is just the kind of bridge to build in its place. 100 years from now, assuming Columbus is wise enough to maintain it well, I say that city residents will feel proud of this and the other new bridges, because they will long have been part of the city’s identity.

Main Street Bridge, Columbus

Speaking of other new bridges, this is the new Rich Street Bridge under construction. It is meant to replace the old Town Street Bridge, built in 1917 to replace, as best as I can tell, an earlier bridge at Rich Street.

Rich Street Bridge, Columbus

After crossing the Main Street Bridge, the National Road follows Starling Street north to Broad Street, where it turns left and rejoins US 40.

On the ground, I thought Starling Street was closed. But now that I reflect on it, this was probably neighboring Belle Street.

Starling Street

Regardless, because so many other streets in downtown Columbus were closed because of bridge construction and associated reroutings, I couldn’t get my car anywhere near the Main Street Bridge to drive over it. After driving around confused for fifteen minutes, to great relief I finally found Broad Street and followed it across the Scioto River to where the National Road met it and assumed its path out of town.

Are you enjoying this trip down Ohio’s National Road? I’ve driven the road across all five of its states. Read everything I’ve written about the National Road.

Road Trips

Stepping back in time for an overnight stay

By the time I reached greater Columbus, I could see that I had left the rugged terrain of eastern Ohio behind. The road tracked straight, and except for a US 40 bypass of tiny Etna, the old and abandoned alignments had all dried up. But what central Ohio lacks in old alignments, it makes up for in roadside sights. I couldn’t believe all the old motels still operating, and still in good exterior condition, along US 40. You’d think it was still the 1950s!

I came upon the Homestead Motel first as I entered Columbus from the east. Check out what its sign looks like lit. Its sign is similar to the one for Baker’s Motel on the National Road in Norwich. But this isn’t the Homestead’s first sign; this page shows postcards of two other signs this motel has used, as well as cards of other Columbus motels.

Homestead Motel

The Capital Motel is next. Check out its sign when lit.

Capital Motel

Of all the old motels I saw in Columbus, I liked the sign for the Brookside Motel the best. The top once rotated, and the other side of the top is white letters on black. (See it here; see it lit here.) This motel was originally the Brookside Tour-O-Tel and had a different sign saying so.

Brookside Motel

Perhaps the best known of Columbus’s old motels, the 40 Motel is way out on Columbus’s west side. Here’s its sign when lit.

40 Motel

A nice bit of neon identifies the 40 Motel’s office, too.

40 Motel

If you like roadside neon, check out some I found while out and about in Indiana herehere, and here.