When President Lincoln visited Columbus in 1859, the city was already participating in debates about what the country should do with slavery, what would happen to the existing Whig Party in light of the emerging new Republican party, and if war came, how would Columbus, as the capital of Ohio, respond. While it was the capital of a state that was totally committed to the Union, the city occasionally showed its older immigration roots. The west side and old Franklinton neighborhood had been founded by immigrants from Kentucky and Virginia while the north side and Worthington had been founded by migrations from New England and the Western Reserve.
Many of the recruits were the most recent of immigrants to Columbus from Germany and Ireland. Why did German and Irish immigrants volunteer? As immigrants to a new home, it was a chance to show patriotism, especially for people who had seen tyranny and despotism of Europe’s old orders or even serfdom in Russia. It was also a chance to prove that one was a real American. Nativist political groups who favored those with older Anglo-Saxon roots, opposed immigrants (and Jews and Catholics in particular).
An example of the “coming of age” of the German community was evident when one looked at how many Germans were on city council or who became mayor, but the physical evidence that remains is the Great Southern/Westin Hotel, the Southern Theater, and the commercial block that runs on the east side of South High from Main to Mound Streets. Financed by German Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish business interests, working together (but with an Irish contractor), the Great Southern Hotel, built in the late 1890s was the crown jewel of the city, visited by famous dignitaries and stayed in by U.S. Presidents–and it was fireproof. The Chittenden Hotel had burned down a year before, and Columbus Germans wanted to build the first fireproof hotel with all amenities—an adjacent theater that sported the new bare electric lights (as did the hotel’s ballroom), a rooftop beer garden, an oyster ball, and a discreet ladies’ entrance on the north side of the hotel lobby.
With four German language newspapers, German public schools, well-known and respected German businessmen (Lazarus, Schlee, Hoster, Born, Hartman, Schoedinger, and others), a Lutheran college, Germans hotels and commercial buildings, our German singing societies, Germans had proved that their industriousness and frugality had helped create a city on the verge of modern times.