German Village is a historic neighborhood just south of downtown Columbus, Ohio. It was settled by a large number of German immigrants in the mid 1800s, who at one time comprised as much as a third of the population of the entire city. On December 30, 1974, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. On November 28, 1980, its boundaries were expanded.
In 1796, Congress appropriated the Refugee Lands for individuals who had supported the Colonial cause in the American Revolution. By 1802, an American Revolution veteran named John McGowan claimed 328 acres, most of what would become the German Village. As German immigrants arrived, McGowan sold tracts of land to them. By 1814, the German Village found its roots, originally called “die alte sud ende” (the old south end), and German immigrants contributed to building the first statehouse.
By 1830, massive German immigration to the city had occurred. The most influential German newspaper in 1843 was “Der Westbote.” Many would serve in the American Civil War, thus gaining the universal respect of the local citizens. By 1865, one-third of Columbus’s population was German and the community was flourishing. They built up the local neighborhood, including many businesses, schools and churches. The schools were so superior that English-speaking residents of Columbus chose to attend them. German-American George Karb would become mayor of the city, twice, at the end of the 19th century, and again in the early 20th century.
The area was in serious decline throughout the first half of the 20th century due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. What ensued was the teaching of German in public schools being banned, and German textbooks burned. German street names were changed, and Schiller Park was renamed Washington Park.
Further decline occurred later due to the closing of the local breweries during Prohibition, another response to the anti-German sentiment. After the war, the south end was zoned for manufacturing, leading to the erosion of the area’s residential feel. In World War Two, the street car tracks and wrought iron fences were confiscated for the war effort. By the 1950s, the area had become a slum. The city then demolished one-third of the neighborhood.
Nearing complete destruction, Frank Fetch defied the common wisdom and purchased a house on Wall Street, determined to rebuild the neighborhood. Fetch would create the German Village Society. In June of 1960, the society hosted the first Haus und Garten Tour, which attracted visitors and the local media to eight restored homes and two gardens. Today the tour is one of the city’s most popular events. Frank Fetch Park, located on Beck Street in the German Village, bears the name of the man who it honors.
Concerned citizens managed to save its historic architecture from demolition in the 1960s by successfully lobbying for a local commission. The German Village Commission has power over external changes made to buildings. The Society also petitioned and received a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The German Village Society presently has nearly 1,000 preservationist-minded members who are dedicated to maintaining the historic quality of the buildings and neighborhood. As a result, German Village is currently considered one of the most desirable areas to live in the city, if not the premiere place in Columbus to live. More than 1,600 buildings have been restored since 1960, and it is credited as one of the most premiere restoration districts in the world. By the 1980s, the restoration was near complete.
The average home price in the neighborhood is $377,450 and several are well over $1 million. The Village has a single strip zoned commercial strip along Livingston Avenue, and the rest of the neighborhood is mixed use. There is some concentration of businesses along Third Street, with locally owned restaurants—such as Katzinger’s Delicatessen—and the 32-room Book Loft bookstore, as well as the tall-steepled local landmark St. Mary Catholic Church, which was constructed in 1868. The Village is mostly a residential neighborhood of sturdy, red-brick homes with wrought iron fences along tree-lined, brick-paved streets. The German Village Guest House has been recognized as one of the best in the Midwest by the New York Post, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.