The Other Side of the Tracks


A map of Columbus, Indiana, shows some of the major slum areas from the late nineteenth century into the middle of the twentieth century.

Following are a few excerpts from my forthcoming book, “Wicked Columbus, Indiana,”  which I anticipate being available late winter 2017. These excerpts are from the chapter titled “The Other Side of the Tracks,” detailing the exploits, excitement and foul living conditions of some of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods from the 1860s to the 1960s. Fortunately, all these areas got cleaned up.


As with most cities, Columbus has had its share of downtrodden neighborhoods over the years. For most of its history, these areas that housed the poorest residents and that were plagued by higher crime rates than other parts of the city were situated along the west and south sides of Columbus.

Smokey Row, Jug Row, Happy Hollow and Death Valley all pretty much fell into this pattern of substandard housing and higher crime rates.”


The condemnation of the local Smoky Row continued: “The mid-night orgies held in some of the so-called houses and cellars of the Row, include draughts from the flowing bowl of the vilest whiskey, demonic dances by the squeaking of an old fiddle, unhallowed embraces between those loathsome with disease, and other things whose mention should not fall on the cultivated ear.”


Public outrage demanded that Happy Hollow be cleaned up.

“Some of these boys and girls claim that they do not know any better,” read The Republican on February 26, 1909. “They have lived in poverty and squalor all their lives. Their homes are the meanest sorts of hovels and they learned to swear and blackguard as they learned to talk. Something ought to be done to clean up that end of town and put an end to the youthful tragedies which have been coming to light so rapidly the past few months.”


“The conditions along Jug Row as set forth by some of the witnesses were revolting in the extreme and almost beyond belief that they could exist among civilized people and in a community that made even the slightest pretentions at morality,” The Republican reported, adding that some people of high rank and respectability were involved. “The wild debauches in which the denizens of that locality have indulged puts anything of that kind in previous years to shame.”


The rat problem was horrific in Death Valley, and they came out of nearby fields and wooded areas when the floods hit. In April 1939, during another bout of high water, Mel Christopher, in charge of the dog pound, said that his brother-in-law, Alex Baker, had killed 140 rats in the neighborhood and that hundreds of others had gotten away.

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