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Photo Credit: City of Columbus
Photo credit: Steve Heselden

by Ed Lentz, Director Emeritus

The Columbus Municipal Light Plant was constructed in 1903 near the meeting place of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, in the heart of Ohio’s capital city. The plant served the city for over seven decades, until it became outmoded and closed in 1977. The building has stood vacant for 40 years but will soon become a classic example of a building reborn.

The need for electric light, thus the creation of the Municipal Light Plant, became increasingly apparent throughout much of Columbus’ early history.

The beginning of the Civil War saw Columbus, a town of 18,000 people, welcome more than 25,000 troops. Over the course of the year, thousands more flooded the city. To provide light for its new inhabitants, streetlights lit by coal oil were placed throughout the downtown area. Lit and extinguished by lamplighters, these lights provided dim illumination, and occasionally needed to be supplemented by a gas light.

Gas lighting of homes and businesses became increasingly popular in the 1840s, but was limited to structures rather than streets. An unusual exception was made in 1888, when the Grand Army of the Republic brought 250,000 people to Columbus. Wooden arches illuminated by gas lights stood on High Street and reminded the public that a cheaper and more effective form of street lighting was necessary. Manmade lighting presented itself as the solution to this problem.

After its construction in 1903, the Columbus Municipal Light Plant provided power to many streetlights as well as other homes and businesses in the downtown Columbus area. The Municipal Light Plant continued to give power to its customers and clients until 1977, when the city decided to buy electric power for its customers rather than produce its own.

The Municipal Light Plant sat empty and unused for decades. The plant’s only good fortune was that it sat away from downtown and was not in the way of redevelopment projects. Now its rehabilitation and reuse is an inspiring demonstration that buildings can indeed be reborn.