A Century Later: Ranking Columbus Neighborhoods by Wealth

In 1918, the neighborhood of Columbus’ economic and social elite was Franklin Park. Today, the neighborhood has a lower than average median income. This familiar story of neighborhood change can be told throughout the city. A very specific data set from 1918, however, allows a unique perspective into the ranked order of neighborhoods by wealth—a proxy for where the city’s power brokers chose to live at the time.

Roderick D. McKenzie

Roderick D. McKenzie, a notable scholar in Sociology and part of the Chicago School, completed a detailed study of local life in Columbus in 1918 as part of his dissertation. The document contains a fascinating set of maps, depicting the spatial arrangement of racial and ethnic groups, population mobility, social dependents and delinquents, and—yes—economic status. To measure economic status, McKenzie used the Personal Property Returns of electors (meaning a qualified and eligible voter) as a proxy to measure household wealth. McKenzie explains the rationale for this choice:

In order to bring into relief the various levels of economic distribution of the population of Columbus, a measure of comparative economic status was sought. It was finally decided to take the average per elector tax returns on household furniture as a standard of rating. Household furniture returns are listed from the home address rather than from the down-town office, and, therefore, furnish a territorial distribution of this sort of property. The returns were calculated by wards and the totals divided by the number of registered electors for the same year in each ward. The measure of economic status here adopted is not without its shortcomings. In the first place the ward is not a homogeneous economic area. It frequently includes the extremes of wealth and poverty. This is true, for example, with respect to the sixth ward, the eastern end of which contains some of the most luxuriant homes in the city, while the western corner represents a broken-down colored section.

Personal Property Returns (PPRs) were filed by households in the early 20th century. Homes with less than a certain amount were exemption from taxation.

The map demonstrates that the Olde Town East (Ward 4) and Franklin Park (Ward 5) sections of town were the wealthiest, according to this measure. Considering the grandeur of homes in those areas, this isn’t surprising. The slideshow below showcases some historic scenes from the Olde Town East and Franklin Park neighborhoods. Check out the