The confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers is just northwest of North Bank Park, and the rivers were the major attraction for both Native American and white settlers. The river and its tributaries were the life-blood to the region providing drinking water, food, and businesses, as well as limited transportation. The floodplains provided fertile ground for growing crops.
Even though the river was a major reason for locating in Central Ohio, it also brought problems. More than a dozen major floods ravaged the region, and along with floods came disease and pests.
As the community grew, the residents turned their backs to the river and filled it with raw sewage, garbage, and industrial waste. Soon, only the poorest, and those who had to, lived near the river. By the mid to late 1800s, the river was lined with tenement slums, taverns, warehouses, and manufacturing facilities. Huge manufacturing plants such as Union Fork and Hoe and Columbus Buggy Company were located in the area just north of Spring Street.
Civic leaders began to recognize the potential benefits of the river in the early 1900s, and developed a plan to reclaim the area. It called for major waterfront parks, government buildings, and entertainment venues. Before the plan could be implemented, one of the most devastating floods in Columbus history occurred in 1913.
The plan was delayed, but eventually huge sections of abandoned and run-down buildings were demolished. The river was widened and deepened with a series of dams to minimize flooding. Only a portion of the civic center plan was constructed, including major structures such as Central High School (now COSI), the Federal Building, City Hall, and the Ohio Supreme Court Building (formerly the Ohio Departments Building).
North Bank Park is part of a modern day effort to reclaim the riverfront and make it more available to the public and to promote downtown activities.