During the late 1870s, Columbus banker and entrepreneur Joseph A. Jeffrey turned an inventor’s idea for undercutting coal into a booming manufacturer of mining machinery.
By the turn of the century, Jeffrey’s company, the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, became a leader in its industry and an important part of Columbus’ economy, employing thousands of individuals at the height of its operations.
Joseph A. Jeffrey
In his success, Jeffrey remained generous and civically minded. He made numerous investments in the community through employee benefit programs, including offering financial assistance to employees to help them buy homes. In 1919, with a gift of $100,000—more than $1.8 million in today’s dollars—Jeffrey established a fund in partnership with the City of Columbus to be used to beautify or improve the city, supporting nonprofit organizations in Columbus and Franklin County.
More than a century later, thanks to Jeffrey’s foresight and philanthropy, the community continues to benefit from the Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment Fund. The fund has grown from the original $100,000 endowment to more than $3.3 million. In the last 25 years alone, the fund has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants throughout the community.
In 1980, The Columbus Foundation was selected by the City of Columbus to manage the Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment Fund, where it remains today. In 2019, The Columbus Foundation commemorated the centennial of the fund’s creation by awarding the City of Columbus a grant to support tree plantings and streetscape improvements along E 2nd Avenue in Milo-Grogan, near where the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company once stood.
An urban tree nursery in Linden, maintained by Green Columbus.
“The Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment Fund has left an indelible mark on our region,” said Matt Martin, Director of Community Research at The Columbus Foundation. “The Columbus Foundation is honored to help continue Mr. Jeffrey’s legacy by supporting projects that beautify our community and improve the quality of life for all who call central Ohio home.”
Over the years, the fund has supported a variety of unique and innovative projects that beautify public spaces, enhance tree canopy, promote public art, improve public infrastructure, and maintain community gardens, among other things. For example, in 2020, a grant to the Short North Foundation was used to help transform a portion of the Olentangy Trail by installing a series of murals on and around a tunnel under State Route 315 near Harrison West. The murals, created by local artist Ashley Pierce, celebrate the artistic legacy of the Short North while adding vibrancy and beauty to the trail.
The Slyh Run Pedestrian Bridge at Cranbrook Elementary School.
Another community improvement project supported by the Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment Fund is the construction of the Slyh Run Pedestrian Bridge at Cranbrook Elementary School. The project, which was developed and overseen by Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW), helped connect the Cranbrook neighborhood and increase access to greenspace, playgrounds, and nearby bike trails. The 60-foot-long pedestrian bridge opened to the public in 2021.
Finally, one organization to receive multiple grants from the Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment
Fund in recent years is Green Columbus. The nonprofit—which oversees Earth Day Columbus, the largest volunteer-driven Earth Day service event in the country—has received grants to support Earth Day Columbus beautification efforts and the organization’s urban tree nurseries in Linden and the Hilltop. Trees grown at the nurseries are distributed at no cost to members of the community. Since launching the program, Green Columbus has distributed more than 150,000 trees and plants.
“Whether it’s planting trees or community gardens, or transforming public spaces with improved facilities or public art, local nonprofits are helping to make Columbus a beautiful place to live, work, and play,” said Martin. “Through the Joseph A. Jeffrey Endowment Fund, we look forward to supporting these efforts well into the future.”