Ask Rufus: Strolling By means of an Architectural Historical past of Columbus


Rufus Ward

T.The South Side Historic District in Columbus is an architectural gem with approximately 250 homes on the National Register of Historic Places. It offers a place where you can walk through the western part of the district through 200 years of architectural history in less than an hour. The neighborhood offers a delightful array of the architecture, history and stories of Columbus.

A 45-minute walk through the western portion of the Historic District reveals more than 40 homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places, six homes listed on the Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey, a Mississippi Landmark National Literary Landmark and a National Historic Landmark. Start the walk next to the Welcome Center in the 1875 Tennessee Williams home on the corner of Main Street and Third Street. This was the first home of playwright Tennessee Williams and is a national literary landmark. The city of Columbus planted roots on this and the adjacent city blocks. Andrew Jackson’s Military Road, which was surveyed in the summer of 1817 and completed in 1820, had its ferry crossing where the Tombigbee Bridges at the foot of Main Street now cross the river.

Although the first house was built in 1817, Columbus didn’t take on the appearance of a city until the summer of 1819. Since the Tombigbee River was believed to be the state line and Columbus was in Alabama, it was Alabama Legislation on December 6, 1819 that recognized the new settlement as the City of Columbus. This changed when the survey of the Mississippi / Alabama state line was completed in late 1820.

On January 3, 1821, the governor of Mississippi announced that Columbus was indeed in Mississippi. On February 10, 1821, the city of Columbus, Alabama officially became the City of Columbus, Mississippi. A public school, the Franklin Academy, was also established in February 1821 and William Cocke became President of the Board of Trustees. Cocke corresponded with his old friend in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, about the school and its students. These included men and women and children from two Choctaw families.

Visit Columbus ‘office on Third Street South is roughly where Columbus’ first log home was built in 1817. In 1820 Spirus Roach had a shop and a tavern there. Because Roach and his children had long, pointed noses, the Choctaw Indians who traded with him called him Possum. When they went to Columbus they talked about going to Possum.

William Cocke lived in a large log cabin until 1819, which is now the Tennessee Williams House.

From this Columbus founding place we go south on Third Street. On the northwest corner of Third Street and College Street (originally called Washington Street) is a circa 1880 Italian-style house. The house presents elements that one would find in an Italian villa. On the southeast corner is the circa 1825 Ole Homestead and east of that is St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on College Street.

The church is a Gothic Revival structure reminiscent of a medieval English country church. Construction began in 1854 with the purchase of plans from a Mr. Humpage. These were very similar to the “Ecclesiastically Correct Church” plans published by Rev. John Hopkins. They were presented to Columbus architect James Lull for review and cost estimation before construction began.

Problems arose with “unfaithful contractors (and) unreliable friends”. In the cotton season 1855/56, the low water in Tombigbee prevented the sale of cotton crops to Mobile. This created great difficulties for a local cotton industry and the construction of St. Pauls was suspended for a year. William O’Neal, another architect and contractor from Columbus, was hired to revise the construction plans and start work again. The church was completed in 1860.

On the corner is Ole Homestead, a local skyscraper that was likely built in 1825. It originally consisted of two rooms over two rooms overlooking Franklin (now Third) Street South and the Tombigbee River. Charles Abert is the first recorded owner of the property and appears to have either bought or built the house when he moved to Columbus in 1825. HS Bennett was a tenant who lived in the house from 1830 to 1835. He later represented Mississippi in Congress. It was bought in 1835 by John Kirk in Abert, who added an east wing and reoriented it to Washington (now College) Street. It’s one of the oldest skyscrapers in Mississippi and resembles Madam John’s Legacy, a French colonial house in New Orleans. It is also the oldest known building preserved within the original Columbus city limits.

One block south of College Street on the corner of Third Street and Third Avenue (Lafayette Street) are two historic houses opposite each other. On the northeast corner is the 1852 Greek Revival style Swoope House. The original porch was completely different and the current porch with square two-story pillars is believed to have been added in the 1940s after the Gone With The Wind came out and the family that lived there wanted their home to look more like the southern mansions in the movie.

Twelve Gables is across from the Swoope on the other side of Third Street. It is a Greek revival style used on a traditional house plan. It was built approx. 1837 and is the house where four ladies organized the Columbus Decoration Day ceremony in 1866. The house is named after its 12 dormers and gable windows.

One block south, Third Street meets Fourth Avenue (Bridge Street) and we are leaving the original Columbus city limits. On the southeast corner is Corner Cottage, which may have been built as early as 1830. It is an excellent example of the transition from the federal style to the Greek revival style. The house was probably enlarged approx. 1850 and today’s veranda replaced an earlier veranda in the mid-1880s. The house on the southwest corner combines Italian and Gothic elements and was built around 1859.

Fourth avenue became known as Bridge Street because the black engineer Horace King built the first Columbus bridge over the Tombigbee at the west end of the street in 1842. It was a wooden covered bridge that sloped down from the ridge of the river bank.

On Third and Fifth Avenues (Eliza Street) three classic houses adorn the corners. On the northeast corner is a circa 1914 brick Prairie style house. This was a style designed by architects from the so-called Prairie School in Chicago and made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright. Across the street on the northwest corner is an Italian villa-style house dating from around 1869. On the southwest corner is a Queen Ann style house with turrets. This is the classic style that was popular in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.

A Take a short detour one block east on Fifth Avenue at the corner of Fourth and Fifth Streets. Two houses are worth mentioning. On the northwest corner is the circa 1900 home of Captain Sam Kaye, a highly decorated pilot (from both the US and France) who commanded the first flight in Eddie Rickenbacker’s famous hat in the ring squadron during World War I. The house is also known as the Provost Home. On the southwest corner is the home of the well-known political figure William S. Barry from Mississippi from the mid-19th century, around 1838. Barry was Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives and US Congressman. The house was originally one story, the second floor was added later.

One block down on Third Street and Sixth Avenue (Margaret Street) is a Queen Ann house on the west corner and across the street, Whitehall, built by James Walton Harris in 1843. It is a heavy classical and masculine expression of Greek revival in the style of early Columbus architect James Lull. During the civil war, the basement was used as a hospital for a time and as a men’s center “drop in hanger” during World War II. Tennessee Williams’ mother played cards there and Upton Sinclair was known for partying there.

The house next to Whitehall was built by Harris as a wedding present for one of Harris’ daughters. Originally it was a story with the second floor added later.

On Second Street, we are greeted by White Arches on the southwest corner and The Colonnade on the northwest corner. White Arches was built around 1858 by Jeptha Vining Harris, a wealthy planter, lawmaker, and Confederate General. It’s a unique mix of Gothic Revival, Greek Revival and Towered Italianate.

Across the street, the colonnade is a Carolina side corridor house with a Greek Revival style facade. It was built around 1860. It was one of the last great Greek Revival style houses built in Columbus.

Walk north up Second Street and go back to the Visit Columbus offices, Lehmquen. 1838 The Greek Revival House is on the east or right side of the street. The house, though Greek revitalized, has the flavor of a Louisiana Creole cottage. Two of the most impressive houses in Columbus face each other across Sixth Avenue. To the east is the house of Pratt Thomas and to the west is Riverview.

Pratt Thomas’ house is a raised Greek Revival style house. It was completed in 1847 and is considered “the largest, most elegant and most unusual high-rise in Columbus”. Among the residents of the House of Pratt Thomas were two brothers, Dr. William and John Richards. William was a surgeon at Fort Apache with Dr. Walter Reed and sat there under a tree and talked to Geronimo. He was also the doctor who delivered Tennessee Williams. John Richards was a physician for the Rockefeller and Roosevelt families in New York and was called in April 1912 to meet the Carpathians and care for the survivors of the Titanic.

Riverview was completed in 1853 and is now a National Historic Landmark. The house was likely designed by James Lull as well, as it is a larger, ornate version of his personal residence, Camellia Place. In addition to the house, the original servants’ quarters and the kitchen have been preserved. Riverview has possibly the most monumental plasterwork of any home in Mississippi.

At the north end of the block on which Riverview lies was the city’s first cemetery. It dates from around 1820 and was known as the Tombigbee Cemetery. The graves were relocated after Friendship Cemetery was established in 1849. Half a block from Second Street on Fifth Avenue and across from the cemetery is Buttersworth, a Dogtrot log home from the 1820s that was converted into a House of Greek Revival in the 1840s.

On the northwest corner of Second Street and Fourth Avenue is a Queen Ann Victorian home, but it has a smaller home from the 1840s. If you turn east or right on Third Avenue, you will find an circa 1848 home in the middle of the Errolton block. If we go back to Third Street, we will turn left or north and return to our starting point.

Rufus Ward is a local historian.