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Ask Rufus: Roots of the Columbus Pilgrimage

 

Seventy-four years ago in the first Columbus Pilgrimage there were 22 homes open for tour. Of those 22 historic homes, 20 have survived. One of the architectural gems that has been lost is “Dawnview.” It was an 1856 home located on the triangular block behind the present Columbus-Lowndes Library. Its site is now an apartment complex.

Seventy-four years ago in the first Columbus Pilgrimage there were 22 homes open for tour. Of those 22 historic homes, 20 have survived. One of the architectural gems that has been lost is “Dawnview.” It was an 1856 home located on the triangular block behind the present Columbus-Lowndes Library. Its site is now an apartment complex. Photo by: Courtesy photo/Billups-Garth Archives Columbus-Lowndes Public Library

 

Rufus Ward

 

The roots of the Columbus Pilgrimage run deep within our community. In 1939, T.C. Billups decided to act on the success of Natchez and other Southern towns in using a spring pilgrimage to attract tourists and promote community development. Plans were made for the first Columbus Pilgrimage to be held in the spring of 1940. An executive committee composed of Mrs. T.C. Billups, chairman, Henry Pratt, co-chairman, Mrs. B.A, Lincoln, secretary, and also Mrs. Pratt, Mrs. T. Bailey Hardy, Birney Imes Jr., and J.O. Slaughter, was formed. 

 

In order to publicize the first tour of homes, Columbus hosted an Associated Press travel writers tour in October 1939. The writers toured several of the historic homes and churches in Columbus. One of the writer/photographers was Eudora Welty. While at a reception at Whitehall, Welty interviewed Mrs. Billups for the proper way to make a mint julep. That story and recipe for the "Whitehall Mint Julep" circulated nationwide and has since frequently been reprinted, even recently appearing in USA Today.  

 

Press coverage of the first pilgrimage ranged from the New York Times to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Amazingly, of the 22 homes pictured in the 1940 Pilgrimage guide book only two have been lost -- Dawnview and Flynnwood. In 1941, 18 private homes were open and added to the tour was the "Blewett-Stephen D. Lee Home," which was connected to the city's S.D. Lee High School building then. 

 

The Pilgrimage that has attracted the most national and international attention was that of 1942. It was war time and Columbus Air Force Base, then known as Kaye Field Air Corps Advanced Flying School, had just opened. The patriotic theme presented was evidenced by an article in the Memphis Commercial Appeal. On April 5, 1942, the paper carried an article about the event titled, "Tour of Gardens will offer Peace, Strength In Trying Times." According to the article, though it was war time, "the pilgrimage committee believes that now more than ever, the American people need the peace and strength that comes from beauty and heritage." 

 

Personnel and their families from the airbase played a prominent role in the pilgrimage. One of the pilgrimage "star homes," The Dr. Cornelius Hardy home (now named Magnolia Hill), was the residence of Maj. Joseph Duckworth, the base's director of training. Mrs. L.C. Mallory, wife of Col. Mallory, the base's commanding officer, served as a hostess at Whitehall and Mrs. Joseph Duckworth served as a hostess at Snowdoun. In a letter dated Feb. 9, 1942, Col. Mallory wrote that normal activities were encouraged to help maintain morale and he felt "that the Columbus Pilgrimage offers the highest type of cultural entertainment." 

 

As a result of the evolvement of air corps personnel and the community's efforts to support the base, Life Magazine did a pictorial of airmen at a hoopskirt party in Columbus. The story attracted international attention and was picked up by the London Illustrated Magazine. 

 

The headquarters for the first pilgrimage was located in the Gilmer Hotel on Main Street. In 1940 there were 22 homes on the tour beginning at the "Old Franklin Home" on 3rd Avenue North and ending at "Whitehall" on 3rd Street South. In 1941 and 1942 there were 18 private homes and the S.D. Lee Home on tours that began at "Ole Homestead" on College Street and ended at the "Old Franklin Home." 

 

This year's Columbus Pilgrimage with home tours beginning Monday features 12 historic homes. Seven of those homes, Rosewood Manor, Whitehall, S.D. Lee Home, Baskerville Manor, Colonade, Waverly and Temple Heights were in that first pilgrimage 74 years ago.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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