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Ask Rufus: A mixing of cultures


Snowdoun was built in 1854 and is an example of a house showing the Octagon architectural influence. This photo was taken around 1880 at a time when the house was painted mustard yellow with brown trim.

Snowdoun was built in 1854 and is an example of a house showing the Octagon architectural influence. This photo was taken around 1880 at a time when the house was painted mustard yellow with brown trim. Photo by: Courtesy photo


Rufus Ward



The site where Columbus now sits has for hundreds of years been a cultural crossroads.  


Among Native American peoples it was the intersection of the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek nations. In the early days of the Town of Columbus there was a cultural mix of people with French and Spanish roots coming up the Tombigbee from Mobile meeting settlers with English and Scottish roots coming overland through Tennessee and Georgia. Into that mix were found the Choctaws and Chickasaws who were already here. The legacy of that mixing of cultures is found in the architecture of Columbus. 


The Town of Columbus grew up where the southwest end of a series of hills known as Pleasant Ridge met the Tombigbee River. The origins of the town are tied to John Pitchlynn's 1810 residence across the river, which was also the location of Fort Smith. Fort Smith was a small, but important blockhouse built in 1813 during the Creek Indian War. 


In 1817, the survey of Andrew Jackson's Military Road placed its Tombigbee ferry crossing (at Pitchlynn's suggestion) where Pleasant Ridge met the river. A man named Thomas Thomas built the first house overlooking the ferry crossing in the fall of 1817. By the summer of 1819 a community had been established at the site, and in December 1819, it was first officially referred to as the Town of Columbus. In those early formative days of settlement most of the building construction was of log. 


The earliest local structure for which a description has survived is the 1813 blockhouse at Fort Smith. It was dismantled in 1860 and in 1910 H S Halbert described it as a; "two-story building, some twenty feet square, made of large cedar logs...there was a door to the lower story, but no windows. On each side of the door were some holes, evidently made for gun men. The upper story had eight windows, two on each side, and two holes under each window.." This described a typical War of 1812 period blockhouse. 


The first building actually on the site of Columbus was Thomas Thomas' 1817 log house. In 1848 Oscar Keeler described the house as simply a "small split log hut." Most pre-1821 structures were log. The first frame house in Columbus was built by Gideon Lincecum in 1819. The first brick house in Columbus was probably built by Silas McBee in the early 1820s on Third Avenue North just east of Franklin Academy. By the mid-1820s the cultural diversity of Columbus was becoming evident in the architecture of the town. 


The architectural legacy of Columbus is unusual in that not only are there the traditional architectural styles but local builders often mixed styles. Architectural historian, Ken P'Pool, has described a unique local mix of Greek, Gothic, and Italianate styles as an "original design" which he calls "Columbus Eclectic". 


With more than 600 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Columbus is an architectural treasure trove. The oldest surviving homes of the various antebellum styles present an excellent record of early Mississippi architecture. Several frontier Log houses survive, the earliest being the Cedars (c. 1818). Around 1835, the Cedars was enlarged and reconfigured in the Greek Revival style. 


Other early Columbus structures reflect the traditional antebellum architectural styles. There are the Creole-influenced raised cottages with the Ole Homestead (c. 1825) being the oldest surviving example.  


The Federal style Cartney-Hunt house on Seventh Street was constructed about 1828. Corner Cottage (c. 1830) reflects a transition from Federal style to Greek Revival. Temple Heights (c. 1839) is a Carolina Side-Hall house converted into Greek Revival. Twelve Gables was built around 1837, and is an early Greek Revival home. An early example of an Italianate cottage is the 1848 Amzi Love house. St Paul's Episcopal Church which was constructed in 1858 provides an example of the Gothic style. The Octagon style is represented by Snowdoun which was built in 1854. The unique Columbus Eclectic style homes include the Fort House, Shadowlawn, Errolton, Sunnyside and White Arches. 


Columbus has a rich architectural legacy which is reflected in hundreds of surviving early homes. It is a legacy which I will begin to examine in a series columns leading to the fast approaching bicentennial of the founding of the town.


Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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