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Ask Rufus: The raised-cottages of Columbus, a cultural intersection

 

The Ole Homestead is a ca. 1825 vernacular raised-cottage showing a Creole influence. It is the oldest house known to have survived within Columbus’ original town limits.

The Ole Homestead is a ca. 1825 vernacular raised-cottage showing a Creole influence. It is the oldest house known to have survived within Columbus’ original town limits. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The Pratt Thomas Home is a “high-style” Greek Revival raised-cottage.

 

Rufus Ward

 

In examining the historic architecture of Columbus, the earliest houses other than log houses are the vernacular raised-cottage and the late Federal style.  

 

Gideon Lincecum is said to have built the first frame house in Columbus in 1819, which is also the year in which Columbus was first officially recognized as a town. An 1848 description of that house simply calls it "a single story frame house." That house was probably a simplified late Federal style. 

 

Within Columbus, the oldest surviving raised cottage is the Ole Homestead, ca. 1825, on College Street and the oldest surviving Federal house is the McCartney Hunt house, built in the mid-1820s and located on Seventh Street South. Belmont, located near Caledonia, is a Federal-style house built in 1822. Stylistically, though, the oldest houses in Columbus are raised cottages and today's column will look at them. 

 

Raised cottages probably evolved in the West Indies and typically consist of a brick above-ground basement upon which is situated a wood frame main floor. The design was an attempt to address hot wet climate while using local building materials. They became popular during the 1700s in the French and Spanish settlements along the Gulf Coast. The style is sometimes called a Creole raised-cottage. A related style of raised-cottages appeared in the coastal Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. It too may have originated in the West Indies. 

 

In Columbus are found both examples of the early vernacular (a style conformed to local climate, culture and materials) raised-cottages and a later more refined Greek Revival version. Columbus' unique collection of architecture is exemplified by the variety of raised-cottages still surviving. This mixing of styles results from Columbus being an intersection of settlers moving here from the east with their British heritage and the principal commercial trade coming up the Tombigbee from Mobile with its French and Spanish heritage. 

 

The oldest known surviving house within Columbus' original town limits is the Ole Homestead which was purchased or built by Charles Abert in 1825. It is a vernacular raised cottage showing a Creole influence. It even appears to be a miniature version of Madam John's Legacy, a 1789 French house in New Orleans and resembles several surviving colonial houses in the West Indies. Interestingly the house, which was enlarged and reoriented from facing Third Street in 1835, may have originally combined Federal elements with a raised-cottage. 

 

A good example of the Carolina Low Country influence in raised-cottages is the Williams-Gass House on Second Avenue North. It is a typical raised-cottage having a brick basement an frame main floor. It is, with its broad low-gable roof, a Carolina Low Country style, though. It was built around 1843 by Isaac and Thomas Williams, free men of color, who had moved to Columbus from South Carolina. 

 

Ken P'Pool, the head of the Historic Preservation Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, considers Columbus' surviving early style raised-cottages to also include the Schaffer-Vaughn House (ca. 1835 on 10th Street North), Magnolia Hill (ca, 1835 on 12th Street North) and the Taylor-Nash House (ca. 1845 on Third Avenue North). 

 

As Columbus entered a boom time in the mid 1830s, Greek Revival homes began to make their appearance. This more sophisticated style carried over into some of the raised-cottages then being constructed. These houses, though raised-cottage in plan, incorporated elements of high-style Greek Revival appearance and ornamentation. P'Pool found the following Greek Revival raised-cottages have survived in Columbus: Lincoln House (ca. 1846 on Third Avenue South), the Pratt Thomas House (1847 on Second Street South). Lehmquen (ca. 1837 also on Second Street), the Allen-Lipscomb-Profitt House (ca. 1842 on Ridge Road), the Barry-Campbell House (ca. 1846 on Eighth Street North) and the Peterson House (ca.1855 on Third Avenue South). 

 

Among these surviving "high-style" raised cottages the most significant is the Pratt Thomas home. P'Pool calls it "the largest, most elegant, and most unusual of Columbus' raised-cottages." In 1847, as the construction of the house was being completed, Edward Fontaine, rector of the Episcopal Church, described it as being "one of the most comfortable houses I have seen lately." 

 

The unique architecture of Columbus is exemplified in its surviving early raised-cottages. Their styles reflect the area's intersection of east coast English culture with the French and Spanish Creole influence of the Gulf coast.

 

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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