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Ask Rufus: The early Federal houses of Columbus

 

Corner Cottage on Fourth Avenue South is one of Columbus’ oldest homes. It was constructed about 1830 and later enlarged and remodeled. It shows a transition from the end of the Federal style to the beginnings of the Greek Revival style.

Corner Cottage on Fourth Avenue South is one of Columbus’ oldest homes. It was constructed about 1830 and later enlarged and remodeled. It shows a transition from the end of the Federal style to the beginnings of the Greek Revival style. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

The original mid-1820s section of the Cartney-Hunt House is its north half. When viewed alone, that section looks like a Federal style rowhouse as found in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and other East Coast cities. The house is probably the oldest brick house in north Mississippi and is now a bed and breakfast on Seventh Street South in Columbus.

 

Rufus Ward

 

During the first years of Columbus' growth and expansion, some early settlers tried to bring a little of the refinement of the east coast to the new town. While the first structures built in Columbus were of log construction, buildings of frame soon appeared and were quickly followed by those of brick. The first attempt to build high style or more refined houses was the use of the Federal architectural style that had been popular along the east coast. 

 

Columbus in the 1820s and early 1830s was a town rapidly changing from a small frontier settlement to a town experiencing rapid growth. Ken P'Pool found an excellent description of Columbus during this period. In 1856 an article in the Columbus Democrat newspaper reflected on that earlier time: 

 

"...Previous to the great (Indian) land sales in 1834, the town had a slovenly appearance. The houses on the business streets were illy constructed and of wood. The streets were insufferably bad...During the rainy seasons it was almost impossible to cross on foot from one street to another. No lady would attempt it. Yet the town had taken a start and was going up with a sort of mushroom growth...in 1832 the population was 481; in 1835 it was 1623." 

 

Some of the early settlers with roots along the east coast wanted residences with a little more refinement than a frontier cabin or a vernacular cottage. They constructed their houses in the Federal Style that had been popular in the eastern U.S. 

 

During the mid-1700s British architects Robert and James Adams popularized a style of architecture that became known as Adams. Its appearance in the American colonies is referred to as Georgian Style after Kings George II and George III, during whose reigns the style was popular. As the style carried over into the early days of the American Federal Republic, its English name was dropped and it became known as the Federal Style. The style was elegant but simple with little exterior ornamentation. 

 

In Lowndes County, the oldest surviving frame house is Belmont, a ca. 1822 Federal Style house located near Caledonia. The house was constructed by Capt. William Neilson, who was a veteran of the War of 1812. In the early 1820s Silas McBee constructed a brick house on Third Street North just east of Franklin Academy. The house which originally probably was Federal in style was remodeled ca. 1850. It was torn down in the 1970s for the construction of a parking lot. It may have been the first brick house built in Columbus. 

 

Within Columbus the oldest surviving Federal Style house is the Cartney-Hunt House which was constructed just outside of the original Columbus town limits in the mid 1820s. It was a two story brick house that was one room wide and two rooms deep. The north half of the house is the original structure and resembles an east coast Federal Style rowhouse such as found in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, or Georgetown, D.C. In the mid-1840s a two story brick addition was constructed on the south side giving the house its present appearance. 

 

Corner Cottage, which may have been built as early as 1830 at Fourth Avenue South and Third Street, is an excellent example of the transition from Federal Style to Greek Revival Style. The house was enlarged probably ca. 1850 and the present porch replaced an earlier porch in the mid-1880s. Another Columbus house that shows the transition from Federal to Greek Revival style is Temple Heights. 

 

Temple Heights is a Carolina side-hall plan house constructed in the Federal Style by Richard Brownrigg about 1839. The house was purchased by Thomas Harris in 1847. Because Greek Revival was the architectural style then in vogue, Harris around 1850 added the present portico to give the house its appearance of a monumental Greek Temple. 

 

As the Federal architectural style was losing popularity to Greek Revival during the 1820s, Columbus grew up at the close of the style's usage. Most of Mississippi's surviving early examples of Federal style architecture are now found in the Natchez area. The few surviving Federal houses in Columbus are among the oldest houses in north Mississippi.

 

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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