Ask Rufus: Lost landmarks of Columbus

April 16, 2011 7:05:00 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Reading news accounts last week brought to mind the many landmarks that Columbus has lost. Just during my lifetime, far too many historic and irreplaceable buildings have been destroyed. 


Foremost comes to mind the 1860s Gilmer Hotel which was demolished only a few years before a national move to restore and promote historic hotels. The old hotel had served as a hospital during the Civil War. Several cities in Mississippi including Starkville, West Point and Natchez restored their historic hotels. What replaced the historic Columbus structure is now known as the Gilmer Inn. 


A few years ago what appeared to be a mid-1800s small-frame house a block east of Military Road on 5th Avenue was demolished. The framing covered what was a log house probably built by a Mr. Gray as a farm house around 1820. One of the oldest houses not only in Columbus but also in north Mississippi was replaced by a metal building. 


My own family has not been immune to loss. The three-story Victorian home built by my great-grandfather at 905 Main St. in 1889 was torn down around 1970 to make room for a bank. Around that time the beautiful J. Rigg Vaughn antebellum home on 7th Street South was sold and moved to another city. 


I recall a brick house between Franklin Academy and the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library. It was probably built by Silas McBee during the early 1820s. It may well have been the oldest brick house in Mississippi north of Vicksburg. McBee was credited by some with naming Columbus, and in 1819 he represented Marion County, Ala., in the Alabama Legislature. That was when Columbus was believed to be in Alabama. His historic house was replaced by a parking lot. 


The old First Christian Church next to the courthouse was used by the Legislature when Columbus served as Mississippi''s capital during the Civil War. The wonderful brick church served as the chambers for the state Senate. It was destroyed so that another parking lot could be built. 


Also I think of the strikingly attractive antebellum homes that once graced what is now a city parking lot at the corner of 7th Street North and 2nd Avenue. They are now but a fading memory. Someone once said that parking lots have destroyed more antebellum southern homes than Generals Grant and Sherman combined. 


One of my favorite quotes is from a Collier''s Weekly article about Columbus written by Julian Street in 1917. Street, writing for Collier''s, had toured cities across America including Columbus and Vicksburg in Mississippi. Of Columbus he said: 


"Columbus may perhaps appreciate the charm of its old homes, but there is evidence to show that it did not appreciate certain other weatherworn structures of great beauty. I have seen photographs of an old Baptist Church with a fine (and not at all Baptist-looking) portico and fluted columns, which was torn down ... and I have seen pictures of the beautiful old town hall ... The destruction of these two early buildings represents an irreparable loss to Columbus, and it is to be hoped that the town will some day be sufficiently enlightened to know that this is true and to regret that it did not restore and enlarge them instead of tearing them down." 


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

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