Ask Rufus: Looking back at the city's original town limits

August 25, 2012 8:37:52 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Several people have asked why the south end of Market Street does a dog-leg at the Columbus Light and Water Department building. This question resulted in an interesting discussion with Sam Kaye about the development of the city's street grid. 


There is actually a simple explanation to that dog-leg. When Columbus was organized as a town in Mississippi, that dog-leg marked the southern limits of the town. 


Although Columbus was officially referred to as a town in December 1819 and a had post office in 1820, there are no records of a local government body until 1821. Mississippi had become a state in 1817 but the eastern part of the old Mississippi Territory did not become the State of Alabama until 1819. It was first thought that Columbus was in Alabama. So it is in a December 6, 1819 Alabama legislative act that we find the first mention of the "Town of Columbus." Though Alabama recognized Columbus as a town there is no mention of a local governing body. 


When the state line was surveyed in 1820 it was discovered that Columbus was actually in Mississippi. In an address delivered on Jan. 3, 1821, Mississippi governor George Poindexter announced that "a considerable population on the waters of the Tombigbee formerly attached to Alabama fall within the limits of this state," On Feb. 9, 1821, Monroe County was formed from this Tombigbee population. The next day the Town of Columbus, Miss., was chartered. 


The Mississippi Legislature appointed Gideon Lincecum, Robert Haden, Richard Barry, Thomas Townsend, Silas McBee, John Deck, William Leech and David Kincaid as commissioners to survey the town. The commissioners met on June 4, added William Cocke to the commission and elected him president. The commissioners also directed that Joshua McBee be appointed to survey the town at a fee of one dollar for each lot and that 400 stakes be obtained that would be "suitable for corner posts to the lots." 


On July 13, 1821, McBee presented the commissioners with a town plat that contained 211 lots. As each of the town's blocks contained 10 lots, the original town may have consisted of 21 blocks. However, there may have been several blocks with fewer than 10 lots due to the river bluff, which would have resulted in there being about 25 original town blocks. 


At that July meeting the streets were also named. There were three parallel east - west streets. The center street was Broad (now Main). The street north of Broad was Military (Second Ave. North) and the street south of Broad was Washington (College). There were also three north south running cross streets that were named West, Center and East. They correspond to Third, Fifth (Market), and Seventh Streets today. 


The original town limit was the Southwest Quarter of Section 16, Township 18 South, Range 18 West, Huntsville Meridian. The street grid of Columbus is several degrees off from being north south and east west. That is probably because the grid lined up on the route of the existing main street that ran from the Tombigbee ferry to the top of the bluff. This was slightly different from the 1817 Military Road survey. 


The southern line of the 16th Section intersects the Tombigbee at about the west end of Third Avenue South and crosses Fifth (Market) Street South at Fourth Avenue South or the Light and Water Department Building. 


So the block at the south end of Market street downtown was outside of the original town limits and was in the later Barry's Addition. Barry's Addition although surveyed, developed and annexed into the town in the 1830s was not officially recorded at the court house until 1858. The two different surveys did not line up, resulting in the dog-leg we find today at the end of Market street. 


Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email 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]