March 23, 2013 9:20:30 PM
Rufus Ward - [email protected]
A week from tomorrow will be the opening of the annual Columbus spring pilgrimage. Although the first pilgrimage was in the spring of 1940, a Columbus tour of homes actually started a year earlier. In the spring of 1939, a preview of the pilgrimage occurred when several Columbus homes were opened for tours during the annual meeting of the State Federation of Music Clubs. The tours were promoted as an advance showing of homes for the next year's grand pilgrimage. The first pilgrimage was, in the beginning, called "Wisteria Way in Columbus."
To further promote the new pilgrimage the following October, Columbus hosted national and regional travel editors and AAA bureau managers who were touring Mississippi. The editors and managers were treated to tours of several historic homes and churches. There was also a reception given for them at Whitehall, the residence of Mr. and Mrs. T.C. Billups and Harris Hardy. There, Eudora Welty (then working for the State Advertising Commission) interviewed Mrs. Billups for the story and recipe of the Whitehall Mint Julep. The interview and recipe were published nationwide and even reappeared in USA Today just four years ago. The resulting regional and national publicity laid the foundation for the first Columbus pilgrimage, which opened April 14, 1940.
The 1950 pilgrimage guide book credits T.C. Billups "for his initiative in organizing the Columbus Pilgrimage Association ... (and) for his vision in seeing it as a civic project." A 1957 Commercial Dispatch article refers to him as the "instigator" of the pilgrimage. His wife, Lenore Hardy Billups, was chairman of the first three pilgrimages and Henry Pratt served as co-chairman.
The doors of 22 homes were opened for tours that first pilgrimage on Sunday, April 14, 1940 at 2 p.m. WCBI Radio covered the tours with live broadcasts from several of the homes. The first day's tour concluded with vesper services at MSCW (MUW) at 5 p.m. On Monday, the tours were from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., then a tour of MSCW until 2 p.m., when homes reopened. The tours ended at 6 p.m. and were followed by a dance program at MSCW at 8:15 p.m. that evening. The first home tour began at the Old Franklin Home (Franklin Square) and concluded at Whitehall.
The homes that were part of the first pilgrimage included: Riverview, Old Franklin Place (Franklin Square), Snowdoun, White Arches, Shadow Lawn, Hamilton Hall (Baskerville Manor), Twelve Gables, Temple Heights, Maydrew Manor, Dawn View, Ole Homestead, The Cedars, Whitehall, Leigh Crest, Meek Home (Wisteria Place), The Colonnade, Camellia Place, Flynnwood, Lehmquen, Homewood and Waverly.
In 1941, there were 18 homes on the pilgrimage tour. That year, and in 1942, the tour began at Ole Homestead and ended at Franklin Place. Because of the rationing and hardships of World War II, it was decided not to have a pilgrimage in 1943 and the event actually did not resume until 1950, when 15 homes were opened for tours.
After the death of T.C. Billups and Harris Hardy in a 1947 plane crash, the job of reviving the Columbus pilgrimage was taken up by Glover Wilkins, manager of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce; the chamber's secretary, Mrs. Felicitas Campbell; its president, Birney Imes; and Mrs. T. Bailey Hardy, chairman of the Pilgrimage Association.
For this year's pilgrimage, nine of the 22 homes in the first pilgrimage will again be open. They are: White Arches, Baskerville Manor (Hamilton Hall), Rosewood Manor (Maydrew Manor), Colonnade, Whitehall, Waverly, Shadowlawn, Wisteria Place (Meek Home) and Temple Heights. Since that first pilgrimage 73 years ago, only two of the original 22 homes on that tour -- Dawn View and Flynnwood -- have been destroyed.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]