Ask Rufus: Ole Homestead: One of Mississippi's oldest raised cottages

April 6, 2013 9:02:04 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


The Ole Homestead is one of the oldest homes in north Mississippi. The house is a vernacular raised cottage that stylistically reflects a Creole influence. Built between 1821 and 1829, it is the oldest known surviving building within the original town limits of Columbus. It is also believed to be the third oldest surviving raised cottage in Mississippi and is probably the oldest one surviving north of the old Natchez District.  


The first house built in Columbus was a log cabin built in 1817 along Franklin Street (Third Street) between Washington Street (College Street) and Main Street. It was across the street, at the corner of Third and College Streets, that Ole Homestead was constructed sometime during the 1820s. The first recorded owner of the house was Charles Abert, who moved to Columbus in 1827 and apparently either purchased what was an existing house or built the Ole Homestead then. 


The house was originally two rooms over two rooms facing Third Street and the Tombigbee River. An east wing and the long porch were added and it was reoriented to College Street in 1835 by John Kirk. The room on the west side of the house that juts out toward Third Street is the original front porch. It was enclosed to make a room sometime between 1835 and 1870.  


The raised cottage style typically consisted of a brick above-ground basement with a frame main floor built on top of it. It was a common building type in the Deep South, especially along the coastal areas settled by the French and Spanish. Old Homestead actually looks much like a miniature version of "Madam John's Legacy" a 1789 French Colonial style raised cottage in New Orleans. 


Interestingly, an 1838 inventory of the furnishings of Ole Homestead has survived. At that time the household furnishings included "one sofa, one dozen parlor chairs, one mahogany rocking chair, two pair looking glasses, one set of silver tea ware, three astral lamps, one brass fender and shovel and tongs and andirons, two floor carpets, one bureau, one sideboard, one bed and bedding, three mahogany tables, one center table, and articles of household and kitchen furniture." 


The owners and residents of Ole Homestead have included a varied and interesting group of people. (Full disclosure: I am the current owner.) Abert, who settled in old Hamilton in 1826 and then moved to Columbus in 1827, was the first recorded owner of the house. Not long after moving to Columbus he constructed a larger house and a store building on Main Street and in 1830 Ole Homestead was being rented to H.S. Bennett who later represented Mississippi in Congress. In 1835, John Kirk purchased the house from Abert and enlarged it. The house was sold in 1846 to James Wynn, the Lowndes County Sheriff. Wynn sold it to Dr. James W. Hopkins in 1856. During the Civil War Hopkins served as a surgeon at the Confederate Hospitals in Columbus. 


During the restoration of the Ole Homestead, a Confederate artillery shell was found buried almost two feet deep beside the house. Its present day exterior paint colors are based on its 1840s paint colors. Other than small window panes that were replaced with larger glass panes about 1880, the exterior lines of Ole Homestead are basically unchanged since 1835. 


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]