March 31, 2012 11:00:48 PM
Rufus Ward - [email protected]
I am often asked: "What is the oldest house in the Columbus area?" That of course is an easy question for it is the Cedars, the oldest part of which was probably built around 1818 or 1819. But people then follow up with the more specific question of: "What about the oldest frame or brick house or commercial or governmental building." So what are the area's oldest buildings?
The first actual towns, as we know them, in the north half of Mississippi were Columbus, Hamilton and Cotton Gin Port (which was on the Tombigbee near present-day Amory). They were all in what was in 1819 thought to be Marion County, Alabama. Cotton Gin Port and then the Henry Greer House (its site is now Columbus Air Force Base) served for a time as the county seat of Marion County. By December 1819, the town of Columbus was a Marion County, Ala. voting precinct. It was in January 1821 that the Cotton Gin Port - Columbus area was declared to be in Mississippi and not Alabama. In February 1821, Monroe County, Miss., was established and Columbus was incorporated as a Mississippi town.
Structures from those formative years are nearly all gone. Only two come to mind, the Cedars, ca. 1818 and Belmont which was built in 1822 northeast of Columbus on Wolf Road (which got its name because of the many wolves that attacked livestock in the area). The original part of the Cedars is a single-pen log cabin and Belmont may be the oldest surviving frame building in North Mississippi.
In 1830 Monroe County was divided with the north half remaining Monroe and the south half becoming Lowndes. Columbus became the County seat for Lowndes and Athens (south of Amory) become the county seat of Monroe. The old courthouse/jail remains at Athens and is the area's oldest surviving governmental building. The brick building which is now Back Door Columbus was built around 1830 and is probably the oldest surviving commercial building in Columbus.
Few of the buildings of Columbus' first decade have survived. Within the 21 blocks of the original town limits of Columbus, the Ole Homestead, ca. 1827, is probably the oldest surviving structure, and it may be the third oldest remaining vernacular raised cottage in the state. It was originally a two room over two room frame raised cottage facing the Tombigbee River. It was enlarged in 1835 and reoriented to College Street. The McCartney-Hunt house was built ca. 1824 just outside the town limits on present day 7th Street. It is probably the oldest surviving brick house in north Mississippi and is of the Quaker or Swedish floor plan.
Within present day Columbus but outside of the original town limits are several surviving log houses. The Cedars was mentioned earlier. Hickory Sticks on 7th Street is a double pen log house built during the 1820s and enlarged about 1834. The Moody House on south side was a log dog-trot built in the 1820s and later enlarged. It may have been moved from another location. There are probably a few other log structures buried inside of later houses. Magnolia Hill is an early raised cottage over looking Military Road on north side and was constructed about 1832. On south side Corner Cottage is a ca. 1830 house that was originally just two rooms.
The original floor plans of the Ole Homestead, and Corner Cottage along with construction details of Franklin Academy in 1821 and Dr. B C Barry's house in 1825 show what may be the typical 1820s frame house in Columbus. That would be a two room house that was 35 to 40 feet wide and 15 to 20 feet deep. While people often think of the early houses in Columbus being log cabins, after 1821 many were actually wood frame, and several were even brick. In 1830 the town required that new buildings must be built of frame or brick, thus ending the construction of log cabins that are so associated with the frontier.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]