Ask Rufus: Columbus' most interesting buildings

June 30, 2018 9:56:16 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


For almost 40 years, Ken P'Pool has been with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and Mississippi's go-to person in historic preservation. He first headed the department's Historic Preservation Columbus field office, coming to Columbus in 1979. When that office closed, he moved to Jackson where he was the longtime head of the department's Historic Preservation Division and then served as deputy state historic preservation officer.  


After 39 years of overseeing Mississippi's architectural heritage and history, Ken is now retiring.  


There is little that has been done in the way of historic preservation in Columbus during the last 39 years that Ken did not have a hand in. He is the expert on Columbus architecture. Six years ago, I asked Ken what five buildings in Columbus he considered not necessarily the most grand or historically important, but the most interesting. Ken was gracious enough to respond, though he mentioned six rather than five. 


The first he mentioned was the Williams-Gass House at the corner of Second Avenue North and Fourth Street, across the corner from the Trotter Convention Center. It was built about 1843 by Issac and Thomas Williams, who were "free men of color." Though African-American, the brothers had prospered in Columbus during the 1840s. The house is a raised cottage with brick basement and frame principal floor. It's broad, low gable roof is typical of Carolina Low Country architecture, and the Williams were from South Carolina. The Williams moved from Columbus in 1851, and in 1858, Adam Gass bought the house from the estate of Thomas Williams. Gass then added the east wing.  


Ken next mentioned the Ole Homestead at the corner of College and Third Street South. It is a vernacular raised cottage that was probably purchased or constructed by Charles Abert when he moved to Columbus in 1825. It originally was two rooms over two rooms and faced the Tombigbee River. H.S. Bennett, an attorney and judge who later represented Mississippi in Congress, resided in the house from 1830-35. The house was purchased by John Kirk, who enlarged it and reoriented it to face College Street in 1835. It is one of the oldest surviving raised cottages in Mississippi and is probably the oldest surviving house within the original town limits of Columbus. Ken finds it reminiscent of "Madame John's Legacy," a 1788 French colonial house in New Orleans. The Ole Homestead has been designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and is home to Karen and me.  


The W.N. Puckett House on the MUW campus is considered by Ken to be one of the finest examples of a brick Queen Anne style house to survive in the state. It was constructed on College Street about 1902 by the Columbus contracting and brick-making firm of Lindamood & Puckett. The house exhibits one of the best examples of the beautiful and unique salmon-colored brick that was produced by Lindamood and Puckett during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. That firm is still in business as the Columbus Brick Company. In 1928, the house was moved a half-block south so that Whitfield Auditorium could be built on College Street. The Puckett House is a Mississippi Landmark.  


Ken could not decide between two adjacent buildings which he considered among the other most interesting buildings in Columbus. One is the one-story Greek Revival building across from the courthouse that Roger Larson had used as the Columbus Packet office. Ken described it as: "Dwarfed between two much larger structures, the almost miniature character of the old Harris and Harrison Law Office makes it one of the most intriguing little buildings in Columbus." It was probably built around 1850 as a law office by William L. Harris and James T. Harrison. Ken considers the building an "architectural jewel, employing only the basics of Grecian design to impart a Classical appearance." 


The other building is the three-story brick office next door. It was constructed in a simplified Greek Revival style between 1857 and 1859. For many years, it was the Woodmen of the World building with the lodge hall on the third floor and offices on the first two floors. The offices in the building were generally two rooms and were originally sold much like condominium offices are sold today. The building is one of the largest antebellum office buildings surviving in Mississippi. 


Of all the buildings in Columbus, Ken views Annunciation Catholic Church as most interesting. The church is an example of a type of Gothic form rarely found in the South and is one of the most architecturally significant religious structures in Mississippi. It was designed by French-born priest and architect Father Jean Baptist Mouton in a Gothic style based on Paris' 13th Century Church of Sainte-Chapelle. Father Mouton not only drew the plans for the church but designed and constructed the church's altar himself. Both the exterior and interior design of the church reflect scaled-down elements of Sainte-Chapelle. 


Though the cornerstone was laid May 4, 1863, the church was not completed until 1869. According to Ken: "The facade of the church is an eclectic assortment of French Gothic motifs. It's three-bay composition is a typically French ploy that dates to the earliest Gothic cathedrals." The vaulted ceilings and interior plan of the church also closely duplicate the interior form of Sainte-Chapelle. Each of the interior columns and piers is painted to appear to be marble.  


Since the church construction began during the Civil War, the best building materials were not available for civilian projects. The bricks that were used turned out to be of inferior quality, and in 1878 the exterior of the church had to be stuccoed due to the problems with the bricks. In the late 1800s there were magnolia trees growing in front of the church and there was a grove of trees behind the church in which children's picnics were held. The church recently under went major restoration and it also has also been designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.  


Each of us has our own favorite building in town, so it is enlightening to see what a leading historic preservation expert, who knows Columbus architecture better than anyone else, finds most interesting. Ken P'Pool will be greatly missed at MDAH, but I'll bet his interest in Mississippi history, historic preservation and also the architecture of Columbus will continue.

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