An Island that was Green: The Development of Green Island Hills
Updated: Apr 17
SOURCES: W.C. Woodall's Industrial Indexes, 1927, 1928 and 1930. From These Hills: A History of Green Island Country Club by Richard Hyatt, 2010. Green Island Ranch National Register Nomination, 1997.
The Chattahoochee River and its ability to get goods to market led our ancestors to incorporate the city of Columbus in 1828. As the years passed, industrial and commercial growth continued along her banks. To paraphrase a comment from the past, the early leaders of Columbus were able to turn falling water into wealth. None was more inspired than G. Gunby Jordan. In 1905, Jordan and his real estate company was inspired to buy 467 acres of land along the riverbanks. The tracts of rolling land were located on both sides of Standing Boy Creek and both sides of River Road. Jordan’s early influence and business acumen helped give birth to banks, cotton mills, railroads, neighborhoods, and schools that were vital to the birth and growth of a burgeoning city. He knew the Chattahoochee River well for she powered the bustling textile plants that helped him prosper.
The seller of the land on an unpaved River Road in 1905 was Thomas J. Narramore. He kept an acre of land for a “life estate.” Square in shape, this lot fronted River Road, near what is today the Columbus Water Works plant. At the time, this action preserved one acre for his family home. The rest of the site was sold to the Jordan Company. The sales price was $9,640. Specific boundaries were established in detail and each individual lot was carefully numbered, measured, and plotted on a map for the Georgia Power Company by Muscogee County Surveyor Josiah Flournoy – the same surveyor who a few years later, beside another stretch of the same river, laid out the thousands of acres that became Fort Benning. But G. Gunby Jordan purchased more than dry land near the river that separated the states of Georgia and Alabama. The site also contained a piece of dry land that floated in the river.
Before man dammed the Chattahoochee, there were many tiny islands, most of the jagged and rocky. This one was different. This one was larger and this one was flat. It had a blanket of foliage that made it stand out among its neighbors. It spanned sixteen acres, west of a point 1,200 – feet north of the junction of Standing Boy Creek and the Chattahoochee River. Its name was Green Island. George Gunby Jordan was an important player in the machine that built the foundation of what became modern Columbus. Among his many visions was Green Island Hills, a comfortable retreat on the Chattahoochee River that provided homes for people who wanted to escape the dust and bustle of downtown Columbus. His hillside haven would not incur the property taxes of the city either. A newspaper ad promoting the development even claimed it would improve a resident’s well-being, that the altitude in the area insured ozone and “Ozone guarantees health.”
G. Gunby Jordan was born in 1846 in Sparta, Georgia, son of Sylvester Franklin and Rachael Gunby Jordan. He was seventeen when he left home to join the Confederate Army as a private in Nelson’s Rangers – a volunteer company of scouts from Columbus. In 1866, Jordan took a job as a cashier with his uncle, Robert Gunby, co-founder of Gunby, Croft & Company – wholesale grocers in Columbus. William H. Young, an entrepreneur from New York, was Robert Gunby’s brother-in-law and had started Eagle & Phenix Manufacturing. Young and Gunby took notice of Jordan’s work. Within a year, Young made the 21-year-old newcomer the treasurer of the Eagle & Phenix. He then became an officer with the company-owned savings bank - the internal bank he helped to create in 1883 through helping a female mill worker with a torn dress exposing her $60 in savings. Jordan offered to put her cash in the company vault and said he would pay her six percent interest. Other workers followed suit. From that gesture grew a business as important to modern Columbus as it was in the past. Along with partner and co-founder W.C. Bradley, Jordan's act of kindness would create CB&T, Synovus, and TSYS.
George Gunby Jordan’s resume was long, busy, and diverse. Here is just a sample of what he was involved with in our community. Director, Southern Mutual Insurance Company Director, General Fire Extinguisher Company President, Georgia Midland Construction Company President, Perkins Hosiery Mills – which evolved into Jordan Mills Director, Georgia Midland Railroad Organizer and President, Third National Bank Organizer, Columbus Savings Bank President, Eagle & Phenix Mills President, Bibb Manufacturing Company Organizer and President, Columbus Bank and Trust Founder and President, The Jordan Company (1904) President, Board of Education Nowhere was Jordan’s influence more vital for Columbus than in our local public schools. His passion and personal push led to the construction of new schools and the city’s first public library in 1881. He funded and built kindergartens for the “dinner toters” who delivered food to the mills, and he stressed the importance of industrial education (Secondary Industrial School, 1906). He was also a strong supporter of Women’s Suffrage.
Mr. Jordan's recognition of the value of the river was almost as important as his passion for public schools. He envisioned a Chattahoochee River with the power to generate enough raw energy to run the cotton mills and light the homes of the average person in Columbus. In a 1928 speech to the Rotary Club of Columbus, he talked about the river. “The possibilities of the Lake Harding region as an ideal place for summer homes were sensed quite early; and as Columbus people have become still better acquainted with the lake, its shores, and its islands there has been an increasing appreciation of what the locality offers in the way of beautiful landscape, pleasant temperatures both night and day, and the sheer attractiveness that the out-of-doors itself offers. The building of quite a number of summer homes on the shores of the lake and on the islands has been planned. The power company does not sell homesites but leases them to desirable people at a nominal consideration for a number of years. Already there are launches on Lake Harding, and it is expected that the lake craft will steadily increase with the years, for the love of water and water sports is deep-seated, and this beautiful sheet of water promises to become, for Columbus people, an ever-increasing factor of pleasure and enjoyment.”
When Green Island Ranch was originally built in 1906, it was the first completed house in the development that Jordan called Green Island Hills. His home was a rambling two-story hunting lodge located five miles from city center, part of the 467 undeveloped acres the Jordan Company acquired the year before from Thomas Narramore – one of several major land buys the firm made in that area during the early 1900s.
G. Gunby Jordan married Lizzie B. Curtis of Columbus February 1881. Less than a year later she died shortly after giving birth to their only child, Ralph Curtis Jordan. G. Gunby Jordan never married again and reared his son with the help of grandparents and other family members. Later, after Curtis wed, he – his wife (Louise Mott Mulford Jordan) and their four children – moved in with his father and made the Ranch their home.
Local architects Charles F. Hickman and John Catlett Martin, Sr. designed the original house. They also prepared the original blueprints for Columbus High School, the second clubhouse at the Country Club of Columbus, and Dimon Court Apartments. The original house was destroyed by fire on December 26, 1920. As a five-year-old, young Gunby Jordan stood in the garden and watch his grandfather’s home slowly burn. The family wasted no time in building another house on that property near the river. The reconstructed Green Island Ranch (pictured above) was designed by R. Kennon Perry, a prominent Atlanta architect that Jordan knew from Perry’s impressive work on an Episcopal chapel in Union Springs, Alabama. Hickman and Martin, along with the firm Robert and Company, are also noted for being involved in the new Green Island Ranch.
G. Gunby Jordan II with his grandfather and namesake, G. Gunby Jordan
The construction utilized innovative strategies for that time, partly because of its out-of-the-way location and partly because that was Jordan’s fashion. Workers forged a quarry nearby and began to mine granite and rock to be used in the reconstruction. Mules and manual lifting devises were used to transport the materials from the quarry to the house site. The house also contains a very unusual concrete infrastructure. Water was in great supply, but it had to be transported to the site. A springhouse was built near the main dwelling and a cistern contained spring water that was pumped to a tall water tank that supplied the site with drinking water. Another source, located at the mouth of Standing Boy Creek and the Chattahoochee River, provided water for domestic use. It was pumped uphill – a distance of a mile and a half – to a filter house located behind the garage. John B. Ryer, Jr., a New York-born civil and landscape engineer, was hired to design the 1922 landscape for the property. He was also designing neighborhoods in Columbus, including Peacock Woods, and the grounds for the Columbus Water Works plant on River Road. He formerly worked with Earle S. Draper, a noted landscape architect who also worked in Columbus. The gardens were maintained for over a decade by John Brandt (1874- 1943), German-born, self-trained, gardener, who had worked for prominent families in Newport, Rhode Island and Aiken, South Carolina, before coming to Columbus.
By having his home there, Jordan Sr. reminded potential Green Island residents of the attractiveness of living in such a sylvan setting near the river and not that far from downtown. He intended to preserve the primitive beauty but at the same time he envisioned a village of weekend homes, recreation sites and even a luxury hotel. To implement the Jordan Company’s ambitious plans for the area, Jordan hired E. Burton Cooke, an Atlanta landscape architect. To put these concepts on paper, he employed Wilbur E. Kurtz, an Atlanta artist and historian who later became the official archivist for Coca-Cola. Kurtz was a colleague of W.C. Bradley, the first chairman of Coca-Cola’s board of directors and a frequent partner with Jordan in local ventures. Kurtz prepared an elaborate rendering of what Green Island Hills might one day be. It depicts what seems to be a golf course on the property though one had not been a part of the plan. The hotel – which never materialized – was to go where the Green Island golf course now sits.
Friends of Jordan bought property at Green Island, though some of them never built homes there. George “Kid” Woodruff, the former football coach at the University of Georgia, bought one of the lots but his wife made it clear that she would never live that far from town. Others thirsted for country living, but some bought lots to curry favor with Jordan. In 1926, the first street to be cut and paved was Mountainview Drive. Other than Jordan, the first resident of Green Island Hills was H. Fay Gaffney, though a second house on Mountainview soon followed. Business flourished in the early 1920s and so did Jordan’s personal investments. But the Jordan Company soon experienced the same financial setbacks as their peers in the rest of the country. With the Great Depression hitting Wall Street and the country in 1929, home buying stalled and so did the expansion of Green Island Hills. G. Gunby Jordan’s health was also failing and many of his responsibilities were being assumed by his son, Curtis Jordan, Sr. G. Gunby Jordan died on May 9, 1930. He was 83. With family members at his bedside, Jordan passed away at Green Island Ranch.
Above: (R) G. Gunby Jordan II and (L) R. Curtis Jordan Below: G. Gunby Jordan II with his grandson Mulford Waldrep
G. Gunby Jordan’s dream of a residential retreat on the river remained stuck in its early stages. Three decades and a second world war would pass before that original dream would become a reality. His son Curtis did not carry out his father’s plans. That would be left to his grandson, his namesake – a former catcher on the Yale University baseball team and brilliant businessman – G. Gunby Jordan II. Georgia Power’s construction of Oliver Dam in 1959 refocused Gunby Jordan II on residential real estate. Lake Oliver formed a shoreline for 2,000 acres of virtual wilderness. With the flooding of that valuable land, young G. Gunby Jordan believed he would be able to do what his grandfather and father had been unable to do – fully develop Green Island Hills.