• Historic Columbus

Architecture in April (Part III): Second Empire, Country Captain, and a Parade of Homes

SOURCES: “Country Captain Chicken: Fit for a President” By Terry Donahue, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1987. Bullard – Hart House and Rothschild House National Register Nominations. This Place Matters by Virginia T. Peebles and Elizabeth B. Walden, 2016.

 

As its name implies, the Second Empire architectural style, also called the French Second Empire style or mansard style, can be traced to France, specifically to the reign of Napoleon III, 1852 – 1870. Under the emperor’s direction, much of Paris was rebuilt with wide avenues and striking monumental buildings replacing medieval alleys and structures. The reconstruction of Paris in the Second Empire style had a major impact on building design throughout Europe and the United States. As public architecture, the mansard style was meant to exude character and a sense of permanence. Residences designed in this style were, therefore, generally large and built for the affluent homeowner. At its most elaborate, the look was sometimes described as a wedding cake. Yet, at the peak of its popularity in the United States (roughly 1855-1885), the style was considered both fashionable and a contemporary statement of modernity. Its popularity led to a widespread remodeling boom during which mansard roofs were incorporated into formerly pitched-roof residences. The style was most popular in the Northeast and Midwest, less common on the Pacific coast, and rare in the South. Second Empire structures were generally built in the more affluent regions of the country. Predictably, the style’s popularity dropped rapidly following the economic depression of 1873.

The constant architectural detail of the style is the mansard roof, a slightly corrupted expropriation from François Mansart, the seventeenth-century architect who introduced the mansard roof in the enlargement of the Louvre. As with other Victorian trends, Second Empire ornamentation was inspired and unstinting. Other decorative details included iron cresting on the roof, heavily bracketed cornices, quoins, and balustrades. The general effect is monumental and ornate, appropriate to the style’s Napoleonic roots. Columbus has two Second Empire homes – The Bullard-Hart-Sampson House and The Rothschild-Pound House. While originally only two blocks from the other, they now stand about eight blocks apart. One located in High Uptown, and one moved to the original city.

"Third Avenue, the Champs Elysees of Columbus, Georgia," historic postcard. 1906.


The Bullard-Hart House, c.1887, was designed for Dr. and Mrs. William Lewis Bullard by L. E. Thornton and Company of New York, constructed by builders Jackson and Tinsley who went bankrupt, and decorated by LeRolle Co. of New York. Located in what was considered one of the finest residential areas of Columbus, it was one of Columbus’s most extravagant residences. The exterior of the house is symmetrical topped with a mansard roof with a curved pedimented dormer on either side of a central "cupola" that rises above the roof line. Petal shaped slate tiles cover the roof. The front portico is supported by pairs of Composite columns and gives access to a recessed arched doorway. The front doors are beveled and acid-etched glass depicting the initials of the owner. The doorway is heightened by a fan shaped transom of leaded stained glass. Passing through these doors one enters the front hall. The wainscotting of the inner hall is entirely of pressed leather. The floor is oak and pecan parquetry, which was laid by a master parqueteer from Massachusetts.

From one point in the hall you can count eleven arches, one of which separates the front or outer hall from the rear or inner hall. In the rear hall, a spectacular unsupported staircase rises three floors and is constructed of turned wooden posts, arches, and a carved balustrade. A brass chandelier is suspended thirty feet to illuminate the three floors. Both halls incorporate a lincrustia design employing embossed paper, pressed leather, pressed tin, and wood reliefs. Throughout the house there are features and innovations which were incorporated into the house through the insistence of Mrs. Bullard and the ingenuity of the architect. The transoms over the bedroom doors, the unsupported three-story staircase, the transport vent in the kitchen were all innovations unique to this house. The wooden mantelpieces hang on hooks so they can be easily removed in the event of fires. The Franklin stove in the rear hall was connected to water pipes which ran between the floors to distribute heat throughout the house. The Bullard House was the first residence in the city to have electricity. Mrs. Bullard not having a great deal of confidence in electricity had gas chandeliers wired so that both could be used concurrently.

Located in what was then the most prestigious Columbus neighborhood, construction began on this magnificent home in 1887 and completed in 1890. Dr. Bullard built the house for his wife, the former Mary Blackmar and their three daughters, Elmira, Louise, and Dana. Dr. Bullard was born in Tenniville, Georgia, on February 29, 1852, the son of Elmira and Lewis Bullard. He attended Emory University and afterwards studied medicine at Johns Hopkins. He later pursued his medical studies in London and Vienna. Dr. Bullard was a prominent eye, ears, nose, and throat specialist at a time when medical specialization was rare. Many of his patients came great distances to be treated by him. A number of the operations he performed in Columbus were considered notable. His large practice attested to the high esteem in which he was held. The family of Dr. Bullard’s wife, the Blackmars, played an important role in the early days of Columbus. Descendants of the family have lived in Columbus since 1835 when the city was only seven years old. The family contributed greatly to the cultural and economic growth of the city. The Bullards raised three daughters in the house, two of whom were married there. One of the daughters, Elmira (Mrs. William Thomas Hart) married and lived in this house.

While Mrs. Hart lived in the house people always found a hospitable welcome. One of their more frequent visitors was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who gave a radio talk announcing his decision to run for Governor of New York from the parlor of the house. The announcement was broadcast nationwide. Not only was Mr. Roosevelt a frequent visitor, but other prominent guests made visits to the Bullard home. As General George Patton prepared for war, his thoughts wandered on occasion from troops and tanks to a second helping of Mary Bullard's Country Captain. While on his way to Fort Benning before going to Europe, Patton sent a telegram to the Bullard family in nearby Columbus, Ga.: "If you can't give me a party and have Country Captain, meet me at the train with a bucket of it." Fort Benning, known as "The Home of the Infantry," is where Patton and a roll call of some of the U.S. Army's most famous military officers met "Miss Mamie." They also became acquainted with her Country Captain, a tangy, curry-laced chicken-and- rice dish she first concocted for President Roosevelt. Some culinary historians believe British sailors first introduced Country Captain to the United States in the late 1700s, bringing the recipe from India to the Southern ports of Savannah and Charleston. The name apparently was derived from a term British soldiers bestowed upon Indian natives who were trained as soldiers and paid by the British Army. Although it was an international dish, Country Captain apparently did not achieve a modicum of fame until Bullard began serving it to globe-trotting presidents and generals, who behaved as food missionaries and happily spread word of the dish wherever they traveled. Before Miss Mamie died at age 84 in 1944, she and her three daughters -- Elmira Bullard Hart, Louise Bullard McPherson and Dana Bullard -- served Country Captain to the likes of Supreme Court Justice Thomas Murphy and Army Generals John Pershing, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Marshall and Patton.

In 1972, while Lloyd Sampson was stationed at Ft. Benning as a young dermatologist, his wife Gloria explored Columbus’ neighborhoods and was enamored with the beautifully ornate Victorian houses found in the High Uptown Historic District. She took a special liking to the Bullard home and decided to sketch it one day. Coincidentally, Mr. Hart, the current owner of the home noticed her drawing the house and asked if she would like to see the inside. Unknown to her at the time, it was that first visit that would have a lasting impact on her and her husband’s life for the next 40+ years. In exchange for a painting and serving as caretakers, Mr. Hart allowed Gloria and Lloyd Sampson to live in the house for 18 months while Dr. Sampson was stationed at Ft. Benning. During that time, they fell further in love with the house and the surrounding High Uptown neighborhood. Then, they returned to California for Lloyd to finish his residency at Stanford.

In 1978, the Sampson’s received a phone call from Mr. Hart who told them his mother had passed away and he needed to sell the home. He gave them three days to respond. The Sampson’s agreed to purchase the home, packed up their belongings, travelled to Columbus, and began a painstakingly detailed restoration of the home that continues to this day. Thirteen fireplaces, eleven arches, oak and pecan parquet flooring, and a 30-foot-tall entry hall are just some of the original details still remaining in the house they call home. Two blocks away, in the 1200 block of Third Avenue, stood the other Second Empire home in Columbus – The Rothschild House. This house was built, in 1886 by N.P. Banks, who was vice-president of the Columbus Investment Company. It passed to its second owner, J. B. Tarver, a wholesale grocer, who bought the home in 1904.

In 1910, the house found its longest owner, the Rothschild family. David Rothschild, who was in the business of manufacturing upholstery fabric, purchased the property and lived in the home with his wife and six children. Members of the Rothschild Family owned the house until 1958, at which time it was sold and used as a combination doctor's office/home. The Rothschild family, many members of which have been leading citizens in the Columbus community, has contributed to the development of the fabric industry. Two-thirds of house is two stories tall with a central hall. It has a six room down and three up plan. The exterior is highlighted with a mansard roof, four interior chimneys, one story porch runs length of facade with central second story portico. The front facade features paired windows, chamfered porch supports, applied jigsaw cut decoration. The applied ornament on the porches and under the eaves is some of the finest in Columbus. The dormer vents which conform to the curving roofline are the only existing ones in Columbus of that style.

By 1992, the Rothschild House was vacant and slated for demolition, along with three other homes in the 1100 block of Third Avenue. The area was growing with needs for church expansions and parking for parishioners. Virginia Peebles had just taken over as executive director of the Historic Columbus and Garry Pound was president of the Historic District Preservation Society (HDPS). They were both looking for a way to make a difference in the community. Rozier Dedwylder, director of Uptown Columbus, came to them and said that money was available—matching grants for worthy projects. He said to think big, think out of the box, to think of something transformational. They went to Rozier with a proposal to move four endangered, two-story houses (including the Rothschild House) into the protection of the Columbus Historic District. It was something that had never been done anywhere before on this scale. For the next two years, Virginia wheeled and cajoled, bumped up against resistance, coordinated, budgeted, schmoozed, threatened, faced setbacks, improvised, and, against all odds, made this thing happen.

Those four beautiful houses were moved to Seventh Street on a single, gloriously rainy day in October of 1993. It was “instant” urban renewal. The Seventh Street Project was a success because HCF had the determination to make it happen. It was a success because of the generosity of our community, both in terms of public and private support. The success of this project was the catalyst for numerous other preservation projects that continue to this day. Over $230,000 was required for the moving of the four houses in the 1993 Parade of Homes. Historic Columbus pledged $100,000 of its General Funds to facilitate the relocation and stabilization of these properties. In addition, proceeds from the successful 1993 Riverfest Weekend and grant funds from The Bradley-Turner Foundation were utilized.

First Baptist Church donated the Rothschild House to Mamie and Garry Pound, who restored the house for their home and later the Rothschild-Pound Bed and Breakfast. St. Luke United Methodist Church donated 307 and 311 11th Street and 1112 Third Avenue to Historic Columbus, as well as funds for the house moves. The Rothschild families were also generous donors. Dr. Garry Pound led this drive to save these endangered properties and revitalize the area. This project was a great public and private partnership with Historic Columbus and the Historic District Preservation Society leading the charge. The Seventh Street Redevelopment Project documented expenditures were over $850,000.

The Bullard-Hart-Sampson House and the Rothschild-Pound House are two of Columbus' most beautiful and architecturally unique homes. If there was ever a doubt, they are the epitome of why architecture is art. They are both also outstanding centerpieces for the revitalization of their respective neighborhoods. Without the passion and courage of the Sampsons and the Pounds, these two jewels would have been lost. Before we end the story, I would be remiss not to include this one last note. There is one other structure located within High Uptown that was modified later in its history to include Second Empire details. The Hawkes House was originally constructed in c.1850 and modified in c.1880. It is a one-story clapboard Georgian cottage with Second Empire elements, such as a mansard roof sheathed with pressed tin shingles, a porch featuring chamfered wood supports, decorative brackets, and a balustrade. Originally located on the southeast corner of Third Avenue and 14th Street, it was moved to the northwest corner of the same intersection. The home was relocated to its current site in 1988 to save it from demolition. This house has also been a part of the Janice P. Biggers Revolving – Redevelopment Fund.

Next Week: We will explore the story of the only California Ranch house in Columbus. Please join us!


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