Benning Veterans Populate Carver Heights (1951)
Today's History Spotlight celebrates Carver Heights, a development by Wright Contracting Co. and R.H. Wright, Jr. that attracted many retired and active military. Carver Heights was developed as a segregated African American neighborhood. We will explore its history, its architecture, and its significance to Columbus and Fort Benning. Thank you all so much for your continued interest in these spotlights. Remember, if you have any ideas - I'm always grateful for them. Historic preservation only flourishes because of your passion for the history of this town, its stories, and its people. If you have any questions or concerns, never hesitate to contact the HCF Office – 706-322-0756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for all you do for preservation in Columbus! Sources: W.C. Woodall, Industrial Index (1951 and 1953) and the Preliminary National Register of Historic Places Application for the Carver Heights Historic District by Dr. Amanda Rees. We are highlighting several of local historian W.C. Woodall's Industrial Indexes over the course of this summer. If you aren't familiar with them, they are a wonderful collection of articles on local happenings, business advertisements, and images of new homes put together each year from 1912 until 1960. There are also issues dedicated to Phenix City and Fort Benning. You can find them in the Genealogy Room of the Columbus Public Library and the CSU Archives.
In the post-World War II American South, Black businesses and residents began moving from the traditional downtown areas to the suburbs. These suburban locations were typically negotiated between Black and white civic leaders. Black civic leaders saw separate community building as a source of Black improvement and as a solution to often wretched contemporary conditions. After serving their country, veterans qualified for home loans guaranteed by the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (also known as the GI Bill). Loans could only be used for new construction, which meant that veterans could not use this resource to re-invest in existing buildings because they were deemed too great a financial risk. Bank managers and insurance agents also routinely denied services to people and within city regions they considered to be a poor financial risk. City maps used red to indicate these so-called high-risk areas and to indicate to bankers which areas were deemed too risky for investment. This process is commonly known as redlining. This resulted in little to no re-investment in cities, while new suburbs flourished. (A local example is the Liberty District - while once a thriving segregated business and professional community, the federal government’s redlining program resulted in subsequent disinvestment over the years in the Liberty area for the suburban areas in Wynnton.) At the end of World War II, some of the 100,000 African American soldiers who were stationed at Fort Benning were ready to settle down. In the early post World War II period, in the late 1940s to 1950s, modest suburbs were quickly being constructed.
These communities often focused upon the American Small House. An American Small House is defined as a home built from the late 1930s into the 1960s. These homes were of single-story square design. Architects developed a “box” floor plan with small rooms situated around a core. Emerging during the Great Depression, the American Small House reached its climax during the nationwide housing shortage after World War II when labor and materials were in short supply. The American Small House met a clear national goal to provide well-designed, well-built, affordable, single-family homes. Carver Heights was the first of these post-War neighborhoods in Columbus. After World War II, African American soldiers returned from fighting fascism abroad to demand freedom at home. Described in the early 1950s as “Columbus’ largest residential development for colored home-owners,” Carver Heights was characterized as “largely an army colony.” As the city’s first post-war African American suburb, this community offered new homes that could be purchased through federal mortgages for Black enlisted and veteran soldiers who returned and retired in the city.
The Carver Heights subdivision is located east of downtown Columbus in what is today known as Midtown. It’s 87 acres is bound in the east along Lindsey Creek, its southern boundary is marked by 8th Street, on the western boundary by Rigdon Road and on the northern boundary, the neighborhood is defined by Morehouse Street. It lies to the east of another historic African American neighborhood of Wynnton Hill made up of shotgun homes and bungalows constructed between 1915 and 1940. The city annexed the land that would become Carver Heights in 1947. The suburb was originally platted in 1949 to include land for a school in the southwestern corner. It was subsequently expanded south to include over 100 additional homes and the Carver Heights Presbyterian Church and early childcare center. Later, the site for the George Washington Carver School (originally an elementary school) would be moved south.
Carver Heights was marketed to returning African American veterans and was quickly populated by middle class families. African American officers coming to Fort Benning would rent a duplex. In addition, veterans and their spouses became part of the postwar labor force as teachers, housemaids, ministers, and employees in local businesses, mills, and factories all of whom settled in Carver Heights.
Carver Heights was the first new development to offer African American veterans and active-duty service members the opportunity to use their earned military benefits under the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act to purchase a home. Much of the suburb was built prior to the creation of paved roads and storm drains. Carver Heights was the first of at least eight additional segregated subdivisions which were subsequently constructed in the city, including Willis Plaza, Washington Heights, Bel Mar, Quail Creek, East Carver Heights, Cedar Hills, Dawson Estates, and finally Mount Vernon.
Until the mid-1960’s, suburb developers across the nation could legally discriminate against African American and Jewish home buyers. Carver Heights symbolizes a commitment by local leaders to facilitate African Americans in purchasing new homes in a new subdivision that welcomed federal servicemen’s loans.
There were several realtors selling new Carver Heights homes, including the Farleys. Successful businesspeople who owned the Farley Realty Company, E.E. and Ella Farley were active within the local community. E.E. Farley (pictured above) led the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also served as executive secretary of the Army and Navy YMCA at Fort Benning. His membership within the local African American fraternal organizations allowed him to work alongside other influential Civil Rights leaders such as Dr. Thomas H. Brewer, Primus King, and A. J. McClung. Farley was also instrumental in funding critical improvements to the 9th Street YMCA in 1925. The 9th Street YMCA was originally established in 1907. In 1941, his personal appeal to the wealthy African American Columbus businesswoman, Elizabeth “Lizzie Mae” Lunsford yielded $15,000 of the $20,000 needed to fund the new African American USO. Farley, Brewer, and other prominent local African Americans orchestrated the annual football classic held at the A. J. McClung Memorial Stadium between Tuskegee and Morehouse. Established in 1936, this annual fall football game remains a staple social event in the city.
A significant portion of the buildings in Carver Heights was completed by R.H. Wright Jr. & Associates. Wright originally bought 60 acres of land (divided into 300 lots) which was then extended by an additional 30 acres “in an exchange for grounds, so as to make the school campus more regular and desirable in form.” G.V. Carr also built a “group of new homes” along with L. B. Koonce. The Farleys’ realty company sold property in the development as the “agent for the owners, Wright Contracting Co.”
The community encompassed a variety of buildings and services. There were approximately 430 single family residences that ranged from four to six rooms and were almost uniformly one story. The buildings were masonry construction - brick and block. There were several duplexes of concrete block construction. The community also included the 16-unit Flamingo Apartments (pictured below), concrete block, and reinforced concrete structure, heated by gas wall heaters. Each apartment included a living room, bedroom, large closet, bath and dining rooms and kitchen area. Each unit came with an electric refrigerator and stove. The apartments were designed by Huel L. Crockett and constructed by R.H. Wright, Jr. and Associates.
The one structure that serviced the spiritual needs of the community was the Carver Heights Presbyterian Church and Early Childhood Center. The early childhood education center which is understood to be the first purpose-built early education center in the city was designed by Biggers-Scarbrough-Neal Architects and constructed by R.H. Wright Jr. and Associates.
The educational needs of “school age” children were met by the Carver Heights Elementary School completed in fall 1952 with 16 classrooms, cafetorium, library and clinic, located on 26 acres. It’s architect, Richard Aeck, planned for expansion of the school into a junior and ultimately senior high school. Finally, the community included a shopping center that included a service station, grocery stores, drive-through restaurant, laundromat, and a motel that provided “colored tourist facilities (planned by Wright Construction Co.). The Carver Heights Motel was one of three places mentioned in the Green Book for accommodation in Columbus.
Many of the Carver Heights homes were built using a brick facade, inexpensive at the time in the city. These cottages have modest porches or stoops, often with decorative iron porch columns. While front porches were smaller than Victorian cottages, these post-WWII American Small Home porches still offered a small space for residents to sit and talk with neighbors. Nationally, the two-bedroom versions were often the most common design chosen for construction, as it was the smallest house that could be guaranteed a mortgage. Many of the residents planted vegetable gardens and fruit trees.
Phase 1 (1946-1949) approximately 20 residences located primarily at the center of the development, along Illges Road. In addition, a block of five homes was developed along O’Neal Street. Phase 2 (1950-1951) expanded primarily to the northern and west of the initial development. Phase 3 (1952-1955) was by far the greatest expansion extending to all areas except the southeastern quadrant that was developed in the final phase. Phase 4 (after 1955) expansion primarily in the southeastern section of the subdivision in all directions from the center with additional development along the eastern section of Morehouse Street.
This new subdivision sought to honor African American leaders and institutions. It was named after the African American scientist George Washington Carver (1864-1943) who conducted his research 40 miles west at the Tuskegee Institute of Alabama. Carver developed strong connections with Columbus as he regularly consulted with Tom’s Peanuts and often stayed with the Farley family before his death in the late 1940s. Streets are named for both Carver and Booker T. Washington. Washington was then President of Tuskegee Institute. Other streets recognize historically black colleges and universities such as Fisk University and Morehouse College. Below is an advertisement in the “Colored Real Estate Section” of the Columbus-Enquirer on March 3, 1950 for the homes in Carver Heights.
Next Week: Next Thursday, we will kick off a full month celebrating the history of Fort Benning as showcased in W.C. Woodall's 1953 Industrial Index. The first is the story of the Rangers. Thank you all again for your continued interest in these emails and for your support of preservation! See you next week!