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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

City Commissioner and First Responder: Dr. Edwin L. deGraffenreid

Happy New Year from Historic Columbus! During the month of January, Historic Columbus will continue to celebrate the incredible first responders we have been blessed to have in our community. We are starting off the new year with one of Columbus' original five commissioners who planned our city in 1828. First, let's set the stage. Captain Basil Hall, of the British Royal Navy, traveled through this section during the spring of 1828 and in his accounts describe the "embryo city." He says: "About a year before the period of our visit, that is to say, in the course of the year of 1827, an arrangement was completed by the government of the United States, by which the Creek Nation of Indians were induced to quit the territory lying between the Chattahoochee and the Flint Rivers, and to move westward within the limits of the State of Alabama; thus leaving the vast intermediate district of country at the disposal of the Georgians. It seems that according to the laws of Georgia, any land so acquired, by what is called the extinction of the Indian claims, is divided by lottery, amongst the inhabitants of the State. Every citizen 21 years of age has one draw, as it is called, a married man two draws, a married man with a family, three. I forget the further particulars and have mislaid the act of the legislature upon the subject. I believe, however, that the lots were of 202 ½ acres each. Be these details, however, as they may, the whole of the country, formerly occupied by a few Indians, was no sooner acquired that it was divided, in the way I have mentioned, amongst the people of the state. When this distribution took place, however, the State government reserved a portion of the country, five miles square, upon which they proposed to found a city. The situation chosen for this purpose was a spot on the left bank of the Chattahoochee, which is the boundary line between the State of Georgia and Alabama. The new city was to commence at the lower end of a long series of falls, or more properly speaking, rapids, over which this great river dashes for some miles in a very picturesque manner." (pictured below is the Embryo Town image of Columbus)

Captain Hall continues, "As none of the city lots were yet sold, of course no one was sure that the spot upon which he had pitched his house would eventually become his own. Every person, it seemed, was at liberty to build where he could find room, it being understood, that forty days after the sale he would be allowed to remove his property from the ground on which it stood should he not himself become its purchaser. In consequence of this understanding, many of the houses were built on trucks - a sort of low, strong wheels, such as cannon are supported by - for the avowed purpose of being hauled away when the land should be sold. At least sixty frames of houses were pointed out to me, lying in piles on the ground, and got up by carpenters on speculation, ready to answer the call of the future purchaser.” Governor John Forsyth had recently been elected Governor of Georgia when Columbus came into being in 1828. Commissioners Ignatius A. Few. Elias Beall, Philip H. Alston, James Hallam, and Edwin L. deGraffenreid were appointed by him to lay out the town, in accordance with an Act of the Legislature. There were already approximately 900 inhabitants living in what would become Columbus and it was the job of the Commissioners to plan out the new town. Hall also notes that he was told that on the day of the auction of the lots, three to four thousand people were in attendance. Columbus would originally be laid out in a grid pattern and is said to have been the last planned city of the thirteen original colonies.

Dr. Edwin L. deGraffenreid was born in Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1798. He was a descendant of Baron Christopher deGraffenreid of Switzerland, who brought a group of people to the new world on account of religious persecution. Dr. deGraffenreid later moved to North Carolina, where he married Patsy Kirkland. They moved to the Coweta Reserve in 1825, where he became a leading citizen and established a large family. He was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, and a friend of Daniel Webster.

Although there have been found no records to affirm the fact, it is most probable that Dr. deGraffenreid was appointed by Governor Forsyth as a member of the Commission because he was a physician, had lived near Native Americans for several years, and was thoroughly capable on account of his good judgment and experience to deal with such matters as the health of a new city would call forth. In the act providing for Columbus, it was particularly brought out that the town should be located with a view to the health of the prospective inhabitants.

The sprawling frontier settlement, with its very wide streets suggested by Dr. deGraffenreid as a health measure, was fast assuming the new look of a prosperous trading town. By 1830, the population of Muscogee County was 3,507, of whom 2,262 were whites. During the early years of the city, Dr. deGraffenreid was very active in work among Native Americans across the river in Alabama. He helped by providing vaccinations during an epidemic of smallpox. He was considered a great friend. Mrs. deGraffenreid was also a good friend, teaching practical things about the home. Dr. deGraffenreid worked tirelessly for the health and welfare of Columbus. He was one of the first four doctors in the town, and he established the first Temperance Society.

His home was located on the southeast corner of First Avenue and 12th Street, what is now a parking lot adjacent to Trinity Episcopal Church and the 12th Street Post Office.

The house was said to be the first brick building in the city, three years being required for its construction. He and his family occupied it in 1831, though it was not completed at the time. The home was on the eastern limits of civilization, all beyond being a dense woodland.

The physician, as most of his family, was an Episcopalian. It was largely due to his efforts, that this denomination began in Columbus at such an early date. The parish was organized in 1834, and two years later the church was built across the street from the present location of Trinity Episcopal Church on 1st Avenue. No doubt it was Dr. deGraffenreid's influence that caused the church to be built close to his home.

After a long life as an active and useful citizen, Dr. deGraffenreid died December 7, 1871. His wife died several years later on January 16, 1877. They are buried in Linwood Cemetery. Dr. deGraffenreid's home was in existence until the government bought it in 1892 and tore it down in order to build an earlier post office building to the one we know today. Columbus is very fortunate to have had Dr. Edwin L. deGraffenreid as a resident and a physician dedicated to all of those living in the area. It is no doubt that Columbus owes a lot to his health-related vision in city planning, his love of people, and his faith in this community. We are also very fortunate to have his descendants still living in Columbus, including local historians Billy Winn and Clason Kyle. Without these gentlemen, Historic Columbus would not be what it is today.

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