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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Columbus (1952): A Snapshot of Industry, Housing, and Municipal Planning

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. For this month, I selected the Indexes from the early to mid 1950s. Today, is an overview of Columbus in 1952 from an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (Columbus - Industrial Giant by Andrew Sparks) that was reprinted in the Index. The following Spotlights will showcase the expansion of Columbus' utilities and housing, along with the growth happening in Phenix City and Fort Benning. While some of the language in this article feels like a paid promotional advertisement, it provides an economic snapshot of our town. It also gives us the ability to see how far we have come in some ways and how we still need to work together for more improvements. 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

Source: This History Spotlight is taken directly from the article Columbus - Industrial Giant by Andrew Sparks for the Atlanta Journal Constitution Magazine, January 20, 1952. The images are from the 1952 Industrial Index.


America has discovered Columbus. This Georgia river city on the Chattahoochee got a boost from the 1950 census that made people in every part of the country take notice. Prior to that census, Columbus rated fifth among Georgia cities, coming after Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta, and Macon. Now Columbus is officially recognized as the second largest metropolitan city in the state. With a metropolitan population of 172,100, it is exceeded only by Atlanta. Columbus still has fewer people inside its city limits than does Savannah, but city limits no longer give an accurate picture of a town’s size. The city’s remarkable growth over a period of 20 years is obvious in many ways other than the increase in population. For one thing, the physical area of the city has doubled. In 1930, it covered 6.8 square miles. The area of the city limits now is 12.6 square miles. Building permits jumped from $711,768 in 1930 to a staggering $7,689,747 in 1950. Real estate assessments almost doubled, and bank debits rose from $151,698,000 to $778,647,636.

What one is conscious of in Columbus is business activity and the wealth of industry. The town has never ceased to be the trading center it was laid out to be and is now the chief retail market for more than half a million people in 22 Georgia and Alabama counties. Its industry has expanded steadily. The abundant power of the Chattahoochee there at the fall line is one thing that gave rise to this industry in the early days. Even before the first town lot had been sold, people were predicting that Columbus would eventually become a cotton manufacturing center to rival New England. The textile industry started early and grew fast. The city, which was at the head of navigation on the Chattahoochee, became one of the South’s largest inland ports and a leading market for raw cotton. At times there were as many as16 steamboats on the river hauling cotton down to the coast at Apalachicola. When the Federal forces arrived on April 16, 1865, General James H. Wilson, who was in command of the troops, declared he was going to burn all the cotton he could find. But the job turned out to be a bigger one than he had counted on because there was $43,000,000 worth of the stuff in town.

Present day textile mills here in the second largest textile center in the South are the Eagle and Phenix Division of the Fairforest Company, Swift Manufacturing Company, Swift Spinning Mills, Bibb Manufacturing Company, Jordan Mills, Muscogee Manufacturing Company, Anderson Mills and the Georgia Webbing and Taping Company. Eagle and Phenix was the first textile mill in the world to use electricity for lighting, making possible a night shift. The annual payroll of all the mills combines exceeds $36,000,000.

Although textiles are the most important single industry, they are by no means the only one. The city’s factories are highly diversified and make everything from kitchen stoves to caskets. They turn out brick and lumber products, automobile batteries, fertilizer, men’s and ladies’ hosiery, clothing, paper products, pottery, machinery and meat products. What is said to be the first commercial ice-making machine in the world was made by the Columbus Iron Works in 1873. Goldens’ Foundry does heavy machine shop and foundry work.

Two businesses, both started by local men, have given a national reputation to soft drinks, peanuts, and candy processed in Columbus. One is the Nehi corporation, distributors of Royal Crown Cola and Nehi drinks, which was established in 1905 by Claude A. Hatcher. The other is the Tom Huston Peanut Company.

Clayton D. McLendon, executive director of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, says that the one striking thing about his town is the fact that so much of its industry is home-owned and home-operated. The Chamber has a very aggressive industrial development program to keep new factories coming. The primary reasons which attracted industry to the city in the beginning are still important as ever. Chief of these is the river which furnishes abundant power and will, in the future, again provide transportation to the sea. Upstream from Columbus, the Georgia Power Company has two hydroelectric dams, Bartlett’s Ferry and Goat Rock. Two steam electric generating plants supplement this power. The US Army Corps of Engineers is already working at Buford and Apalachicola building two of four new dams planned for the Chattahoochee. When the whole system is completed, Columbus will have a 9-foot channel for navigation to the sea. The promise of water transportation to the Gulf of Mexico and the city’s strategic geographical location in the heart of an expanding southeastern market assure the continued growth of Columbus as and industrial and distribution center. This thriving west-Georgia city is served by several railway lines of three major systems; 12 local and national motor freight lines; seven modern paved highways and three major airlines operating 14 daily flights.

The Columbus Chamber of Commerce is ready at the bat of an eye to tell industrial prospects about the many types and quantity of raw materials and mineral resources in the area. Among them are kaolin and silica for the production of ceramics and glassware; hardwood, gum and pine for furniture and building materials; iron and coal deposits westward in Alabama; bauxite, fuller’s earth, travertine and limestone a few miles south. Like any growing city, Columbus has housing problems. Since 1945, more than 7,000 new dwelling units have been built but houses are still needed. The Chamber of Commerce, with the help of newspapers, realtors, and contractors, recently launched an “operation housing” to emphasize that need, to encourage both new building and remodeling old homes into multiple units. A city-wide check showed that 2,917 units are either underway or definitely planned.

Columbus is known to many people because of nearby Fort Benning, home of the Army’s Infantry School. At Benning almost 1,000,000 officers and men trained during World War II. The reservation, including Lawson Air Force Base, covers 175,000 acres in Georgia and Alabama and is one of the largest military installations in the world. The post is tied closely to the city. The officers’ club, as one example, has civilian members. Thousands of Benning soldiers, in America’s modern, family-man’s army, live in Columbus suburbs. Almost all of them spend money there, making a sizable contribution to the town’s economy. Columbus shows its gratitude with genuine hospitality. Every church in town has a military service center. Each time a new unit arrives at Benning, representatives of the Chamber of Commerce go out to meet the commanding officer and later tell the men themselves about the town and its recreational facilities. Sightseeing trips are arranged for soldiers who are interested.

The fact that people from Benning do take part in Columbus life has done much to give the town its cosmopolitan air. Almost everyone who lives there considers this one of the most delightful towns in the state. A staunch booster once said, “Columbus isn’t just a place to live; it’s a way of life.” The town is big enough to have city ways but not so big that it has lost the human touch. The city has four modern, well-equipped hospitals, one of Georgia’s best county health departments, and a school system that has attracted international attention. Most important of all, it has plans for the future. The original state engineer’s layout guided the city’s early development. This was the grandfather of later master plans, drawn by professional city planners in 1925 and 1948. Steps like these assure the fact that Columbus will always be a city with a blueprint for future progress.

Next Week: We will be highlighting the growth happening in 1952 centered around our local utilities - gas, water, and power. Our community was growing and the need for proper utilities and their access right along with it. Thank you all again for your continued interest in these emails and for your support of preservation! See you next week!

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