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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Columbus in The Architecture of the Last Colony

SOURCE: Architecture of the Last Colony: Georgia's Historic Places, 1733 - 2000. Edited by Mark C. McDonald, 2023.


A variety of visionary motives prompted the eighteenth-century founders and promoters of the new province of Georgia. For some, the province offered freedom from imprisonment for debt. For others, freedom from slavery or demon rum – both prohibited in the early years. The most compelling reason for carving a new colony out of the western territory of South Carolina, however, was simply defense. The older colony had begun life at Charleston in 1670. By 1733 its citizens perceived the land west and south of the Savannah River as a haven for their enemies, current and potential. Spanish forts and missions probed northward from Florida; French military scouts and traders infiltrated from the French territories to the west along the Mississippi River. The communities of Creek (Muscogee) and Cherokee Indians who were settled and hunting throughout the territory were a regular and increasing source of friction and conflict. A new province beyond the Savannah River represented for South Carolinians a highly desirable buffer between themselves and all the potential invaders who lurked in the backcountry.

Architecture of the Last Colony surveyed the most important extant buildings in the state of Georgia, focusing on structures that showcase successful historic preservation practices and techniques. The buildings range in style from the folk-art structures of St. EOM’s Pasaquan to suburban Craftsman bungalows and lavish antebellum mansions. The buildings tell a diverse story that shows how nationally significant architects and Native American, pioneer, female, and African American architects have all contributed to Georgia’s built environment.

The Italianate mansion Dinglewood was built in 1858-59 for the planter Joel Early Hurt on his suburban estate in Wynnton, then situated a mile east of Columbus proper. The firm of Barringer & Morton, well known locally for both residential and commercial work in the growing city, designed and built the house. Samuel Hatcher, a fellow planter and associate of Hurt, may have assisted in the design. The mansion boasts many features of high-style Italianate: deep roof overhangs, curvilinear brackets; half-round arched windows, an ornate cupola, and candelabra columns along its wraparound veranda. The exterior walls are stuccoed brick now painted a soft pink color. Dinglewood's main two-story block is organized as a Georgian House type, although here it is supplemented with a one-story range of rooms arrayed across the back of the first floor. The left (west) side of the house contains a grand double parlor with large pocket doors separating the front and back rooms, while a curving mahogany stair dominates the central hall. The rear range consists of three rooms: a dining room on the west, a reception hall behind the central hall, and a bedroom on the east. Both the dining room and bedroom feature bay windows overlooking formerly sweeping side yards. These views are now obscured by residences built in the early twentieth century when Dinglewood's property was subdivided. Unusually, a porte cochere is centered at the back of the house, so that visitors entering this way first enter the rear reception hall before moving into either the dining room or the central hall.

The house's interior decor features elaborate ceiling plasterwork, Carrara marble mantles, gilded mantels, and pier mirrors. The scale of the parlor rooms is majestic, with enormous pocketed hung sash windows extending to the floor where they overlook the veranda. One of the most gracious of Southern antebellum architectural features, these portal windows, when fully open, allow for maximum airflow and easy movement between the interior and exterior. A report in the Columbus Daily Times from September 1860 reports that Hurt’s "splendid mansion" included "all the modern city improvements" including a gas works to convert coal to gas for use in interior lighting. The article further reports the house cost $30,000 to build.

A very fine Carpenter Gothic church can be found in Talbotton, thirty-five miles northeast of Columbus. Construction on Zion Episcopal Church began in 1848 under the supervision of the builder James Cottingham with the assistance of the plasterer and brick mason Miranda Fort. Bishop Stephen Elliott, in his 1853 address to the convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, recounted his travel to Talbotton that year to consecrate the new church, a "very pretty house of worship, as he called it, and he made special note of the "indefatigable exertions" of the founding rector, Rev. Richard Johnson, to raise the funds that made the new building possible. At the 1848 diocesan convention, Johnson reported that he had raised $1,800 by subscription to begin construction of the new church. Zion Episcopal Church is simple in form, consisting of a rectangular gabled sanctuary with a boxy, stepped tower at its front. The simple, cubic belfry, perched atop the tower, is bluntly capped with a shallow hipped roof not visible from the ground. Rather, each of its corners is fitted with an octagonal post extending several feet higher than the roof and terminating in a finial. Crenelated bands near the top of each finial resemble crowns, perhaps an allegorical motif. This feature is repeated above each corner buttress on the body of the sanctuary, rising above the roofline and emphatically pointing skyward. The church's exterior walls are sided in vertical pine planks that fit tightly together without protective wood battens covering the seams. This hints that Zion's builders may have used hidden splines or tongue-and-groove planks to prevent water from seeping into the joints. Photographs indicate that, until at least 1936 and possibly as late as the 1950s, the church's exterior was unpainted, somehow maintaining its integrity after possibly a hundred years of weather exposure. By the 1960s, however, the building's exterior had been painted dark brown, as it remains today. Exterior restoration work undertaken in 2019-20 included caulking the plank seams and repainting the building.

Zion's interior survives in its unpainted form, imbuing it with the warm ambiance of pine, walnut, and cedar, remnants of Georgia's antebellum old-growth forests. A shallow vestibule inside the front door contains a pair of winding stairs leading to the organ loft above and two galleries extending along the sides of the church. The sanctuary is still fitted with its original walnut box pews, while the galleries above are equipped with simple bench-like pews once used by enslaved worshipers attending services. At the chancel, the communion rail features a trefoil shape repeated in the gallery railings and window heads. The walnut altar is paneled to match. Modified scissor trusses, sawn from white cedar, support the roof. In the gallery above the church entrance is a hand-pumped pipe organ installed in 1850. Designed and built by Henry Pilcher, an English-born maker working primarily in the northeastern United States, the Zion Episcopal Church organ is the oldest surviving example of a Pilcher instrument in the country. At Zion, there was clearly a desire to create a "correct" Gothic church, yet the idiom was unfamiliar to those tasked with building it. The poignant tension between ambition and ability is reflected in the builders' translation of complex shapes into simpler, flattened forms that could be rendered in the materials locally available. The passage of time has imbued once-common pine and walnut woods with an aura of permanence and profundity. Taken as a whole, Zion Episcopal Church transcends the limitations of its architectural conventions to become a masterpiece of vernacular invention.

A Columbus newspaper report from March 1861 announced that the cast iron for the (Bank of Columbus) building facade had arrived and was "in course of erection.” Though the local Columbus Iron Works was capable of producing the facade, its maker remains unknown. Despite the onset of the Civil War, the work was complete enough by October 1861 for the bank to occupy the first floor. In November 1862, the Georgia Home Insurance Company, another business concern associated with William H. Young, relocated its offices to the east side of the new building. Though the brick shell, floor structure, roof, and cast-iron facade were complete by the end of 1862, only the interiors of the basement and first floor were usable during the war. For years, wood shutters and planks covered the window openings on the unfinished second and third floors. As was common among Southern banks, the fortunes of the Bank of Columbus declined after the war. In May 1869, the Georgia Home Insurance Company purchased the building at auction for $28,000. At the time of the sale, estimators calculated that another $8,000 to $10,000 would be required to finish the building, on top of the $60,000 already expended on its construction. In September 1869, builders installed seventy-five new windows designed in "a combination order corresponding to the architecture of the building" finally completing the structure more than nine years after the groundbreaking. In August 1872 the insurance company modified the northwest corner of the building to become a two-sided entrance, with the cast iron for the alteration manufactured by the Columbus Iron Works. Until a catastrophic 1957 fire gutted the building, the 1869 windows were intact. The muntin pattern of these arched windows was uniquely suited to the architecture of the building, reflecting a geometry emblematic of both the Italianate and Italian Renaissance Revival styles. The fire caused damage valued at over, $I million, and though the building shell was salvaged and repaired with little impact on the cast-iron facade, the windows installed after the fire and their modern counterparts seen today made no attempt to replicate the historic design.

A volume on Georgia architecture would be incomplete without a feature on the ubiquitous shotgun house. This typology is defined by its floor plan rather than by its architectural form and detailing. The shotgun house is a narrow building composed of two bays, normally a door and a window, and three to five rooms arranged front to back without a hallway. It takes its name from the notion that a shotgun could be fired through the front door and the projectile would pass through each succeeding room. The shotgun house was widely popular from the 1870s through the first quarter of the twentieth century, typically housing working-class citizens in both rural and urban settings. The mill villages of Georgia were particularly common places for a concentration of this folk-housing type. Shotgun houses are widespread in Georgia- found in Augusta, Brunswick, Columbus, Macon, and many other places. Interestingly, they are uncommon in Savannah, where the wooden row house persisted into the late nineteenth century. The houses at 313, 315, and 317 8th Street in Columbus are excellent examples of the type. These three display the usual arrangement of a front door and single double-hung window in the front facade. Two of the houses have a hipped roof while the central one displays the more common gable-end roof. Wood siding, as shown in these examples, is the normal exterior sheathing. These houses have simple Victorian decoration on their porch columns; this differs from examples displaying neoclassical detailing and many showing no architectural ornament at all. There is an academic debate about the origins of the shotgun house. Some folklorists and architectural historians theorize that the form has African roots and migrated to Haiti and then to the American South; however, others believe the narrow form originated with the effort to maximize the number of buildings on expensive urban lots. The shotgun house form also enabled occupants to construct additions easily by simply extending the roofline toward the rear and adding rooms as a family grew. Whatever its origin, the shotgun house is a character-defining feature of the Georgia landscape. When preserved, it can offer affordable and adaptable housing to current and future generations.

New Formalism offered another design strategy for achieving a sense of monumentality, particularly for civic buildings, mostly by referencing the classical tradition more directly, but in a stylized, modernistic way. The Columbus Consolidated Government Center (1971-73), designed by architect Edward Neal, vividly reflects this trend as a monumental multibuilding ensemble. Housing the merged city and county governments, the symmetrical three-building composition wrapping around a rectangular plaza accessed by a grand staircase recalls the layout of the Lincoln Center in New York, the most noted work in this style. In Columbus, abstracted white concrete piers merge to form a rounded arcade and cornice on each building that stands out against darker adjacent materials. Lacking broader appreciation, New Formalist buildings have not fared well in terms of preservation and the fate of the Columbus building remains undecided.

Pasaquan, a seven-acre internationally known art environment outside of Buena Vista, in Marion County, was created by Eddie Owens Martin (1908-80), also known as "Saint EOM" Eddie Owens Martin's visionary art was in the service of a new religion, as opposed to the "old time religion" of Finster's Baptist heritage. Saint EOM was the founder and primary proponent of this religion, which fused elements of Native American, Precolumbian, Mexican, and other religious traditions. Martin was an outsider operating on an entirely different wavelength than the rest of the art world, guided by his inner, received visions. That he responded faithfully to these visions is clear. The site contains six primary buildings that include an original farmhouse dating from 1885, painted concrete walls, and painted concrete structures. Initial walls constructed of wood decayed over time and were lost. Later walls of concrete remain and are decorated with images inspired by religious visions and the use of psychedelics and marijuana. Many of the paintings depict mandalas, what Martin referred to as "cosmic mirrors." In addition to the principal farmhouse, other buildings, and structures contribute to this National Register-listed property: the Kiva, garage, Pagoda, and Studio (as enumerated in the Register listing). Martin is said to have been born at "the stroke of midnight” on July 4, 1908, in Glen Alta, near Buena Vista. His father was abusive, and Martin escaped him not long after he completed all the schooling that the community offered at the time. At age fourteen, he wandered itinerantly about South Georgia and Florida before making his way to New York City. Martin's New York sojourn lasted from 1022 until 1957 with nearly yearly trips south after his father's death in 1929. Martin would somewhat grudgingly return home to help harvest the crops, but he knew his destiny lay elsewhere. In 1935 Martin had a very strong vision while sick with pneumonia. The giant of his vision told him that "he could live if he would follow the god's spirit." Martin had a longtime interest in the occult and mysticism; he had even been a fortune teller in New York, among many other occupations. He became a student of ancient cultures and was able to pursue these interests at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, and the Museum of Natural History. One way or another, images from ancient cultures were permeating his consciousness. He began to believe that his hair and beard were his "antenna to the spirit world; he believed that hair "keeps you in contact with the planets." By 1937, another vision, this time auditory, revealed to him that he would be "the start of somethin' new." He would be Saint EOM and a Pasaquoyan, "the first one in the world."

Martin's mother died in 1950, and he began more frequent visits to Georgia. Between 1950 and 1957 he began hauling rocks around the property for a reason that then escaped him. In 1957, Martin began the construction of his artistic environment called Pasaquan. He could visualize what he wanted built and the symbols to be employed, and he knew them to be "very weird." His spirit guides would direct him on the specifics of each construction, though he often altered the dimensions given. Though many see a psychedelic aspect to the work, Martin did not use LSD, but he was a habitué of marijuana. Various helpers or assistants came in and out of Martin's orbit during the early 1960s, helping him craft various new constructions, though it was not until after he traveled to Mexico that these new constructions were painted. It was Martin's special zeal, understanding, and appreciation of the spirit world that gave the place its zing. In declining health in the early 1980s, Martin committed suicide, leaving his property, quizzically, to the Marion County Historical Society. In 1987, the society offered Pasaquan to the Bradley Museum in Columbus; the museum politely declined. Undaunted, the Marion County Historical Society created the Pasaquan Preservation Society and recruited a qualified chairperson who became the society's first director. What money Saint EOM had could not be used immediately since the artist had never paid either state or federal income taxes and had never received a social security number. Several grants were secured in the first year to secure and stabilize the property. In 2006 the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation named Pasaquan one of the year's Places in Peril. In 2014, the Kohler Foundation and Columbus State University joined together to protect and preserve the unique place that Eddie Owens Martin, Saint EOM, created.

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