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Garden History of Georgia (Part 1): The Fontaine House and St. Elmo


This month, we are highlighting the historic Columbus gardens and their homes that were a part of the publication, Garden History of Georgia, 1733 - 1933, published by the Peachtree Garden Club. They divided up the book into three sections - early gardens, modern gardens, and garden club projects. Columbus has four gardens featured in the early section and four in the modern. Those will be the focus of our spotlights this month.


SOURCE: Garden History of Georgia, 1733 - 1933. Edited by Hattie C. Rainwater and compiled by Loraine M. Cooney. 1933 by the Peachtree Garden Club.

 

The signing of a treaty between the United States Government and the Creek Indians for their removal beyond the Mississippi opened up a vast region for settlement. In this period, when all over the state, towns and villages were springing up almost overnight, Columbus stands out as having had a most rapid and substantial development. 1828 – 1829 not only saw this city come into being, but Rose Hill, the nucleus of rich plantation settlement, and Wynnton, a community of handsome country homes, both within a few miles of Columbus, were established. The riverbank homes which were so long its pride have given way to the city’s business development.



The Fontaine House, c.1836 was located on the NE Corner of Front Avenue and 11th Street. Below is the home of the Honorable John Fontaine, first Mayor of Columbus. Terraced gardens extended to the banks of the Chattahoochee. Homes and gardens stretched for a mile along the riverbank.

The Fontaine House was also a forerunner to additional large-scale homes that would soon be constructed along Front Avenue and known as “Golden Row.” The Front Avenue homes were called “Golden Row” due to the number of bankers and successful businessmen who had houses there, all with gardens down to the river.


The last private owner was Mary Fontaine Pou (Mrs. John Dozier Pou), granddaughter of John Fontaine. The house was documented by the Historic American Building Survey in 1933. At that time, the home had left private hands and was the property of the Elks Club. The Fontaine House was demolished in the early 1960s. It is now the site of a parking deck.



A few miles out of Columbus, on the old coach road between Savannah and Mobile, St. Elmo stands in its fifteen-acre park. The house, said to have been built in Revolutionary days near a settlement clustering around the southmost ford of the Chattahoochee, in time became the property of John Howard and in 1832 was remodeled in the Greek Revival manner by his son-in-law, Seaborn Jones. (Editor's Note: This sentence is taken directly from the Garden History of Georgia book. It is in conflict with all other information I have seen. According to the National Register Nomination for the house, construction began in 1828 and was completed by 1833. The builder of the house was Seaborn Jones. I have always gone by the National Register information.)

In its palmy days giant tropical plants were housed in a conservatory, there was a square box garden in front of the house, and additional formal gardens with statue guarded walks lay on each side. Today gardens and statuary are gone, as is the marble basin into which flowed a spring so copious that for many years it served as the water supply of the neighboring community. A blazing hedge of Pyrus japonica, giant wistaria looped from tree to tree, and a three-hundred-foot scuppernong arbor leading down to an enchanting lake, speak eloquently of the past and give pleasure today (1933).

Augusta Evans Wilson was John Howard's granddaughter, and was frequently the guest of her aunt, Mrs. Jones, in whose home she completed her novel, St. Elmo. In her honor it was given the name of St. Elmo by Major Jeremiah Slade, who purchased the property in 1878. Up to that time it was known as the Jones Place (and El Dorado). Miss Florence Slade, his daughter and the present owner, has made it a shrine to the memory of this Georgia authoress.



Caption for above image: Lovely St. Elmo dreams of a romantic past when Augusta Evans Wilson paced its statue-guarded walks.

Caption for below image: Ancient cedars encircle St. Elmo's lily-padded lake. With the coming of spring, its banks and the little island are starred and wreathed with old-fashioned blossoms and flowering vines.



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