History Spotlight: Six Weeks of Wynnton (Weracoba - St. Elmo)
Six Weeks of Wynnton The Development of Wynnton's Historic Districts
Over the next six weeks, join us as we highlight several of the historic neighborhoods of Wynnton - what has now become known as Midtown. Do you live in the Wynnton area? Post a photo on social media and tag us so we can share more beauty and history from this amazing part of our city!
Week 1: Weracoba - St. Elmo
The Weracoba – St. Elmo Historic District, also called The Park District, contains turn of the century and post World War II architecturally significant homes. There is a large concentration of Craftsman Bungalows, along with English Vernacular Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish and Dutch Revival, Neoclassical Cottages, and two Greek Revival houses.
The area was established in the early days of Columbus when St. Elmo (pictured above) was built. St. Elmo is said to be “one of the most exquisite examples of classic houses in America – a bona fide Greek temple for a home.” It was built between 1828 and 1833 by Colonel Seaborn Jones on the old stagecoach road. The house was originally named “Eldorado,” meaning land of beauty. Colonel Jones drew the plans for the house himself. It had exquisitely landscaped grounds including a conservatory. The materials for the house, with the exception of the marble and the mahogany, were from the property itself. A small lake now fills the place where the clay was removed. The home was likely constructed by enslaved labor, which was common practice at the time. Mrs. Jones’ niece, Augusta Jane Evans Wilson, finished her celebrated novel, “St. Elmo,” while visiting the house. In 1878, the home was purchased by Captain and Mrs. James J. Slade and they changed the name to St. Elmo. Dr. Philip Schley and his family have owned the home since 1966.
Wealthy families built Greek Revival and Italianate estates in this elevated area, which residents considered healthier than the riverfront. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, "the census ranked Wynnton as the sixteenth largest town in Georgia in 1860. The total population of Columbus at the time was 9,621. 3,547 enslaved people and 141 free Blacks lived throughout the city. 557 whites and 912 enslaved people lived in Wynnton."
Wildwood Park is the oldest, large-scale, daily use recreational facility within the city. John F. Flournoy’s Columbus Railroad Company built the park in 1890. A shallow lake was created and picnic shelters occupied four islands, which were linked with high arched, Japanese-like bridges trimmed with thousands of small electric lights. A bathhouse encouraged swimming, and rentals of boats promoted fishing and courting. The lake formed the centerpiece of an Olmstedian space, which stretched up the hillside to the east and had streets and paths winding through open expanses of grass and trees. A dance pavilion featured various local orchestras, and band concerts on Sunday afternoon. Other activities included a small bowling alley and a zoo with deer, small monkeys, and a bear. In 1924, the City purchased this park, a major portion of which became the site of Columbus High School in 1925. The lake was drained in 1926, then the park was expanded to include the portion from 17th Street south to 13th Street. It was officially called Weracoba Park by City maps, but it is commonly referred to as Lakebottom.
In 1930, the city of Columbus built St. Elmo School, designed by Charles F. Hickman, in the English Revival style. The school features an imposing, crenellated Elizabethan entrance set against a massive tile-covered roof. It was used as a neighborhood school until 1990 when it became a school for the gifted. The St. Elmo Shopping Center was Columbus’ first true shopping center. It was completed in 1939 in a Norman or English Village Style and initially consisted of three storefronts.
The Park District is comprised of five neighborhoods: St. Elmo Park, St. Elmo Place, Park Place, Weracoba Heights and DeLaunay Place. The Weracoba-St. Elmo Historic District was created in response to the controversy over widening 13th Street. Richard Coss, a resident, and John S. Lupold, a CSU history professor, prepared the National Register nomination with help from HCF and Friends of Weracoba. The district was listed in 1994 and also granted local design protection under the Board of Historic and Architectural Review (BHAR).