History Spotlight: Wynnton and Midtown
Soon after the founding of Columbus in 1828, Columbusites began to look just beyond the original city limits to build their large, suburban estates. The gentle hills of Wynnton were attractive to those looking for escape from the mosquitoes in the lower-lying, Chattahoochee riverbanks. These suburban villas were for their owner's urban-based businesses like law, commerce, or manufacturing.
In the late 19th century, the invention of the streetcar made suburban life possible for more Americans. In 1887, John F. Flournoy and Louis F. Garrard purchased the Columbus Railroad company and created the Belt Line trolley that brought people to the Wynnton area. The two partners formed the Muscogee Real Estate Company and began to subdivide lots for residential development. There was a boom of development that occurred in the early part of the 20th century as other entrepreneurs followed Flournoy’s example and began new neighborhoods.
After World War I and the creation of Fort Benning, the area flourished once again. In 1925, the completion of the 13th Street viaduct made automobile access easier. In that same year, Wynnton was brought into the Columbus city limits. As Columbus continued to grow, transportation needs became a top priority especially in Wynnton because of its centralized location.
In the 1990s, the desire to widen roads and create new thoroughfares to get from the interstate into town became the focus for the city and a great concern for those living along the proposed improvements. The Weracoba-St. Elmo Historic District was created in response to the controversy over widening 13th Street in 1994. By 1999, five other neighborhoods were identified to be listed on the National Register. Overlook and Dinglewood, two of the proposed new districts, were also being threatened by a road widening project on Buena Vista Road. The last three were Wynnton Village, Peacock Woods-Dimon Circle, and Wildwood Circle-Hillcrest. In 2001, concerned residents of the Wynnton districts worked tirelessly with the Historic Columbus staff to convince all homeowners and City Council members that these 1,600 properties needed local protection. They were successfully given that protection in the fall of 2001. These six contiguous historic districts comprise one of the largest contiguous historic districts in the United States.
The beginning of MidTown, Inc. was working in concert with the establishment of the historic districts. A grassroots effort was formed with leaders of the Overlook and Dinglewood Historic Districts and with the Historic Wynnton Council leading the charge. On October 25, 2001, the first formal meeting of the “Wynnton Initiative” met at the Rankin House, Historic Columbus’ headquarters. The “Wynnton Initiative” soon evolved into the MidTown Project. The initial mission was, “to develop a long-range comprehensive plan, to reestablish this historic suburban area as a community.” Other goals of the plan were to provide a blueprint for future transportation and commercial development with the parallel preservation and enhancement of neighborhood quality in the area.
The MidTown Project Steering Committee: Virginia Peebles, HCF; Lynnette Gross, Dept. of Community and Economic Development; Richard Bishop, Assistant City Manager; Allison Slocum, Regional Development Center; Teresa Tomlinson, Chair of the Historic Wynnton Council; Anne King and Lucy Sheftall, Volunteer Project Administrators; Alan Rothschild and John Sheftall, Georgia Trust Board members; Nathan Suber, Columbus City Council; along with numerous business and neighborhood representatives.
Organizations such as The Columbus Museum, CSU, MCSD Board, Chamber of Commerce, the Community Foundation, and the Georgia Department of Transportation also had active representation on the steering committee.
Historic Columbus funds and staff administered the Midtown Project for three years. Ed Burdeshaw served as the chairman. Grants were obtained and partners like the National Trust and Knight Foundation were brought on board. HCF and the steering committee raised $300,000 from donors, corporations, and foundations to develop Midtown's original master plan.
Midtown's revitalization is still a work in progress and there are new residential and commercial projects happening everyday. Thank you to the Midtown, Inc. staff and Board of Directors who work hard and wake up thinking about Midtown!