Lost Columbus (Part II): Chattahoochee Valley Expo, Harmony Club, Racine Hotel, & St. Christopher's
SOURCES: Columbus, Georgia 1828 - 1978 by Dr. John S. Lupold, Columbus on the Chattahoochee by Etta Blanchard Worsley, The Columbus, Georgia Centenary by Nancy Telfair, Columbus Georgia's Fall Line "Trading Town" by Joseph B. Mahan, the Library of Congress Historic American Building Survey, and historic postcards from the collection of Historic Columbus and The Columbus Museum.
The Chattahoochee River forms the original southern boundary of the city. Our original surveyor, Edward Lloyd Thomas, did Columbus a far-reaching favor by setting aside land near the river for municipal use. These areas were called “commons.” The South Commons has been home to our community’s first hospital, a racetrack, annual fairs and expos, in addition to a baseball park, football stadium, municipal auditorium, and golf course. This area now contains a fast-pitch softball complex, the Civic Center, Ice Rink, and Golden Park.
Early map of Columbus highlighting the South Common
Annual fairs provided entertainment early on in Columbus’ history. What had been a yearly agricultural fair before 1860 became a fair sponsored by the Columbus Industrial Association after the war. The Chattahoochee Valley Exposition was organized from the old fair association to serve not only the people of Columbus but those of a much wider territory along both banks of the Chattahoochee River and to interest competitors in all sections of the country. Each year, the number of exhibitors from distant parts of the country who compete for prizes in livestock, poultry, and other kinds of exhibits. The group erected an impressive building in the South Commons. The main building of the Chattahoochee Valley Exposition (pictured below) was built in the 1870s and burned in the mid – 1880s. The exposition was a very important event combining educational as well as material interests and providing a center for the exchange of ideas and the exhibition of farm and community products. A large amount of money was annually spent on making the fair an attraction and in prizes for the best exhibits and individual articles displayed. By the turn of the twentieth century, the fairgrounds moved west from their former location and gradually the frame structures gave way to more permanent buildings closer to Golden’s Park.
In addition to B’nai Israel, Jewish organizations began to be developed in the years after the Civil War. In 1866, a local chapter of the Jewish fraternal society B’nai B’rith was established. In 1870, a Jewish social organization called Columbus Concordia was founded. Later known as the Harmony Club, the organization was created to alleviate the “monotonous evenings and Sundays in this city,” according to its minutes. The group soon rented a room and purchased twelve decks of playing cards, two sets of dominoes, one checkerboard, and five boxes of cigars. A purely social organization, the Harmony Club remained active for over a century. In 1874, Jewish women in Columbus founded the Daughters of Israel to provide charity and assistance to those in need. The group later changed its name to the Jewish Ladies Aid Society.
Originally the William Beach House, this structure was located on the southwest corner of Twelfth Street and Fifth Avenue. By 1912, it became a girls’ school known officially as the Columbus Seminary, which lasted until 1920. In 1925, the school would become the Harmony Club. The house was enlarged at that time – noticeable on the side view of the house when you compare the two images of the property. The structure served as the Harmony Club until 1954. The building was later demolished and is now the site of the 416 Office Building.
Located on the northeast corner of 13th Street and First Avenue was the top tier hotel in Columbus in 1920, The Racine Hotel. It was originally called The Perry House and built in 1855 by William Perry, a native of Kentucky. The Perry House was built to be a showstopper. It had 120 rooms that were furnished in the latest style, and it had several halls where you could hold large functions. The brick mason on the job was Patrick Adams, who owned a local brickyard and also did work at Linwood Cemetery. William Perry sold the hotel just two years later in 1857 in order to run for public office. As the story goes, he wanted to get the locals on his side and see him as more than a man who ran a hotel. Unfortunately, this didn’t work, and he lost the race for Mayor of Columbus in 1861.
Mr. Perry sold the hotel in 1857 to the Bass brothers – J.H. (a merchant and soldier in the war of 1812) and Robert (who fought in the Creek War of 1836). The brothers came to Columbus in 1841 and owned two other hotels, the City Hotel (where the Iron Bank Building sits today) and the Oglethorpe House (1100 block of First Avenue where Synovus is now located). The hotel stayed under the name the Perry House until 1887 when it was purchased by James A. Lewis. Lewis named it for one of his daughters and called it the Vernon Hotel. Mr. Lewis remodeled and enlarged the hotel at this time. At the turn of the century, the hotel is purchased by Ed Racine, and he gives the building its last name – the Racine Hotel. It continued to be the top hotel in Columbus through the 1920s and 1930s. In 1944, the hotel suffered a significant fire that resulted in its demolition. The site then became the home of the Georgia Theatre, then First National Bank, and now Wells Fargo.
Above: Image of the fire at the Racine in 1944 Below: 1930 photo of the Racine and the Waverly Hotel (site of the Carmike Building)
This structure was built in 1916 and was located on the northeast corner of 5th Avenue and 9th Street. It would serve as the second mission for Trinity Episcopal Church for African Americans in the Columbus Community and was originally called St. Christopher’s Mission (also known as St. Christopher’s Normal and Industrial Parish School). Episcopal Bishop C. Kinlock Nelson, of Atlanta, and local African American rector J. Stewart Braithwaite were instrumental in establishing the school.
The building is a good example of school architecture within the Columbus African American community at the beginning of the 20th century. It was Romanesque Revival in style. The front facade details consisted of rounded arch lintel windows, string courses of corbelled brick between the first and second floors, and a second-floor stepped parapet. It was situated among Victorian and Greek Revival residences and c. 1900 commercial buildings. The school stopped operating about 1951, but the church continued until 1967. Intended to be only a school for African Americans, it also functioned for much of its history as a church or mission. In later years, the First African Baptist Church (which is located just across the street) purchased the property and converted the building into a childcare center. It was demolished for the construction of the Public Safety Building and Parking Deck.
Next Week: We will continue the stories of Lost Columbus! Featured will be the Chase Conservatory, the 10th Street School, the Waverly Hotel, the African American homes of High Uptown, and St. Paul United Methodist Church.