• Historic Columbus

Lost Columbus (Pt. 5): the homes of 5th Ave., Muscogee Co. Courthouses, and the RiverCenter Block

This is the last installment of the Lost Columbus series. I hope you've enjoyed it, learned a few new stories, and are inspired to visit the exhibit at the RiverCenter beginning in April! As I've said before, these buildings are just a sample - and even though gone, they give voice in a very tangible way to our past and to our future.

Your love for our town is the driving force behind the mission of Historic Columbus. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact our office by phone 706-322-0756 or email hcfinc@historiccolumbus.com. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will consider joining us!

Elizabeth B. Walden

Executive Director

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.

 

These identical Eastlake cottages were built by Emelie Springer, widow of Francis J. Springer who created the city’s opera house. They were constructed as rental property between 1898 and 1900. The lot had been in the Springer’s family since 1878. The houses passed to the Springer’s daughter, Anna J. Bize in 1903. Abraham Lafkowitz, a local merchant, lived in 934 Fifth Avenue as a renter for a period of time. Both houses were sold in 1930 to E.E. Farley, a prominent realtor in the African American community. He maintained ownership of 934 Fifth Avenue and sold 930 Fifth Avenue to E.B. Coffee, who lived in the home until 1980. 930 Fifth Avenue was demolished, and 934 Fifth Avenue was moved to the Columbus Historic District in 1994. The property has become a part of the Public Safety Building Complex.

Springer-Bize-Coffee House (right) and Springer-Bize-Farley House (left) 930 5th Avenue and 934 5th Avenue


These three two-story, shotgun style houses were built in the early 1900s. Craftsman details are evident in the windowpane configuration and the exposed rafters in the eaves. Each of the structures was originally constructed as duplexes with a family living on each of the floors. Ethel Spencer, daughter of William H. Spencer, acquired 912 Fifth Avenue in 1925. Upon her death in 1981, she willed the property to local African American historian Alfonso Biggs. 914 Fifth Avenue was first listed in the City Directory in 1931 as the residence of Gabriel McCrary, an employee of the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Company. All three of the homes were demolished in 1994 to become a part of the Public Safety Building complex.

Biggs House, 912 5th Avenue (right); McCrary House, 914 5th Avenue (middle); and 916 and 918 5th Avenue (duplex on left)

 

When Columbus was originally laid out, two squares were set aside in the northern part of the city for a county courthouse and jail. The two squares were located between First and Third Avenues, and 15th and 16th Streets, the one on the west being the site of the courthouse. Later, in 1828, the General Assembly relocated the courthouse site nearer the business district. This first courthouse was a rough, plain, wooden building, and the Clerks of the Superior and Inferior Courts were housed in a smaller building on the same lot.

Construction on a second courthouse (pictured above) began in 1838, and this building would be placed on the present Government Center location in the block bounded by First and Second Avenues and 9th and 10th Streets. The contractors were W. and J. Godwin, and the construction cost $36,000. It was completed on October 20, 1840. The Greek Revival courthouse was brick with two stories above the ground and a daylight basement. City Council occupied the basement rooms as "the safest and most convenient," and left the upper floors for county officers. During the Civil War the Senior Surgeon of the Confederate Military Post in Columbus appealed to the public for buildings to house 1,500 sick and wounded soldiers. The Inferior Court of the county granted the use of the courthouse for this purpose. The building was demolished in 1895 to make way for the third courthouse building.

The third Muscogee County Courthouse was built between 1895 and 1896. It faced the Springer Opera House with public grounds featuring a cannon, bandstand, and fountain. The courthouse was designed by Andrew J. Bryan, a noted courthouse architect. The contractor for the new courthouse was Mr. DeVolt of Ohio with a construction cost of $63,479.40. It was a red brick structure with granite foundations and five Corinthian columns outlining the ornamental porticos on the north and south entrances. While the building was under construction, court was held in the old Webster building at the southwest corner of Broadway and 10th Streets.

Construction for the fourth courthouse, the Government Center, began in 1970 when Muscogee County and the City of Columbus consolidated. The 1895 courthouse was demolished in 1972. The fourteen-story tower and side buildings were designed by local architect Edward W. Neal. The buildings are a combination of two mid-century architectural styles - International and Brutalism. The Government Center is now in the planning stages for its demolition for the future fifth Muscogee County Courthouse.

 

The block located directly to the west of the present-day Government Center has had a significant evolution. While it currently the home of the RiverCenter, the block has historically held a mix of uses to include residential, commercial, and municipal. The southern end of the block was mostly residential through the mid-part of the twentieth century, while the northern part was commercial with its corners serving the community as hotels for many years. The central part of the block contained stables and tenements early on and then became municipal in its use. In the late 1990s, the block became unified in its purpose as a cultural arts center and performing arts venue for the community.

This Greek Revival home was built about 1840. 902 Broadway (pictured above) was located on the northeast corner of Broadway and 9th Street. The property was located in a transitional section of Broadway with industrial uses across the street and general commercial growing to its north. Its architectural details included Doric columns and entablature. While the actual date of demolition is not known, it was most likely razed about the same time as its next-door neighbor.

The Pease House, 904 Broadway, was constructed about 1838 with an addition in the mid-1840s. The house was purchased in 1867 by John W. Pease and remained in the Pease family until the early 1930s. The raised cottage with double curved iron stairs and beautiful ironwork balconies was turned into apartments and then demolished in 1940. The property then became the site of a skating rink.


Fire Station No. 5 was established in 1856. The company’s most significant location was 937 First Avenue in the Municipal Building, which held the headquarters for both Fire and Police Departments. This incredible Richardsonian Romanesque building was constructed in 1906 and functioned as the headquarters until 1970 when a new Police Headquarters was built.

Located on the southwest corner of First Avenue and 10th Street was the Veranda Hotel. It was built by Francis J. Springer in the 1870s. In 1920, the property was purchased by Dr. Richard H. Cobb, a dentist and the wealthiest African American in Columbus at the time, to become the home of the International Benevolent Society of America, a fraternal organization founded in Columbus in 1906. At that time, the property was valued at $50,000. It was divided into different commercial spaces over the years and was demolished at some time during the 1970s or 1980s.

Below is a later photo of the Veranda Hotel, c. 1970 - you can see the recently constructed Police Department on First Avenue and the remaining commercial buildings that faced 10th Street.

Next Week: We will start a new series for April! Stay tuned!

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