Lost Columbus (Pt. I): the City Market, John Fontaine's house, Spencer High, and Villa Reich
Today, we are beginning a new series for March that tells the stories of twenty homes and buildings that are no longer standing. We have put them all together in an upcoming exhibit in partnership with the RiverCenter. They will be featured on the second floor of the main lobby space beginning in April. When you are there for a performance, please check it out!
These buildings stood before many of us were born. Their stories may be reinterpreted over time, different values may be emphasized, but continuing the conversation about them and their significance to our town is important. These places, even though gone, give voice in a very tangible way to our past and a voice for our future.
Columbus, like many cities in the United States, lost numerous older structures in the 1940s and 1950s for many reasons, including economic hardships, suburban flight, commercial encroachment, road construction, and Mother Nature. These are only a sample of what would create the impetus for the preservation movement in Columbus over fifty-five years ago.
In spite of what we might obscure or overlook at times, historic places tell us the truth about ourselves. And how we elevate, protect, interpret, and activate those stories and places can offer ways to explore the truths of who we are, collectively and individually, and ways to demonstrate our respect for each other’s strengths, achievements, and legacies.
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 me at our office by phone 706-322-0756 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you aren't already a member, we hope you will consider joining us! Thank you for all you do for this organization and our community.
Elizabeth B. Walden
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 collections of Historic Columbus and The Columbus Museum.
From the beginning of the new city in 1828, there were plans for a “market house” or City Market. According to Etta Worsley Blanchard’s Columbus on the Chattahoochee, the original plan was for the market house to be in the middle of Broadway at 11th Street. It wasn’t until an act approved in December, 1858, that the mayor and council of the City of Columbus were given power to establish and keep up one or more public markets in said city for the sale of poultry, eggs, butter, milk, fresh meats, and vegetables of any kind, and all other articles such as are usually vended at city public markets, and to govern the same by such regulations as the mayor and council may deem necessary, and to enforce the penalties for violation of their regulations.
The City Market was located in the center of First Avenue between 10th and 11th Streets. It had two sections, a frame building, which was the vegetable market, where the Columbus women delighted to meet their friends, and also bought quantities of fresh country vegetables and fruits; and a brick building, which was the meat market. The brick building also contained a bell tower (pictured above). This block of First Avenue was regularly the busiest spot in the city, especially in the mornings when the day’s shopping for all of Columbus’ citizens would be done before efficient refrigeration. The City Market was taken down in 1921 to make way for progress, much to the dismay of a number of the patrons, and after agitation in the newspapers, beginning in 1919.
This Greek Revival home, c. 1836, was built by Columbus’ first mayor, John Fontaine. Mayor Fontaine was one of the city’s earliest settlers and one of her wealthiest. John arrived in Columbus right at her start in 1828. He lost no time in acquiring considerable land, wealth, and a great deal of influence. He built a home like a Greek temple with a portico supported by beautifully proportioned Doric columns. A Federal inspired doorway with fanlight welcomed the visitor into a wide hall with large rooms on each side. The hall was broken in half by fluted columns at the center. A winding mahogany staircase led to an equal number of rooms upstairs. The house was built of cream-colored brick plastered to look like stone on the front. The walls were thick to shut out the cold of winter and keep in the cool of the early morning of summer. The home was located on the southeast corner of Front Avenue and 11th Street across from what would become the W.C. Bradley Company. The corner lot was terraced in front with lawns and flower gardens. In the back were also gardens extending through the block with brick walks leading to the slave quarters.
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 home was demolished in the early 1960s. It is now the site of a parking deck.
Named in honor of William H. Spencer, the first Superintendent of Colored Schools, the school was established on November 29, 1930. The construction of this school was made possible by generous donations from the Rosenwald Foundation, Dr. George Foster Peabody, and the Board of Education. William H. Spencer was honored for his untiring efforts and persistence to persuade the Board of Education to provide an accredited high school for African American children. Prior to this time, parents who wanted their children to advance beyond the ninth grade had to send their children out of Columbus. Initially it was grades 9 – 11, the twelfth grade was added later. It was the first African American High School in Columbus. Spencer High School moved from this location in 1953. The buildings then became home to Marshall Junior High School until they burned in 1978. The site is now owned by Waggoneer Trucking Company.
Six years before the Civil War, Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Reich came to Columbus from Germany near Bad-Nauheim. Mr. Reich's place of business in Columbus was located at 1104 Broad Street, which was once the site of the Bank of Columbus before this moved over on the corner. Here Frank C. Reich and his brother Fred were born, for the Reich family like many other businesspeople on Broad Street, lived over their store. Unlike industrial cities in the North, Columbus lacked a sizeable immigrant or ethnic population, but it did have some cultural diversity characteristic of that age. The small, but active German population was quite visible. After Paris fell during the Franco-Prussian War (1871), a group of Germans gathered to celebrate at Blau’s Brewery in Girard (present day Phenix City). As in other parts of the nation, the Germans introduced new ideas about entertainment and physical fitness.
Frederick Reich built the Villa Reich in c. 1873. He brought back from a trip to Germany the plans of “the Korsal,” one of the most noted gambling houses in Europe. Villa Reich was to be a place of amusement and entertainment in Columbus. It occupied the entire block bounded by Broadway, Front Avenue, 5th and 6th Streets, and the house was surrounded by an elaborate garden of ornamental shrubs and fruit trees with an outdoor band stand. In addition to the beer garden, the facility provided a skating rink, a location for dances, picnics, and dancing lessons. For twenty years it was an important place for amusement in Columbus. Villa Reich was then closed after Frederick Reich’s death. Between 1900 and 1907, Villa Reich was demolished. Below is the 1900 Sanborn Map. Villa Reich is located in the middle of the 500 block of Front Street. The property goes through the block to Broad Street. There were two entrances to the Villa Reich gardens - one on Broad Street where you entered through an avenue of Cedar trees and one on Front, where the grass and shrubbery were landscaped down to the water's edge.
Next Week: We will continue the stories of Lost Columbus!