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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

The Columbus Historic District and Chattahoochee Promenade

SOURCE: Historic Preservation in Columbus, Georgia. An Official Publication of the Columbus Area Bicentennial Committee. April 1976. The booklet was prepared for the Committee through the cooperative efforts of the Lower Chattahoochee Area Planning and Development Commission, the Columbus Museum of Arts and Crafts, and the Historic Columbus Foundation.


The Columbus Historic District occupies most of the ground upon which the original city of Columbus was built in 1828. The approximate boundaries of the district are Ninth Street on the North, the median lot line between Third and Fourth Avenues on the East, Fourth Street on the South, and the Chattahoochee River on the West. The Historic District contains approximately twenty-six blocks, and an expanse of land between Front Avenue and the Chattahoochee River, known as the Chattahoochee Promenade.

Included in the district are some two hundred and five houses, most of which are of frame construction. The houses date from the city's founding in 1828 to approximately the turn of the century. Several brick apartments are the only major modern intruders.

Two architectural styles, indigenous to Columbus, are found scattered throughout the district. The older of these styles is repeatedly expressed in a Greek Revival Cottage with square columns. The newer style, of which there are more extant examples in the district, is a small two-story town house with simple Victorian details.

A one-story double-octagonal house (above) with gothic detailing is the most unusual house in the district. The house, located at 527 First Avenue, in addition to being listed on the National Register, has been designated by the Department of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark.

This house constructed during the Civil War follows the pattern and philosophy of Orson Squire Fowler, whose 1854 publication, A House For All, swept the country and created a clamorous demand for Fowler was seeking both the maximum amount of usable space for a dwelling, plus several stoutly held opinions regarding health and ventilation.

Originally known as May's Folly, after its builder, cabinet-maker Leander May, the house is presently known simply as The Folly and was featured in Clay Lancaster's Architectural Follies in America.

Other houses in the district listed individually on the National Register are the Goetchius House, the Pemberton House, the Wells-Bagley House, the Walker-Peters-Langdon House, and the Joseph House.

The Goetchius House (above) was built in 1839 by Richard Rose Goetchius as a home for his bride. Seeking greater opportunities, Mr. Goetchius, a member of an old Dutch New York family, had come to the rapidly growing town of Columbus in the 1830s. An architect and builder, he selected a corner lot at Eleventh Street and Second Avenue on which to build his new home. He supervised the construction of the house, using the finest heart pine timber, which was cut to his own specifications at a lumber mill he operated across the Avenue from his new home site.

The design of the house followed the popular style of the second era of New Orleans. The one-level house was built high off the ground, and its wide front veranda was decorated with columns and segmented arches of intricate cast iron. A generous trabeated doorway featured carved double doors and lights of stained glass. From the spacious center hall, double doorways opened into high-ceilinged parlors decorated with ornate plaster cornices and wood carvings over the portals. Marble mantels graced the fireplaces, and chandeliers were suspended from elaborately cast plaster medallions.

The Goetchius House remained in the same family until 1969, when it was acquired by a local business leader, and moved to lower Broadway in the Columbus Historic District. It was necessary to cut the house into several sections rather than attempt to move it intact, to avoid the removal of many stately trees along the route. The house was meticulously reassembled and painstakingly restored to the beauty and splendor of the Victorian and Empire periods.

Perhaps, the new site of the house provides an even more charming setting than the original site; the grounds are spacious and are shaded with huge oak, sugarberry, and pecan trees. An additional floor, afforded space by the gently sloping lot, was developed at the basement level and opens on the rear of the house where a spectacular view of the Chattahoochee River presents itself from a handsome brick terrace. The house now serves an adaptive function, and opened March 8, 1971, as one of the city's finest and most elegant restaurants. It was appropriately named, the Goetchius House.

The Pemberton House was the former home of Dr. John Styth Pemberton, originator of the formula for Coca-Cola. Dr. Pemberton, a local druggist, purchased the house in 1855, just two years after his marriage. At that time the house was located at 1017 Third Avenue.

Dr. Pemberton served in the Confederate Army and was a Lieutenant Colonel when the Civil War ended. In 1869, he moved his family to Atlanta. Poor health and financial difficulties persuaded him to sell his now famous formula for the incredibly small sum of only $1,750.00.

The Pemberton House was given to Historic Columbus in 1969 by the Coca-Cola Company as a memorial to Dr. Pemberton. The Foundation moved the house to 11 Seventh Street and began restoration with funds donated by friends of Coca-Cola.

The house, which had been altered considerably during the years, was restored to its original appearance. The small, four-room, Greek Revival Cottage contains period furnishings. The original outbuilding was restored as an apothecary shop and contains appropriate memorabilia. The Pemberton House Museum is now owned and operated by the Historic Columbus Foundation. (Editor's Note: The Pemberton House was deaccessioned by HCF in 2012 to become a private residence once again. The Pemberton Collection and history is now located on the first floor of the 11th Street Marble YMCA.)

Little is known about the history of the house which overlooked the Chattahoochee River and stood for one hundred and twenty-nine years on the southeast corner of Front Avenue and Eighth Street. It is known that in about 1900, Francis Marion Bagley moved to Columbus and purchased this property, known only as the Wells residence.

The Wells-Bagley House was given to Historic Columbus in 1969, to ensure its preservation on another site. The Foundation moved the house to its present location, 22 Sixth Street, in hopes that an interested party would buy the house and restore it. The Columbus Jaycees purchased the property and adapted the building for its headquarters. The Wells-Bagley House is an interesting variation of the Columbus Greek Revival Cottage. The house is of wood construction and exterior walls, under its unusually shaped portico, are covered with stucco which has been scored to resemble stone. Its hip roof is supported by ten square columns, and the entablature features a deep cornice bordered with articulate dentil molding.

The Walker-Peters-Langdon House, 716 Broadway, is believed to be the oldest standing house in Columbus, having been built in 1828. The lot on which the house stands was purchased by Virgil Walker during the city's original sale of lots. Walker, a wealthy planter, lived on his plantation in Harris County and presumably built his house in Columbus as a place to stay while transacting business in the city.

In 1836 Virgil Walker sold the house to Dicey Peters, who later willed daughter Frances, wife of William Langdon. The house remained in the Peters-Langdon family until 1966, when it was acquired by Historic Columbus thanks to Clason Kyle.

The system of post and lintel construction with clapboard siding was used in the building of the federal-style house. Pre-fabrication was a popular means of building in the South during the early 19th Century, and it is suspected that the house was constructed in this manner. The plan of the house consists of a narrow central hall, flanked by a room on each side with two shed rooms abutting at the rear. There is a full kitchen in the basement with fireplaces in the North and South ends directly under the fireplaces in the rooms above.

The Foundation removed several rooms and a small Victorian porch which were later additions and restored the house to its original appearance. Both the front and rear gardens were recreated, using plants and materials of the period. Long destroyed out-buildings, which were known to have stood in the garden, were replaced with similar buildings moved from other sites. The house, appropriately furnished, served as headquarters for the Historic Columbus Foundation until 1976, and continues to be operated by the Foundation as a historic house museum.

The Joseph House, 828 Broadway, is a ten-room house originally designed in the Greek Revival Cottage style. During the Victorian Era, its square columns were replaced with Victorian ones, giving the house an unusual charm.

Built circa 1842, the house was purchased in 1867 by Issac Joseph, a steamboat line owner, for his family home. The house was occupied for almost 113 years by the Joseph family. In 1973, Gertrude Joseph Wood, because of her interest and dedication to preservation, bequeathed the beautiful old house to Historic Columbus.

The Foundation, in keeping with its policy of endeavoring to establish 20th Century uses for historic structures, revolved the house to the local law firm of Martin, Kilpatrick, and Davidson who have renovated the building and used it as their offices.

Other than a new roof, fresh paint, and repairs, the exterior of the Joseph house remains untouched. The interior has been tastefully remodeled to suit the needs of its new occupants.

The Chattahoochee Promenade, the city's observance of the Nation's Bicentennial is located in the Southwest Columbus Urban Renewal Area and is a part of the Historic District. It is a cooperative effort of individuals, businesses, private foundations, civic clubs, fraternal organizations, and local, state, and federal governmental agencies.

The Promenade, on the banks of the Chattahoochee River, is being transformed from a stretch of wilderness and a small area that contained an unused industrial building, into an outdoor historic museum. The industrial building was removed and has been replaced by a horseshoe-shaped plaza containing an impressive fountain and thirteen flag poles. A small Victorian cottage was moved to the site and is being restored for use as a visitors' center. A formal Victorian garden, now under construction, will complement the visitors' center.

With the help of a Coastal Plains Regional Commission grant-in-aid, a natural wooded depression on the site is being transformed into an amphitheater. Another area will contain an authentic log cabin of the frontier era. Gazebos, a boat dock, and numerous outdoor displays of local history will become a part of the Promenade, all to be connected with walkways, and the whole to be landscaped with the use of many native plant materials.

(Editor's Note: Today, the Chattahoochee Promenade is being revitalized once again. The project will also create a new history trail at the Promenade with educational panels, interpretive elements, and the sculptures that were a part of the former Heritage Park. This will assist residents and tourists to view, understand, and experience our history while enjoying a new Promenade with open views of the river. This will be an instant revitalization of our city’s first historic district – the original city.)

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