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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

This Place Matters: The History of Historic Columbus (2005 - 2021)

This spotlight was taken from Historic Columbus Foundation: Champion of Columbus' Historic Resources (1966-2006) by Dr. John S. Lupold and past articles from Historic Columbus' newsletter, Currents.


In planning for the post-Peebles years, Historic Columbus leaders analyzed its structure and decided the organization and its work had grown to a larger level that it needed to create a Director of Preservation Services to aid the new Executive Director. Elizabeth Barker Walden was asked to serve in the former position, and the HCF Board of Directors selected Susan C. Lawhorne as the new Executive Director.

A great breadth and depth of community involvement and leadership made Lawhorne well-suited to the task. In the course of her twenty-seven-year residency in Columbus at the time, she had served in the top leadership position of numerous religious, cultural, and educational boards. These positions included President of the Junior League of Columbus and founding Chairman of the Board of RiverCenter, Inc., as well as Vice-Chairman of the Community Projects Foundation which administered the $25 million arts funding from the Columbus Challenge. Susan began her new position in June of 2005.

Susan oversaw the creation of a new logo for HCF, as well as redesign of the quarterly newsletter and website to make them more image-driven and engaging. The need for a new Strategic Plan for HCF was also immediately identified. Because of HCF’s involvement as a partner with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Susan was able to recruit the National Trust to conduct a strategic planning study for HCF during 2006. The biggest result of this planning process was the creation of three new committees to address issues of vital concern to HCF: preservation, advocacy, and capital campaign. These new committees would enable the Foundation to better respond to challenges, especially those involving preservation, and to maintain a coterie of leaders who understood the issues and objectives in particular areas of concern. The Preservation Committee continues to meet monthly and is at the heart of all the projects we do as an organization. It really can't be stressed enough how important this group is to the "preservation path" we take - they have open discussions where all points of view come to the table to help Historic Columbus be a stronger voice in our community.

For many Columbusites, the highlight of spring was the Salisbury Fair or Riverfest sponsored by Historic Columbus for thirty-six years. While viewed as a money-raising event, it was conceived as a means of showing off the Columbus Historic District, and city officials over the years convinced HCF to shift the venue five times to various locations in order to publicize new UpTown developments. During the 1980s, Salisbury Fair became known as Riverfest as it expanded into the Chattahoochee Promenade area and added the Pig Jig in 1987. Under the leadership of Sue C. Howard and then Frances M. Quick with Pig Jig Coordinator Fran C. Hall, the number of attendees continued to grow. Construction for the expansion to the Trade Center forced Riverfest to move to the Civic Center and the South Commons area. This site simply did not attract as many people. Even though the event returned to the Historic District in 2004, it lost money in 2005 and 2006. Riverfest was an area of concern for Lawhorne and it became evident that the event needed to be evaluated. A Riverfest Task Force was created, and during HCF’s 40th Anniversary year, this committee, under the direction of Perrin Trotter, evaluated the event from every angle. Their findings were reported to the Board in May 2007, at which time the Board voted to find another community partner to manage and produce this signature outdoor festival for Columbus. Riverfest remains a lasting HCF legacy, but would no longer be an HCF event. Riverfest then came under the leadership of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau and then, ultimately Uptown Columbus. The Salisbury Fair and Riverfest achieved its original intention repeatedly – to bring people back to the downtown area. Historic Columbus remains extremely grateful to the thousands of volunteers and HCF Staff members over Riverfest’s 36-year history who made the event possible for our community.

Realizing that the 40th Anniversary year was a huge milestone and needed to be celebrated, Susan and Board President Philip Adams recruited a mother-daughter team of Sally B. Hatcher and Sara H. Dismuke to co-chair the 40th Anniversary Gala. Scores of volunteers and countless hours of work produced a beautiful and memorable evening in the South Hall of the Trade Center on November 16, 2006, featuring Pulitzer-prize winning historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin as the special guest speaker. Thanks to underwriting by sponsors and patrons alike, the event netted over $180,000 to be used to advance the mission of HCF.

As I stated at the end of the previous Spotlight, Virginia didn’t go far. She became a Director Emeritus on the Historic Columbus Board of Directors, alongside Janice Biggers, Clason Kyle, and Brown Nicholson (and now, Mary Bradley, Sally Hatcher, Garry Pound, and Ed Sprouse). She was also still an incurable volunteer. She continued to help guide Midtown, Inc. and their new Executive Director Teresa Tomlinson, and she became the volunteer Director for a new non-profit organization, Coalition for Sound Growth (CSG). She would lead CSG for eight years and work with numerous community partners to bring in national speakers on topics Columbus leaders needed to stay on the cutting edge. One of the joint partnerships HCF had with CSG brought in Jennifer Leonard, The National Vacant Properties Campaign Director at Smart Growth America. The roundtable discussion on vacant and abandoned properties was held in August of 2007 with national experts to share models from other cities that could assist local efforts. It was a great discussion with participation from City officials and department heads. The effort would produce in the next two years an active Land Bank Authority for Muscogee County.

At the end of 2007, Susan Lawhorne retired from Historic Columbus as Executive Director. She would remain active for the next several years on the HCF Executive Committee and serving as President in 2009 – 2011. Historic Columbus would need to fill two positions in 2008, Executive Director and Director of Planning and Programs. I was asked to serve as Interim Executive Director in January that year. In March, I was officially hired in the role and in August, Justin Krieg would start as Director of Planning and Programs. I had huge shoes to fill, but fortunately for me, Justin met a Columbus girl in college, and she brought him home. Justin had a city planning background, incredible patience to work with a new director (and still does!), and the perfect instincts for preservation work and advocacy.

We were babies!

Our first two preservation projects involved the original city. The first involved Broadway. For many years, the Studio Apartments stood on this location. In 2001, Historic Columbus raised over $300,000 to purchase the complex for demolition. For several years, the property waited for the right solution to its future. In 2008, the Whitton home, built in 1850s, was given to Historic Columbus by AFLAC. With their assistance, HCF moved the home in two pieces from its original location on Brown Avenue, down Wynn’s hill, and into the Columbus Historic District. Once it landed, the house was given a new foundation and a new roof. In 2010, Cathy and Chuck Williams finished the spectacular renovation work. It has now been home to even more families.

The second was a joint project with the Historic District Preservation Society (HDPS) in the lower Second Avenue area. 429 Second Avenue is a modest early-1900’s home in severe disrepair and had suffered significant fire damage when it was purchased by Historic Columbus in 2008. HDPS expressed an interest in the property and a partnership was formed. Historic Columbus would fund the effort and HDPS would provide the volunteer labor. Working almost every Saturday for over 3 years the structure was cleaned, scraped, painted, rebuilt, and restored into what is now a beautiful home. Thousands of volunteer hours, over $35,000 of fundraising for the project by HDPS, and over 100 people volunteering at least one Saturday morning to work was contributed through HDPS into this home. Upon completion, the home was sold, and the proceeds were split between the two organizations. This project is truly an example of how committed HDPS is to improving the quality of preservation and quality of life for its residents in the District.

One of the first challenges for us involved the Heritage Corner house museums. We needed to research current trends, analyze expense vs. revenue, and develop new strategies. This was also going to need thoughtful discussions on the part of the Board. Their purpose was to educate the public about our community’s history and to bring visitors and residents to the original city. They were also one of the first ways Columbus and other cities showcased what preservation was during the early stages of the movement.

The possibility of actually de-accessioning a house museum was something none of us took lightly. It was a two-year process for the Board to make the decision. The preservation movement was continuing to evolve and house museums, unless associated with someone famous, were struggling all over the country as tourist attractions. The first home to return to single family ownership was 700 Broadway in 2011, followed by the Pemberton House in 2013. The Woodruff Farmhouse was sold in 2015 for a private office. The Walker-Peters-Langdon House remains a house museum and prior to COVID-19, approximately 1,000 children from the Muscogee County School District would tour the house and learn about our community’s early history each year. The story of Coca-Cola in Columbus also needed to continue to be told. Historic Columbus was able to partner with the Columbus Convention & Visitor’s Bureau to install a permanent exhibit for Dr. Pemberton and Coca-Cola the Uptown CCVB on Front Avenue. This exhibit allows so many more visitors and residents to learn about this important Columbus story. We also combined this exhibit with a Soft Drink History Trail of seven historic markers in Uptown that tell even more of the Coca-Cola story, local connections and pharmacies, and the history of RC.

Before I became Executive Director, I worked with Dr. John Lupold (who is the brilliant source for so many of our History Spotlights!) on the National Register Nomination for Bibb City. This process can sometimes take a few years and finally, in 2010, Bibb City became a National Register Historic District. This has enabled the historic village to be eligible for federal and state preservation tax incentives, as well as HCF’s Façade Loans. Justin also began providing preservation consulting services for several projects utilizing the Federal and State Historic Tax Credits. He has worked with the Eagle & Phenix, City Mills, the marble YMCA, several downtown storefronts, and private homes. In all, Justin has helped to generate almost $10 million in credits for the property owners.

Our next adventure came in 2010. Waverly Terrace was developed in 1906 as the city of Columbus’ first planned neighborhood. At the turn of the century, the approximately twenty-five acres that became Waverly Terrace lay on the northern outskirts of what was then Columbus. The Jordan Company, headed by G. Gunby Jordan, began surveying the land in 1905. By 1929, most of the homes there had been completed and many of them survive in good condition to this day. The neighborhood has struggled over the past forty years, but the majority of the housing stock and community structures are still intact.

We were approached in 2010 by the six-member congregation of the United Congregational Christian Church, 2718 Beacon Avenue, to consider receiving the building as a donation in order to save it from demolition. $140,000 was invested to restore the exterior of the building. Historic Columbus installed a new roof and metal cornice, repaired the brick walls, stabilized the stained-glass windows, and repaired the interior woodwork. These funds were provided by grant funding and HCF’s Revolving-Redevelopment Fund. We sold the church to a couple who continues to work on the building and have turned it into a home.

The funds from the sale immediately went to save another home in Waverly Terrace that had been severely damaged by a fire. 2909 10th Avenue (pictured above) was in bad shape and located in the middle of the block. Had Historic Columbus not stepped in, the structure would have been demolished and a vacant lot would be the future for this property for many years to come – and this would not be beneficial to the street or future revitalization efforts in the area. We immediately went to work and cleaned out the inside of the house, constructed a new roofing system, and reinforced the structure to be able to support a potential second floor. The front porch was also reconstructed with new columns, windows, and front door. This allowed someone else to see its possibilities and finish the work. The house was sold in 2020 and it is coming back to life!

Historic Columbus played a significant role in the creation of Midtown, Inc. through early administrative assistance and funding. This was the same mindset that the Board took when approached by then Mayor Teresa Tomlinson in 2013 to help administer the master planning process for City Village. Justin led this process with volunteer co-chairmen Marquette McKnight and Phil Tomlinson, along with a large group of stakeholders. What this process did was put a focus not just on City Village, but the entire Second Avenue Corridor. As it did with Midtown, the initial master plan with the guidance of Historic Columbus developed into its own organization, The Mill District. With the growing interest in the Second Avenue corridor, sparked by the City Village master plan, new vision was now possible for an endangered National Historic Landmark – City Mills. In 2015, Ken Henson approached the HCF Board of Directors to partner with him to stabilize the two remaining buildings. This had been on the Board’s top priority list for years and thanks to Ken, we now had an opportunity to save the buildings.

Stabilizing City Mills became the centerpiece of Historic Columbus’ 50th Anniversary and its first ever capital campaign, “Save Me A Place.” 2016 was an extremely busy and exciting year. Thanks to the leadership of Janice Biggers and Virginia Peebles, as the co-chairman of the 50th Anniversary, and Ed Sprouse with his capital campaign team of Past Presidents Dexter Jordan, Elizabeth Ogie, George Flowers, Philip Adams, Mary Bradley, Jack Key, and Will Burgin, Historic Columbus raised over $6 million and celebrated all year long with lunch and lecture programs (Sally Walden), events (Nell Hudson and Bobsie Swift), and the Golden Jubilee (Dexter Jordan and Mint Flowers) in November. The initiatives and programming that the donors of the capital campaign funded included the new Public Participation Grant, the $1.2 million stabilization of City Mills, an expanded Façade Loan program, a new Rehabilitation Loan program, increased funds for the Revolving-Redevelopment Fund to save more historic properties, an addition to the Rankin House Carriage House, a full year of events, additional General Funds, and a new publication – This Place Matters.

2016 was really a year I will never forget. When it was determined that we needed a new publication that highlighted our preservation projects and showcased the transformation that can happen as a result of preservation – I procrastinated in my writing duties until Virginia stepped in with the incredibly generous offer to help and to kick me into gear. After 370 pages, we finally stopped and what was produced, I think, was a great introduction to why this town matters and why Historic Columbus matters within it. I sincerely can’t thank Virginia enough for what she did to make this book happen. What you all continue to see us doing since 2016 is the result of the campaign and those funds raised. It is also the vision of the campaign playing out. In looking back at all of the materials we produced for the 50th Anniversary, our goals are now the priorities of the organization. The next chapter of our history is the Second Avenue corridor. Our current projects in High Uptown and The Mill District are just the beginning.

We have revolved three houses with a fourth on the way in High Uptown along Third Avenue. The three houses were sold to Ken Henson and are now a part of his new apartment complex. The fourth house on Third Avenue is under contract and in the process of closing for it to become a single-family residence once again. We have also revolved one house in Bradley Circle and have two properties that should be sold within the next year.

We are also about to announce the third round of the Public Participation Grant. A total of $250,000 has already been granted to four historic properties with the Springer Opera House and Zion Church receiving $100,000 each for desperately needed restoration work. Increasing awareness of historic preservation is a vital component to HCF’s mission and having the public as a partner in this process will only strengthen our ability to be an advocate for saving our history, our legacies, and our stories.

There is so much more to come, and I hope you stay engaged with us because you will not be disappointed in the projects on the way. Before I wrap up this series, I want to extend our gratitude to the Historic Columbus Boards of Directors and Trustees. They are a hard-working group of volunteers who put incredible focus on the future of this organization and its impact on our community. Since 2008, HCF has been led by Chairman of the Board George Flowers and eight Presidents – Philip Adams, Jack Key III, Susan Lawhorne, Leah Braxton, Garry Pound, Will Burgin, Jack Jenkins, and Bob Kidd. We are grateful to each of them.

I also need to acknowledge and express a great deal of love to Walker Watkins who has worked for Historic Columbus for forty years. Walker has worked with all five Executive Directors and is an intrinsic part of everything that is Historic Columbus. Quite simply put, he takes care of us, our properties, and all that we do. He will probably never see this, but I ask you – when you see him, thank him. He deserves it.

There is so much to celebrate for what HCF has accomplished and there are glasses soon to be raised in cheer for future projects. The leadership of this organization and the passion of its membership is what makes it all happen, and please know, how thankful we are to each of you. What Historic Columbus has preserved over its fifty-five years is what makes Columbus unique. By encouraging, and at times demanding, the preservation of houses, mills, commercial buildings, and churches, Historic Columbus has contributed in substantial ways to improving the quality of life in Columbus, both now and in the future. Thank you for celebrating Preservation Month and our 55th Anniversary with us! Elizabeth B. Walden Executive Director P.S. Next week, we will start a month of History Spotlights covering Phenix City and some of their most cherished businesses and people. First up is the history of Bickerstaff Brick. If you aren't already a member, we hope you will join us! I also want to encourage you to follow Historic Columbus on Facebook and Instagram for more posts on our community's history. Thank you all for your continued support of Historic Columbus!

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