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JIM - Renaissance in Columbia 1898-1911


This is written in honor of Ed Waggener, who never met a progressive cause for Columbia and Adair County he didn't embrace. While researching and writing this article over the past several days, I've contemplated the delight with which Ed would have reported -- and cheered -- the incredible changes made on the square from 1898 through 1911, a 14-year span during which new buildings graced every quadrant of the square; and sidewalks, electricity, better educational opportunities, and improved telephony came to town.

The following summary, by no means complete, covers some of the advances made during that halcyon era.

Renaissance in Columbia 1898-1911 (Part I)

"...[C]onditions have changed, new life, new enterprise, and invigorated ambition have swept aside the old poke-easy and today we all rejoice over the rapid improvements made and being made both in town and country." -- Adair County News, November 16, 1904.

1898 saw three buildings go up on the square: the Conover Hotel (later known as the New Adair) on the exit corner of Greensburg Street and the square; the Jones building, occupying about half a block between the entrance corner of Burkesville Street and the south corner of the square; and the Hunter, Coffey, & Nell building nearer the south corner, same block. The Jones building and the hotel hold the distinction of being the first commercial spaces in Columbia to use gas for lighting.

The first occupant of the Jones building was Russell & Murrell (later Russell & Co.) and Dr. J.N. Page. After Russell & Co. moved in 1910, its former quarters were next occupied by Frank Sinclair's store; it's now known as the Red Brick. Mr. Herbert Taylor's Mens' Shop later occupied the Hunter, Coffey, & Nell building for several years, and The Paramount Theater took quarters in at least part of the second story from 1917 through the late summer of 1922.

The hotel opened on Thursday, December first with a gala affair for practically Everyone who was Anyone among the local younger set, an "assemblage of a charming array of feminine beauty and a galaxy of chivalric manhood," as the News so eloquently intoned. The bash was hosted by The Twentieth Century Club, an organization of the young men of the town, and of them, the newspaper opined the gents has put on such a successful affair they had "smothered themselves with glory."

With 1902 came the rise of the Jeffries building at the exit corner of Jamestown Street. Prior to completion, the newspaper stated it would be thirty feet wide and eighty feet deep, and that the new edifice would "add greatly to the appearance of the public square." A later article somewhat grandly stated of the building, "When finished it will be one of the most imposing business houses on the square." As originally completed, it was two stories high. The third floor was added in the early 1920s as a meeting hall for the Masons.

1902 also saw a dramatic improvement in Columbia's telephone system. Midyear, the newly formed Columbia Telephone Company bought the franchise and lines of the recently dissolved Green River Telephone Co. and immediately set about making changes for the better: replacing lines for the existing Casey Creek connection; creation of a new line to Burkesville; and a through line added to the existing Campbellsville connection to give Columbians access to "long distance communication with Louisville and other important cities in the State," among other improvements.

The following year, 1903, the First National Bank of Columbia building went up between Jeffries & Sons Hardware and the Reed & Miller store in the south corner. (Another building, a much smaller wooden structure of recent vintage put up by M. Cravens, had to moved from this site to make way for the bank.) Many years later, the bank (now First & Farmers) expanded and took in the Reed & Miller building, the latter now perhaps best remembered as the location of Nell's Variety Store.

The dawn of 1904 saw the opening of the Lindsey Wilson Training School. While not on the square, this greatly impacted the Columbia mercantile scene with the cadre of teachers and the ensuing influx of students who moved to Columbia to take advantage of this sparkling new educational opportunity. In many cases, parents and siblings also moved to town to be near the scholar(s) in their family.

As 1904 drew to a close, the Adair County News moved from its original location in the Creel building on the exit corner of Campbellsville Street to larger quarters in the alley off the south corner of the square. Editor C.S. Harris immediately doubled the size of the paper from four to eight pages and hired another compositor.

1905 saw a bit of a lull in commercial construction, but progress continued around the square. About the time the News office moved, the Myers family bought the franchise to install and maintain an electric light plant in Columbia, one "capable of producing 150 incandescent lights of 16 candle power, provided that the people of the town would contract for 100 of them." The deal also called for the installation of arc lights around the square.

By mid-year 1905. the News reported that "The four arc lights on the square make it as bright as day, and a great deal of shopping is done after supper. A number of residents here had their residences wired and many others will follow suit," and within a few weeks, all the residences and business places that had been "wired up" had the miracle electricity for a few hours each night. Before too long, a few and then still more arc lights were placed along the four main streets leading out of town.

In the early autumn of 1906, work on a new structure commenced on the northeast side of the square. Mr. J.O. Russell purchased a lot from the Sallee heirs and promptly started construction on a commercial building. Postmaster J.M. Russell, J.O.'s brother, moved the post office there in the spring of 1907 as workmen were applying the finishing touches.

Mrs. Mary Garnett, widow of the late Judge, started construction of another business edifice in the spring of 1907, immediately after completion of the Russell building, this one "on the corner of the public square [at the Campbellsbille Street entry side] extending to the new post office building." The Garnett building later housed the post office. In 1939, the Richardsons (father and son Frank and Harold) opened a shoe store and an electric (appliance and radio) shop there.

About the time workmen got started on the Garnett building, the Columbia City Council took decisive action in regard to Columbia's patchwork of concrete, wooden, and nonexistent sidewalks and decreed that "a uniform concrete walk should be made in front of all property on the public square," with each landowner bearing the cost of the supplies and the labor required to lay the walk along his property. This project was finished in June 1908 with the completion of a stretch of walkway in front of the Columbia Hotel (aka Conover, Marcum, Miller, and New Adair Hotel, among other names).

Then came about a two year slowdown in the carpenters' saws and hammers on such major projects around the square, caused possibly in part by the Panic of 1907 and the ensuing recession. Nonetheless, in May 1908, the Council again passed a sidewalk ordinance, this time "requiring property owners to build concrete pavements out each street one block from the square."

Come September, the boundaries were pushed even farther from the square. Reported the News, "An order has been made by the City Council for concrete pavement to be extended as follows: To the Presbyterian church on Burkesville street; to the branch on Water Street; to the cemetery on Campbellsville street and to J.N. Page's residence, including same on Greensburg street. The property holders are given until next July [1909] to complete the work."

This story was posted on 2018-10-11 21:03:12
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