Antebellum Development

In the 1830s Columbus was a rapidly growing city. A decade after its founding in 1828, the new town had a population of more than 3,000 people. Columbus was one of the most industrialized towns of its size in the South, featuring several businesses that relied on the hydropower of the Chattahoochee River. Because Columbus was the head of navigation on the river, it occupied a strategic position in a regional trading network that was tied to world markets through the Gulf Coast port of Apalachicola, Florida. As former Creek lands were opened to American settlement, Columbus was just one of dozens of Chattahoochee Valley communities founded in the first decades of the nineteenth century, including LaGrange, Talbotton, and Buena Vista in Georgia, and Auburn, Opelika, and Eufaula in Alabama.

Cotton production tripled as wealthy planters bought former Creek lands and instituted the plantation agriculture system. Money from soldiers, government contracts, and a rush of new settlers also helped the burgeoning commercial center of Columbus grow. Countless quick fortunes were made by white planters and merchants through the cotton, steamboat and railroad trade, as well mill operation. Steamboats brought luxury items for the home, as well as artists, authors, actors, and musicians who helped Columbus residents establish cultural institutions on the Southern frontier.

  • City of Columbus
    hand-colored engraving on paper
    James Smillie after T. Addison Richards Museum purchase made possible by the Evelyn S. and H. Wayne Patterson Fund 2007.13.1

    This image, depicting Columbus 16 years after its founding, shows a number of homes, churches, and businesses surrounded by a hilly landscape. Click here for more information

  • Fork and spoon
    sterling silver
    Samuel B. Purple
    born Northfield, Mass. 1813
    died Northfield, Mass. 1858
    Museum purchase 1989.11.11

    More than a dozen silversmiths, including Massachusetts native Samuel Purple, worked in Columbus before the Civil War. Click here for more information

  • John Fontaine
    oil on canvas
    Edward Ludlow Mooney (1813-1887)
    Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harry C. Jackson and CB&T 1982.50

    As the first elected mayor of Columbus and an influential businessman, John Fontaine began to promote industrial development along Columbus’ riverfront. Click here for more information

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