A Stroll Among the Stones

During this month of baseball playoffs, college football rivalries, and ghost stories, the urge to stroll through local cemeteries is the strongest it will get all year.

While there are many beautiful and historic cemeteries in Maury County, perhaps none are better to stroll through than Rose Hill in Columbia. Founded in 1853 on land sold by city mayor Meredith Helm, Rose Hill replaced Greenwood as Columbia’s city cemetery.

In Rose Hill are the graves of soldiers, statesmen, and many other lauded individuals. The famous here range from a famous horse racer to a legendary stock car driver. The majority of the graves, however, belong to decent, hardworking people that helped build Columbia from the ground up. For most, their stories will never be fully known or told.

Rose Hill, unlike many other cemeteries in the county, was planned and platted. Popular at this time were “garden cemeteries.” This movement made cemeteries more like city parks than unorganized repositories for the dead. Rose Hill, for example, is laid out into blocks with drives through each section. Flowering trees and evergreens can be seen throughout.

With its many drives, Rose Hill is perfect for a stroll and what really catches the attention of visitors are the monuments. During the Victorian-era, ornate monuments were constructed for graves in Rose Hill. The best of these were ordered from the Muldoon Monument Co. of Louisville, Kentucky.

Muldoon Monuments:

The Muldoon Monument Co. was founded in 1854 by Michael Muldoon. The earliest monuments from Muldoon in Rose Hill are in the Mayes family plot and are signed “Muldoon, Bullett, & Co.” Charles Bullett was a French sculptor who supervised the production of monuments in the firm’s workshop in Carrara, Italy. The monuments of Lou and Ella Mayes were made by this firm in the 1860s.

 

Another marker in the same plot is for Lena Mayes Childress and her daughter. Lena was a sibling to Lou and Ella Mayes. This monument—and those to Lou and Ella—have no dates on them, only their ages at death. Using her death date, Lena passed away between 1872 and 1873. Lena’s monument is a fine example of an extravagant late-Victorian marker.

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Grave of Lena Mayes Childress & her daughter

There are two other fine monuments in this family plot, but no markings could be found to identify the makers. Muldoon is still in business today under the name Muldoon Memorials. Their website reads, “The test of our vistion is as simple as a trip to the cemetery. Find a memorial that impresses or inspires you and nine times out of ten, it was built by Muldoon.” Given those odds, it is fair to say Muldoon is responsible for the other two monuments in the Mayes plot.

Outside of the Mayes plot, there are other fine examples of Muldoon’s work in Rose Hill, including:

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William John Andrews, Jr. monument, circa 1887

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John William Dunnington monument, circa 1882

But, perhaps the premier Muldoon monument in Rose Hill Cemetery is the one located in the Confederate Section. This monument was designed in 1881 by George W. Kendall of the Muldoon Monument Co. and was delivered to Columbia by rail in 1882 when it was dedicated. An 1888 Tennessean article exclaims Muldoon & Co “have designed and built fourteen Confederate monuments. One of the best pieces of art is the “Lost Cause,” erected at Rose Hill, Columbia, Tenn., which is said to be perfect in all its proportions.” This monument features a Confederate soldier standing at funeral parade rest atop a pedestal that features inverted cannon barrels.

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Postcard of the “Lost Cause” monument in the Confederate Section, postmarked 1908

An ad for Muldoon Monument Co. from the back of an early Confederate Veteran magazine lists the Columbia monument as one of the company’s works. Ironically, also on the list is the Gen. Patrick Cleburne monument in Helena, Arkansas. Gen. Cleburne was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery after the Battle of Franklin where he fell. He was later removed to St. John’s graveyard and, once again, removed to Helena, Arkansas

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Ad from Confederate Veteran magazine

Local Stonecutters:

One of the earliest stonecutters of note in the county was W. Bland. His work, for the most part, went unsigned. One tombstone identified as his work is that of Ed Voss. A short article from the February 3, 1871 Columbia Herald and Mail reads:

“One of the first companies that went from this county at the outbreak of the late War Between the States (and the last to come back,) was called the ‘Maury Greys,’ under Capt., no Col., Looney. Some time since, one of its members Ed. W. Voss, died in the vicinity, and the remaining soldiers of the company in this place erected a tombstone or monument over his remains at Rose Hill Cemetery. The work was done by Mr. Bland.”

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Grave of Ed. Voss in Rose Hill Cemetery, tombstone by W. Bland

What happened to Mr. Bland is unknown, save for the fact that William Shirley took over his shop in 1871.

William Shirley was perhaps the most prolific local stonecutter. Born in England in 1826, Shirley arrived in the United States at age 16 and married his first wife in New York at age 22. His first child was born in Maury County in 1851. The first found mention of William Shirley as a stonecutter is as a partner in the firm of Shirley & Shane in Nashville. This partnership produced many beautiful monuments in the 1860s, including that of James Hodge in Rose Hill.

 

In 1869, William Shirley and J. P. Shane dissolved their partnership and the next year found William Shirley in yet another partnership, this time with T. J. Canterbury. This firm was based out of Columbia, but this partnership, too, dissolved in 1871.

 

 

That same year, William Shirley took over W. Bland’s old shop and began his own marble works. He had several sons under his employment, including William N. “Bill” Shirley. “Bill” Shirley shared his father’s occupation as a stonecutter and mason. The two would also marry the same woman, but that’s a story for another time. Young Bill Shirley would go on to cut all of the limestone for the Columbia Arsenal buildings and is credited with discovering phosphate in Maury County. Despite the millions of dollars other people made from his discovery, Bill Shirley died a pauper and was buried in Rose Hill without a tombstone.

Many marvelous monuments in Rose Hill are engraved “Wm. Shirley.” These are more than likely the work of the elder William Shirley or, at least, were produced in old-man Shirley’s marble factory under his name.

 

His old partner, T. J. Canterbury also did a lot of work in Rose Hill during the 1870s. The Columbia Herald and Mail reported in their “Around Town” column on March 31, 1871, “Wm. Shirley says he has a $600 monument for Mrs. Sowell to go over her husband at Rose Hill.” The next sentence reads, “Mr. T. J. Canterbury sold in one hour last Monday over $2,000 worth of monuments.”

 

People were just dying to get those monuments!

Monuments in Rose Hill are not limited to Muldoon, Bland, Canterbury, and Shirley. Messrs. S. P. Payne, Hill, Arthur McPhee, and Gracy were all active stonecutters in Columbia after the Civil War. Still, other stones were transported to Columbia from Nashville, St. Louis, and similar large markets. W. M. Dean Marble Co. in Columbia also did a large amount of monument work around the turn of the century until relocating to Nashville in 1940. When Dean left Columbia, the art of stonecutting left, too. All we are left with today are the works these true artisans left behind, still standing ever-vigilant in Rose Hill.

The history and beauty of Rose Hill Cemetery are unsurpassed. Do yourself a favor and stroll among the stones. At the end of your stroll, you might just be able to pick out which ones are Muldoon or Columbia made.

-Adam Southern

Columbia’s Musical Past

Recently, I was asked about the history of Columbia’s music scene. This question, I admit, took a great deal of thought. Naturally, old-time string bands came to mind. I could just see Jim Skinner on the banjo, Curtis Lentz sawing the fiddle, and the Hedrick boys picking guitars at a square dance on any given Saturday night in Columbia in the 1940s and 50s.

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Jim Skinner plays the banjo while Curtis Lentz fiddles.

However, I was to learn that Columbia has given birth to a variety of musicians of varied genres.

Take Charles Hunter, for example. Hunter was born in Columbia in 1876. Blind at birth, Hunter was sent to the Nashville School for the Blind where he was taught a trade—how to tune pianos. After completing his training, he was employed by French Piano Company in Nashville. It was here, many think, that Charles Hunter explored his love of music and began composing ditties on pianos between jobs. Later these ditties would become full Ragtime compositions.

The “Music” entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia reads, “Most Tennessee ragtime composers came from the mid-state and created compositions so distinctive and numerous that some historians speak of a ‘Nashville style’ in early ragtime. Perhaps the most prolific and well known was Columbia native Charles Hunter…”

His first “hit” was Tickled to Death (1899). This tune was so popular that it was made into a Victrola record. Subsequent works were Possum and Taters (1900) and Just Ask Me (1902).

Charles Hunter

About the time that Just Ask Me was release, Hunter moved to St. Louis, Missouri. In a new city, his fame as a composer had preceded him. He was welcomed with open arms into the nightclubs of St. Louis’ red light district, where Hunter seemed to relish his fame. The late nights, cigarettes, and liquor weakened Hunter’s system and his body was stricken with tuberculosis. He died January 23, 1906, a few months shy of his thirtieth birthday. He is buried in the Knights of Phyias plot in St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Another group of Columbia natives were the Miller brothers: Flournoy, Irvin, and Quintard. These men (Flournoy and Irvin, especially) left an indelible mark on the world of show business.

Flournoy (F. E.) Miller, according to New York Public Library, was an “actor, comedian, playwright, lyricist and producer.” Born in Columbia in 1889, Flournoy went to Fisk University with childhood chum Aubrey Lyles. There, the two formed the duo act of Miller & Lyles and found success on the vaudeville circuit.

This duo would take their success all the way to New York City. In 1915, the duo starred in the first major all-black musical comedy, Darkydom. Then, in 1921, the two, along with Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, wrote and produced Shuffle Along—the first Broadway musical produced entirely by African Americans. The show had a three-year run on Broadway.

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Flournoy Miller (top center) and Aubrey Lyles (bottom center) along with Blake and Sissle. Together, the four would write Shuffle Along. Photo courtesy of American Theatre.

The duo would continue to produce musical and comical acts until the death of Lyles in 1932, at which time Miller teamed up with comedian Mantan Moreland. The two would appear in Harlem on the Prairie in 1936. It was the first all-black western. Miller would also go on to write for the Amos and Andy television show. (He and Lyles had performed and wrote for the radio version of the show during their time as a duo.)

Flournoy Miller’s professional portfolio was extensive—much of it groundbreaking. He definitely helped pave the way for others to follow. As did his brother, Irvin C. Miller.

Floyd J. Calvin wrote in the February 12, 1927 Pittsburgh Courier, “Irvin Colloden Miller was born in Columbia, Tenn. He graduated from Fisk University at Nashville in 1904, played left halfback on the Fisk football team, played baseball, basketball, was [a] boxer and runner.” By the time of this 1927 article, Irvin C. Miller had written and produced several musical comedies for the stage, some of them very popular. Still a comedian, Miller told the reporter, “The only two things I still use from my athletic training is my running and boxing. When I do big talk, if my boxing can’t back me up, my running can.”

His 1923 show Dinah was extremely popular. This show introduced the Black Bottom Dance that swept the Jazz Age dance halls and found its way into society balls.

But it was his Ziegfeld Follies-inspired show Brown Skin Models that really put Irvin C. Miller on the map. This show would run, updated annually, for thirty years. All the while, during the tenure of Brown Skin Models, he was producing new work and would have several shows touring the nation at any given time.

Irvin C. Miller would pass away at the age of 91 in 1975. His younger brother, Flournoy E. Miller, proceeded him in death in 1971.

This is, by no means, Columbia’s complete music history. Let’s just call it the intro.

-Adam Southern

 

References & Suggested Reading:

Calvin, Floyd J. “Irvin C. Miller Writes on Problems of Theatre.” The Pittsburgh Courier, 12 Feb. 1937, p 2.

“Flournoy Miller Collection.” New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts, http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20858.

Wolfe, Charles K. “Music.” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society, 2017, http://tennesseeencyclopdiea.net/entries/music/.

The Immortal 600: Two were from Maury

With the beach and lighthouse of Tybee Island in the rearview mirror, US 80 sprawled out in front of the vehicle as it snaked its way toward the mainland of Savannah, Georgia. Just outside of Tybee, a sign read “Immortal 600 Memorial Highway.” The sign was placed in an appropriate spot, as rising above the brackish water surrounding it, the brick walls of Fort Pulaski could be seen rising from the marsh.

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Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, Georgia

Fort Pulaski was one of the homes of the Immortal 600, a band of six hundred Confederate officers held as prisoners of war by the Union. Here at Fort Pulaski, the Immortals would endure some of the worst privations of the Civil War. These privations came after first being used as human shields and starved near Charleston, South Carolina.

This is a story that begins with Maj. Gen. Samuel Jones, commander of the Confederate forces at Charleston Harbor. For months, he watched as Union guns pounded, not just the coastal defenses, but the residential areas of Charleston. Nightly, homes with women and children were shelled by the Yankee guns.

In an effort to give the innocent residents of Charleston some much-needed relief, Gen. Jones sent word to his Union counterpart, Maj. Gen. John G. Foster that fifty of his officers, including five generals, were housed in the neighborhoods of Charleston as prisoners of war. Basically, Jones let the Union command know that when they gave the order to shell the non-combatants of Charleston, there was the possibility that they would also be shelling their own men.

Foster was outraged. He reached out to Union high command and asked for fifty Confederate prisoners of similar ranks to be brought to Morris Island so that they could be placed in an equally dangerous predicament. Luckily for these fifty rebel officers (and the fifty Yankees in Charleston), Foster and Jones were able to come to an agreement and exchanged prisoners. Crisis averted, right?

Wrong. After this prisoner exchange took place, Foster received word that the Confederates were bringing six hundred more Union POW’s into the city in hopes of another exchange. Once more, Gen. Foster reached out to Washington, DC, this time with the request for six hundred Confederate officers to be brought to the Union fortifications on Morris Island.

These six hundred officers were taken out of the prison camp at Fort Delaware. At first, these men were told they were going to be exchanged. Rightfully so, many of the men looked forward to the trip and going home. It wasn’t until the men arrived on Morris Island that they learned they were not going to be exchanged. Instead, they were to be used as a human shield.

On September 8, 1864, the six hundred Confederate officers were placed in front of the Yankee cannons. Union shells soared over their heads on the way to Fort Sumter. Confederate gunners, if they wished to return fire, risked the chance of hitting their own men. Confederate gunners aimed high, but still shells exploded prematurely and rained shrapnel down on the six hundred men below. Union guns also misfired and sent shots through the prisoners’ encampment.

Despite the conditions, not one man died as a result of the bombings. Three did die on Morris Island due to the starvation rations and exposure to the elements.  After six weeks of this, a ship arrived to take the six hundred to their next destination, Fort Pulaski. Lt. Henry Cook wrote, “The horrors of Morris Island were not to be compared with what awaited us on the coast of Georgia.”

Arriving in mid-October, most of the 600 would call Fort Pulaski home until March 1865. Perhaps the greatest hardships were experienced during this time of incarceration. Due to the poor conditions at Confederate prison camps, especially Andersonville, the Union commanders of Fort Pulaski put the Immortal 600 on what they called “retaliation rations,” consisting on a small piece of bread, soured cornmeal, and rotten pickled onions. Meat was not to be had, except for the rats, cats, and dogs the men were lucky enough to catch. Scurvy and dysentery were as common among the 600 as the lice crawling about their uniforms.

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Inside Fort Pulaski. The Immortal 600 were housed in the case-mates beyond the cannon.

Another thirteen died at Fort Pulaski and were buried outside the walls on Cockspur Island. As the condition of the Confederate prisoners worsened, the decision was made to remove them from Fort Pulaski and to return them to the prison at Fort Delaware. The largest number of Immortal 600 deaths occurred upon the return to Fort Delaware. This is not surprising after reading a description of the men penned by a fellow prisoner, Robert E. Park. He wrote, “Their lean, emaciated persons were covered with livid spots of various sizes, occasioned by effusion of blood under the cuticle. They looked pale, languid and low spirited, and suffered from general exhaustion, pains in the limbs, and bleeding gums. All this was caused by their rigid confinement and want of nourishing food.”

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Monument to the Immortal 600 just outside the walls of Fort Pulaski

Among the men transferred back to Fort Delaware was Maury County’s own Lt. William H. Alderson. He arrived with the rest of the Immortals on March 12th and was admitted to the prison hospital on March 13th. He died on March 30, 1865. The cause of death was listed as erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection. Modern medical journals state this condition can usually be cured in a matter of days when treated with penicillin. He was taken from Fort Delaware and buried across the river on the New Jersey shore.

Another Columbia man, Joseph A. Irvine, was among the ranks of the Immortal 600. Luckily for young Lt. Irvine, he was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina and exchanged on December 15, 1864. He would miss the horrors of “retaliation rations” endured by his colleagues, but he had still endured more than any prisoner of war should have. Joseph Irvine would return to Maury County and serve as a deputy sheriff before becoming a lumber broker. Today, he rests in Rose Hill Cemetery.

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The grave of Joseph Irvine in Columbia’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

The Immortal 600 became heroes in the final days of the Civil War. Southerners looked to them for inspiration—enduring privations on Morris Island, Hilton Head, and at Fort Pulaski, the easiest thing for the men to do would have been to take the oath to the Union and go home. A very small number of the men did this. For the vast majority, honor and commitment to their cause would not allow this. Today, a small stretch of highway in Georgia and a granite marker outside of Fort Pulaski commemorates their bravery and dedication. On the base of that marker reads the words, “Lest we forget.”

Let us never forget…

 

 

 

References & Suggested Reading:

Edgar, Capt. Alfred Mallory. My Reminiscences of the Civil War with the Stonewall Brigade and the Immortal 600. 35th Star Publishing, 2011.

Joslyn, Mauriel Phillips. The Biographical Roster of the Immportal 600. White Mane Publishing, 1995.

Joslyn, Mauriel Phillips. Immortal Captives: The Story of 600 Confederate Officers and the United States Prisoner of War Policy. Pelican Publishing, 2008.

Murray, Maj. John Ogden. The Immortal Six Hundred: A Story of Cruelty of Confederate Prisoners of War. The Confederate Reprint Company, 2015.

Stokes, Karen. The Immortal 600: Surviving Civil War Charleston and Savannah. The History Press, 2013.

Immortal 600

Columbia’s “Crackup”

Among the personalities that made Columbia such an interesting place in the twentieth century, perhaps none were more colorful than Captain Frank Foster (F. F.) Frakes. Better known as “Bowser,” Captain Frakes made his living by living on the edge as a barnstormer and stuntman.

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1938 Camel cigarette ad highlighting Bowser Frakes.

In 1913, Bowser saw his uncle fly an old Curtiss-Wright pusher. It was love at first sight. With his uncle, Bowser learned everything he could about flying the flimsy planes from the infancy of aviation. Bowser thought he had learned enough to help the Allies with the Great War (WWI), but Uncle Sam did not see it that way—Bowser lacked the two years of college required to be a pilot in the early air force.

During a 1955 interview, Bowser said of his time in WWI, “The closest I came to flying was when a Maury County mule kicked me about 30 feet through the air.” Grounded by the army, Bowser’s main objective was to transport mules to Europe to aid with the war effort.

When the war was over, though, Bowser found himself in luck. The army had hundreds of surplus planes they were all-too-happy to sell to would-be pilots like Frakes. Bowser took what he learned from his uncle and hit the road as a barnstormer, becoming one of the best. Soon after, Bowser landed a job with Curtiss-Wright as a test pilot. But, the Great Depression came along and, in its wake, Bowser’s job was lost, forcing him back to barnstorming.

Bowser and his comrades in the “air circus” quickly learned that things were tough all over; people were no longer paying to watch the old air acts with simulated dogfights and acrobatics that once brought in thousands of spectators. Bowser knew he had to come up with a new act.

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From Flying, July 1951

Bowser said, “I got the idea of cracking up planes before a crowd which would pay admission to see me risk my fool neck.” In 1929, before a crowd of 30,000 spectators, he performed his first “crack up.”

Jack Dealy, in a feature for Flying magazine, wrote, “The crowd roared approval—and Frakes was on his way to a world’s record for walking away from crackups.” The title of the feature in Flying should give you an idea of how many times he cracked up. It was titled, “He Walked Away from 99 Crashes.”  (Bowser crashed into homes, barns, cars, and, once, a body of water during his career spanning ninety-nine crashes.)

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From Flying, July 1951

All along this journey of cracking up planes, Bowser had to stay one step ahead of the law. The Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) did not much care for Bowser’s occupation. As soon as it was announced Capt. F. F. Frakes was going to perform a crackup in a town, CAA agents would alert authorities with orders to nab Bowser. Toward the end of his career as a crackup pilot, Bowser was known to feign injuries and go straight from the crash to the ambulance. Once away from the prying eyes of the spectators (and the police), he would have the medics drive the ambulance to either his hotel or the local train station.

In September 1938, Bowser knew the law was close, so he again played hurt. The medics threw Frakes in the back of the ambulance and, before the car took off, two men climbed into the back with the “patient.” Bowser looked at the men, but assumed they were doctors when one of them said they were going to the hospital.

According to The Lincoln Star, “No!” replied the flier, “I’m all right, hurry up and get me to my hotel so I can get out of town.”

“Well,” retorted one of the men, “If you’re all right then we’re going to the jail, not the hotel.”

That’s when Bowser realized the two men were the town sheriff and one of his deputies.

The Wild West-era of air shows was coming to a close, but a new world war loomed on the horizon. Bowser decided to offer his services to the British by writing a letter to their embassy in Washington, DC. According to Bowser, “I told them if British intelligence would map out Adolf Hitler’s residence for me I’d be glad to rid the world of his presence. I said I thought could fly a plane carrying high explosives right down his chimney.”

The Brits thanked him for the offer, but declined. That did not stop Bowser from enlisting in the Royal Air Force where he served honorably from 1941 until 1942 as a flight instructor. In ’42, he transferred to the United States Air Force where he finished the war.

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“Casket of Death,” June 5, 1955, The Tennessean.

Having served through another world war, Bowser, now in his fifties, had to find a new show. Cracking up planes was out—he needed something a little easier to do in his golden years. So, Bowser developed the “Casket of Death” routine, where he lined a coffin with dynamite, sealed himself inside, and had someone light the fuse. Then, BOOM!

Later, at close to sixty years of age, he started performing a rocket routine. Bowser would saddle onto a rocket and have it launched only to explode in midair.

Bowser is still considered an aviation legend. His story has been told in countless newspaper articles and magazines, including Flying and, most recently, Air & Space by the Smithsonian. He flew as a stuntman in thirty-four movies, including Hell’s Angels and Devil Dogs, and was also featured in numerous newsreels during the 1930s. In 1938, at what was probably the height of his career as a “crackup pilot,” Bowser was sponsored by Camel cigarettes and he was featured in several of their print ads.

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From Camel cigarette ad, 1938

In Columbia, Tennessee, many look back fondly on their experiences with Bowser Frakes. Those of us too young to have known him, only wish we could have met the legend. Today, after a daring life of stunts and near-misses, Frank Foster Frakes is resting peacefully in Rose Hill Cemetery, a far cry from the airfields he knew so long ago.

If you’d like to see more of Bowser Frakes, go visit my friends at West Seventh Company. In their current gallery exhibit is a portrait of none other but Capt. Bowser Frakes as taken by Orman Studios in 1938. Lovers of local history will enjoy seeing—not only Bowser—but all of the old Columbia photos on display. And, when you go for your visit, tell Kim and Joel where you heard about them!

 

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Bowser, his wife Carol, and his dog, Ike. Bowser Frakes was a favorite among the children of Columbia, as was his dog, Ike. The kids of Columbia would feed Ike chocolate bars as treats. As far as anyone knows, the chocolate never made Ike sick. August 23, 1954, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cited:

Dealy, Jack. “He Walked Away From 99 Crashes.” Flying, July 1951, p. 26.

Rayburn, Taylor. “Death Diver!” The Tennessean (Nashville, TN), 05 Jun. 1955, p. 110.

Staff. “Pictures of Captain Frakes Crashing Plan Thru House.” The Lincoln Star, 11 Sept. 1938, p. 3.

Start, Clarissa. “An All-Around Daredevil.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Aug. 1954, p. 27.

The lost Athenaeum Campus

Mention the Athenaeum in Columbia and, automatically, the mind turns to a small corner lot where Athenaeum and West Eighth Streets meet. There on this corner lot is all that remains of the Columbia Athenaeum, a school for young ladies that operated from 1852 until 1903 under the tutelage and leadership of the Rev. F. G. Smith Family. This remaining building, completed in 1837, was the rectory of the Columbia Athenaeum and family home of the Smiths, really, just a small part of the Athenaeum Campus.

At its peak, the campus of the Athenaeum consisted of over twenty acres near current-day Downtown Columbia. Using modern-day street names to describe the boundaries of the campus, the northern boundary was West Seventh Street; to the east, Walker Street; to the south, West Ninth Street; and Beckett Street to the west. All of the property within these bounds—save the four acres next door belonging to the Columbia Female Institute—made up the campus of the Athenaeum. Some physical evidence of this is located on the corner of West Seventh and Walker Streets. The small stone pillar on the corner now occupied by the radio station is the original corner marker of the Athenaeum property.

Once the Athenaeum closed in 1903, the buildings were sold to the City of Columbia for use as a public high school. In 1915, the first Central High School would open on the site of the Athenaeum Study Hall. The Columbia Orphan’s Home (now located at Ferguson Hall in Spring Hill) would be built on the old Athenaeum campus as well. Later, the site of the Columbia Orphan’s Home would become the first Whitthorne Middle School.

The remaining property was sold by Smith heirs and was subdivided into building lots, hence the landlocked state of the Athenaeum Rectory today. King’s Daughters School, West Seventh Street Church of Christ, Maury County Board of Education, the Family Center, and several businesses along West Seventh Street and multiple homes sit on the original campus of the Columbia Athenaeum.

Although the Rectory is all that remains, several photographs of the Athenaeum buildings have survived. The Smith descendants now living in Texas shared these amazing photographs of what used to be.

Gates

 A beautiful six-rail fence surrounded the Athenaeum property. But, there were several ways to get on campus, including the two gates photographed here. The gate in the foreground was the entrance to a gravel walkway through “The Grove,” a wooded area that the Smith’s allowed the community to access as almost a city park. In the grove was a bandstand and it was a popular place for picnics and town celebrations. The gate in the distance to the right was the carriage entrance that led to the Athenaeum Rectory and the campus to the south.

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This is the carriage entrance to the Athenaeum located on West Seventh Street. 

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A hand-colored lithograph of the Athenaeum from the 1870s. This shows the south side of the Athenaeum campus. The Rectory can be seen in the background of the right-hand side. 

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One of the most iconic buildings on campus was the Study Hall, above. This is the south side of the building as shown in the lithograph. 

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This photograph shows the north side of the large study hall. This would have been the view from the back of the Athenaeum Rectory. 

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Inside of the Athenaeum Study Hall. 

Study Hall & Pavilion

Another view of the south elevation of the Study Hall. Part of the “Pavilion” can be seen to the left. 

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South elevation of the Athenaeum Campus, showing the Pavilion above. Between the Pavilion and the Rotunda would have been the school’s library. 

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The Rotunda.

Davis Hall

Just a few steps north of the Rotunda was Davis Hall, the school’s dormitory. Young ladies can be seen playing croquet on campus. 

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A closer view of Davis Hall. The addition to Davis Hall (to the left) included a gymnasium and a bowling alley for the students. 

 

The historic Athenaeum Rectory is open Thursday through Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Tours are given during those times for $5. Visit www.HistoricAthenaeum.com for more information.

Thanks for reading!

-Adam Southern

Columbia’s Rat Hole

In the curve where South High and Depot Streets meet, hidden behind a shield of scrubby trees and vines, is a forgotten Columbia landmark known simply as the “Rat Hole.”

The Rat Hole sits a stone’s throw away from Columbia’s Union Station Depot and the two share a common builder, the railroad. But, instead of saying these two constructions—the Depot and the Rat Hole—are siblings, it would probably be best to say they are first cousins, as the Depot was grandiose in its construction. The Rat Hole was one hundred percent utilitarian.

When construction of the Depot began in 1902, the railroad bed was raised about six feet above street level. This caused the city to close South High Street at the railroad tracks. Knowing that pedestrians would more than likely use the straightest route across the railroad tracks where South High used to be, the railroad decided to divert these pedestrians away from the tracks by constructing a tunnel underneath the rails, thus giving birth to the Rat Hole.

It’s not known when the tunnel was given the “Rat Hole” moniker, but the name seemed to catch on all over town. Generations of Columbians knew exactly where the Rat Hole was and a good number of them actually used it. The tunnel was frequented so often that lights were eventually installed for nighttime use.

As pedestrian traffic in the area of the Depot diminished, so did the usefulness of the Rat Hole. Today, the tunnel serves as a conduit for utility pipes. Upon latest inspection, the Rat Hole floor was filled with debris and at least a foot of water, making the tunnel impassable.

On your next trip to the Columbia Arts District, slow down as you make the curve between the Depot and the Columbia Arts Building. There in the brush you will see the opening of a tunnel. Only you will know that it is no ordinary tunnel—it is the forgotten landmark known as the Rat Hole.

 

Historic 2017

With 2017 coming to a close, now is a good time to look back on the year that was and look forward to the fresh starts that the New Year promise.

2017 brought many exciting things to Columbia, but these events caught my eye.

  1. South side of the Polk Home Kitchen now visible

Orman Studios was built almost abutting the kitchen of the Ancestral Home of President James K. Polk in 1947. Although 60 years old, the Orman building did not contribute to the significance of the historical neighborhood, including the 1816 Polk Home, the 1916 Presbyterian Church, and Polk Presidential Hall built in 1881 as a Church of Christ. The State of Tennessee purchased and razed the building, exposing the south wall of the Polk kitchen for the first time in sixty years.

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The now-visible south wall of the kitchen.

  1. Advertising found at 812 S. Main Street

Middle Tennessee Law Group, PLLC recently acquired the property located at 812 South Main Street in Columbia. Royal’s Hair operated at this location prior to the acquisition. Once the law group began working on the site, they began uncovering advertising painted on the wall of the building adjoining to the south. Last month, the building at 812 S. Main was demolished, giving the public a look at the advertising.

Why was this advertising there? Finding this painting proves that at some point in time, there wasn’t a building at 812 S. Main Street and the shoe store next door was able to paint ads in the open-air alley next door. Later, when the building at 812 was erected, the ads were covered and, effectually, beautifully preserved.

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812 S. Main was demolished, exposing this advertising painted on 814 S. Main.

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Advertising for the Royal Blue $3.50 Shoe.

Thanks for reading during 2017!

Here’s hoping your 2018 is happy and bright!