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What Was Columbus’ Turning Point?

Watching fearless white water rafters bouncing down the Chattahoochee River in the shadow of downtown Columbus, it is hard to imagine that this was once a city without an interstate highway that depended on cotton mills and soldiers leaping off of jump towers.

A downtown area that only a short time ago was populated by wig shops and vacant storefronts is now alive with restaurants, coffee shops and second story lofts. College students walk the sidewalks and visitors line up for white water rides or to speed across the river on a zip line that takes them to Alabama.

When did Columbus make this transition?

It did not happen overnight. No one person or decision or singular event led to these dramatic changes. It was really a series of important moments inspired by a community that wanted to be more than it had been. Most of these landmark events came after World War II.

As the war ended, there was a city and a county government along with two public school systems. Fort Benning was at its peak. The textile industry was still based in this country. People came downtown to shop and visit. People sneaked into Phenix City after dark to gamble and drink. Young people had to go out of town for a college degree.

Looking back over 70 eventful years, here is a sample of the events that helped Columbus become what it is in 2016.

• City and county school systems merged in 1950. This was important to public education and made the later decision to consolidate local governments much smoother

• Television came to Columbus in 1953. WTVM (originally WDAK) signed on in October and a month later WRBL went on the air.

• Alabama Attorney General-Elect Albert Patterson was assassinated in 1954, leading to martial law and the elimination of the criminal element that had ruled Phenix City for decades.

• The Municipal Auditorium was built on the old Chattahoochee Valley fairgrounds in 1955, providing a venue for major entertainment acts that until then had bypassed Columbus.

• Then known as American Family Life Assurance Co., Aflac was founded by John Amos and his brothers in 1955.

• Columbus College opened as a two-year school in 1958, holding classes in an old hosiery mill.

• Columbus Square Mall opened on Macon Road in 1965 — the first enclosed shopping center in Georgia. For three decades it was a Mecca for local shoppers.

White Water rafters come down the Chattahoochee River on an unusual urban course.

White Water rafters come down the Chattahoochee River on an unusual urban course.

• Two earlier votes failed, but in 1970 voters approved the consolidation of city and county governments — creating the first consolidated government in Georgia.

• For years the community had whined about being the largest city in America that was not served by an Interstate highway. That changed with the opening of I-185 in 1979.

• TSYS (originally known as Total System Services) began in 1959 in the basement of Columbus Bank & Trust Co. It went out on its own as a separate venture in 1983

• Loaded with lively local party-goers, the Jubilee chugged into Columbus in 1984, restoring the city’s attention to the river.

• Columbus College gained university status in 1988, establishing a foundation that eventually expanded to a newly-established downtown campus.

• When industry-seekers convinced Pratt-Whitney to build a factory on Macon Road in 1996 it was the city’s first major industry since Sunshine Biscuits in the 1950s.

• The Olympic Games came to Columbus in 1996 with women’s fast-pitch softball being played at a converted Golden Park.

• The RiverCenter for the Performing Arts opened in downtown Columbus in 1998.

• The Columbus Regional Library opened on Macon Road in 2001, the first public footprint on land where a shopping center once sat.

• After years of dreaming, White Water Rafting finally came to town.

This is my list. What’s on yours?

We’d like to know the events that you believe helped shape contemporary Columbus. Make your comments below or email me at hyatt31906@knology.net

 

 

 

Richard Hyatt joined allongeorgia.com after spending more than 40 years as an award-winning newsman at the Ledger-Enquirer in Columbus. He started his newspaper career at the Atlanta Times and Atlanta Constitution and also worked for Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Hawks. He is the author of 18 non-fiction books. A native of Atlanta, he attended Georgia State University and graduated from Columbus State University. Hyatt is married to the former Kaye Howell and is the father of three daughters, including Kamryn, a bubbly fourth grader.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Alton Russell

    October 10, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    one big push that took several votes was the new law that made mixed drinks available in Columbus, this was a boost for restaurants and the local economy, without it we might not have our uptown success.

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