The Columbia Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
Columbia, the county seat of Tyrrell County, North Carolina, was established in 1793 on the Scuppernong River estuary. The town grew slowly during the antebellum period, but development accelerated in the postbellum period with the establishment of large lumber mills adjacent to the downtown. By the early twentieth century, the town had achieved roughly its present size and functional diversity, with a well-defined business district along Main Street, a county court complex at the center of town, and white and black residential neighborhoods. The Columbia Historic District, which includes most of the town core, is historically significant as the center of government in Tyrrell County and as the county's principal commercial hub. The 1903 Tyrrell County Courthouse (National Register, 1979), the ca.1910 Tyrrell County Jail, and a landscaped public ground lie at the heart of the Columbia Historic District, and a virtually uninterrupted row of commercial buildings dating from the turn of the twentieth century to about 1940 line both sides of Main Street. The town's commercial buildings include several early gable-fronted frame stores and more common brick commercial blocks, two cinemas, one or two banks, and architectural oddities such as the 1928-1929 Cohoon Building with its Mediterranean styling and cut-away corner filling station. The Columbia Historic District is also significant for the architectural character of its dwellings, stores, churches and other buildings — the largest and most varied architectural collection in the county — and for the historic streetscapes created by those buildings. Many dwellings show the influence of popular late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century styles such as the Gothic Revival, Queen Anne, Craftsman, Colonial Revival, and Tudor Revival styles, whereas other houses owe more to an indigenous vernacular aesthetic. Representative of the stylistic range in the Columbia Historic District are such residences as the late-nineteenth century Abner Alexander House, one of the first dwellings in town to feature steeply-pitched paired front gables; the ca.1900, Queen Anne-influenced, Combs-Hussey House with its ornate wraparound porch; and the whimsical 1928 Steanie C. Chaplin House with its Mediterranean styling. The period of significance for the Columbia Historic District extends from ca.1880, roughly the date of the town's earliest documented buildings, to 1944, encompassing the period of the town's historic development into the community of today.
Historical Background and Commerce Context
The town of Columbia — known originally as Elizabeth Town — was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1793, although settlement of the area in and around the present town boundaries began much earlier. Between 1793 and 1802, the town was laid off on the east side of the estuary of the Scuppernong River at a place called Shallop's Landing and the first lots were sold. In 1799 the town was selected as the seat of Tyrrell County, which was established in 1729 as a precinct of Albemarle County. A year later Thomas Hoskins and Zebedee Hassel sold the county a one-acre lot in the town for the construction of a courthouse and other public buildings. This "public ground," as it was known, was inclined ten degrees off of compass orientation — the present inclination of the streets in the historic center of town — and it measured 165' by 264' in size, roughly corresponding in size to the present courthouse lot in the center of Columbia. Early deeds refer to a street leading from the public ground to the river — either present-day Main Street or Bridge Street — and an intersecting street — possibly the present Broad Street. Other, more enigmatic early references are to "the old field of Columbia," "the third row of lots from the lane running back from the water," and "the hurrying [sic] place containing sixteen feet by sixteen feet."
The name of the town was changed from Elizabeth Town to Columbia in 1810, apparently to avoid confusion with another Elizabethtown in North Carolina. For the remainder of the antebellum period, Columbia led a languid existence as the seat of a sparsely populated county and as a service and trade center for a large hinterland on the south shore of the Albemarle Sound. Trade and lodging associated with the activities of the county court probably formed the economic basis of the town. The 1850 Federal census of population, the first to list occupation and other statistics for individuals, suggests that virtually the entire cadre of professionals and tradesmen in the town lived in a single residence — the tavern of J.F. Davenport. With Davenport lived William D. Carstarphen, a leading merchant during the late antebellum and early postbellum periods; three other merchants, three lawyers, five carpenters, two physicians, two blacksmiths, and a peddler. Whether this population boarded in a single large building or whether the individuals lived and worked in a complex of separate buildings owned by Davenport is unknown. Black slaves and possibly free blacks almost certainly lived in town; J.F. Davenport, for example, was a slaveholder. County officials such as the clerk of court, sheriff, and constable lived on farms outside the town.
Perhaps to ameliorate the impoverished community life implied by the 1850 census, the men and women of Columbia took several actions to civilize their town during the antebellum period. The Columbia High School was begun in 1844 by Miss Mary Mann and the facility may have remained open through the Civil War. In the late 1850s, the Rev. Joseph W. Murphy of St. David's Rectory in Scuppernong (located nine miles from Columbia) attempted to raise funds for the construction of an Episcopal church in Columbia, which he described as "a place where I have hardly any one to back me & where there is great hostility to the Ch. of our love." A "few friends of the church" in Columbia were able to raise $75 towards the construction of the church, and the celebrated New York architectural firm of Richard Upjohn and Company sent a set of plans, but a qualified contractor could not be engaged and Murphy abandoned his crusade.
The correspondence of the Pettigrew family of Tyrrell and Washington counties sheds additional light on Columbia during the antebellum period. In 1843, Ebenezer Pettigrew, the patriarch of the family, wrote to carpenter William Norman asking him to perform some work at his plantation. Norman responded that he was "putin the blinds to the Court Hous" in Columbia and could not oblige. The Pettigrews received plantation supplies through Columbia. In 1842, William Dunn of Columbia wrote Ebenezer Pettigrew to inform him that a smith's bellows and anvil had arrived from Baltimore. The following year Thomas Alexander of Columbia purchased some livestock for Pettigrew.
Something of the extent and physical form of Columbia is known from an 1860 maritime chart of the Albemarle Sound. The chart shows fourteen houses and buildings loosely arranged along an irregular grid of streets and lanes. One group of buildings clusters along the water front, the other centers on two buildings on special lots located further inland. These two buildings probably represent the courthouse and jail and the buildings around them were probably located on what is now the 100 blocks of South Broad and South Elm streets. One of the waterfront buildings is depicted as larger than the others and is the only one shown with a rear ell; this may have been the Davenport tavern. The 1860 chart agrees with the census data in its portrayal of a tiny courthouse seat that had not yet achieved the size and complexity of a bona fide town.
Several accounts of Columbia during the Civil War survive in the Pettigrew correspondence. The Albemarle Sound saw action early in the war as Federal forces fought to regain control of the region. On March 8, 1862, six companies of a New Hampshire regiment landed at Columbia in search of a rebel militia rumored to be gathering there. An employee of William Pettigrew reported that 2,000 federal troops "committed some depredations in Columbia they broke open the Jail clerks office stores and Dwelling Houses of such as were gone from home, found some wine & other licquors [sic; and] drank freely." One of the Pettigrew women opined that the Federal soldiers "behaved like thoroughgoing scoundrels" during their brief visit to the town. A participant in the raid later recalled that, "No enemy was found, but the public whipping-post was: this the boys demolished, to the delight of the colored people."
Columbia began to develop a more diverse community life after the Civil War. Business directories of the period provide the best evidence for this trend. Levi Branson's North Carolina Business Directory for 1867-8 lists seven general merchants in the town (the only merchants listed for the county), two hotels, two physicians, three grist mills, and a lawyer. Members of the Spruill and McClees families, later to become prominent in town affairs, were represented in the count. An 1872 directory indicates that the grist mills doubled as sawmills, and that they were steam-powered.
The 1870 Federal census suggests a population of slightly over a hundred people, of whom roughly 15 per cent were African-American. A sawmill in town (probably the Spruill mill) employed both black and white workers. In addition to commerce, milling, and county administration, maritime occupations such as fishing, sailing, piloting, and boat building would have featured in the life of the waterside town. Among the wealthiest businessmen in town were Edmond and John McClees, proprietors of hotels and boarding houses, and merchant Nathan Owens.
Town population growth quickened during the closing years of the nineteenth century. An 1883 business directory put the population of the town at 166; a directory published by another company a year later cited a population of 193. By 1896 the population had grown to 250 individuals, and by 1902 it had swelled to 382, according to directories of those years and the Federal census of 1900. Population growth in the town far outstripped that of the county. Whereas the Federal censuses indicate that the town population more than tripled between 1870 and 1900, the county population increased a meager 19 percent from 4,173 to 4,980.
Columbia's postbellum population increase was largely the result of the expansion of the local lumber industry. The growth in national demand for lumber, improvements in shipping and rail networks, and increased mechanization of the industry permitted a more intensive exploitation of Tyrrell County's bountiful forest resources. Business directories count between one and two sawmills in Columbia for most of the late-nineteenth century period. In the late-1890s, the Branning Manufacturing Company of Edenton constructed a large planing mill on the waterfront south of town, possibly on the site of the old Spruill mill. This mill featured an enormous bow-roofed drying shed, a water tower, and several kilns with metal smoke stacks. In 1899 the mill constructed a railroad spur eastward from town to better access timber tracts.
The 1900 Federal census illustrates the profound effect of this one industry on the life of the community. Of the 382 residents listed for Columbia, 130 were listed as having occupations, and 39 of the 130 listed occupations involved the felling and transport of timber and the production of lumber. Sixteen of the town's 100 white workers were employed by the industry, and 24 of the town's 30 black workers worked at the mill or in the log woods. William T. Camper functioned as the superintendent of the Branning mill and his nephew Clyde L. Wacker worked as the mill engineer. (No above-ground resources associated with Columbia's lumber industry have been identified in or adjacent to the Columbia Historic District.)
By the dawn of the twentieth century, Columbia had achieved a diversity of civic life comparable to that of today. Main Street served as the town's commercial spine, extending from the wharves and warehouses on the Scuppernong River to the courthouse and jail complex at the intersection with Broad Street. Main Street east of Broad Street, older streets such as Elm, Broad, Church, and Bridge, and new thoroughfares platted in a former corn field to the north of Bridge Street — Martha and Howard streets and Virginia and Pennsylvania avenues — constituted the principal residential neighborhoods for the town's white population. The town's African-American community developed around South Broad Street and Scottsville Street adjoining the Branning mill. In 1908, the Norfolk and Southern Railroad completed a line begun to Columbia from Mackey's Ferry by the Virginia & Coastal Carolina Railroad; this line crossed the Scuppernong River and entered the town near the present approach to the U.S. 64 bridge. Churches, schools, neighborhood stores, work shops, and stables were located throughout the residential areas.
An important facet of Columbia's vigorous commercial life was banking. Banks may have operated in Columbia during the nineteenth century, but the first for which there is sufficient information is the Merchants and Farmers Bank. The bank may have been organized in 1904 (the date of the first mortgage issued by the bank), and it first appeared in business directories in 1905. Shortly thereafter the institution built a small but elegant bank building at 301 Main Street. The building features paired round-arched openings on the front facade (now bricked up) that may have been inspired by the slightly earlier Tyrrell County Courthouse. The bank later merged with the Tyrrell County Bank and then went out of business; in the early 1930s the bank building was occupied by a millinery shop and the office of potato broker W.S. Carawan. In 1936 the Columbia Branch of the Engelhard Banking and Trust Company opened in the building, and the bank's successor — East Carolina Bank — operates from a modern building on U.S. 64. One other historic bank building may survive in the Columbia Historic District. Located behind the William H. McClees House at 409 Main Street is a tiny weatherboarded frame office dating to around 1900. The building originally stood on Main Street at the corner of the courthouse lot and contained a barber shop in the 1930s, but several accounts state that it was earlier occupied by an unidentified bank.
Columbia's African-American community coalesced in the 1890s as blacks from rural sections of Tyrrell County and surrounding areas moved to Columbia to work for the Branning Manufacturing Company. Blacks had been a part of the town's lumber industry since the days of the antebellum Simmons shingle operation, but until the 1890s the black population of the town remained small. In 1900 there were eight black heads of households in Columbia, all of whom rented their accommodations. Black-owned and black-operated businesses were begun in the early twentieth century including Wade Owens's general store and dry cleaning establishment, Charles Peele's blacksmith shop (formerly located at the intersection of Road Street and Scuppernong Drive), and the barber shops of Thomas Bryant and Ike Pledger, located on Main Street. When the railroad was extended to Columbia in 1908, its tracks effectually divided the town into a white section on the north side and a black section to the south. The division consolidated a trend that had been taking place since the 1890s, when blacks settled in the older residential areas near the Branning mill and whites moved to new houses in the newly platted blocks north of Bridge Street. In the 1950s, the U.S. 64 bypass (Scuppernong Drive) was constructed along what was then the abandoned rail corridor.
Churches were established and they became important institutions in the black community. Salem Missionary Baptist Church, begun shortly after the Civil War as a "bush shelter" in the Alligator district of the county, moved to Columbia and built its present building at 401 Scottsville Street in 1914. Two other black churches in the town are Zion Grove Disciples of Christ Church at 410 South Road Street and Marion Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church at 120 South Road Street. According to one account, the latter church building was originally used as the town's first white public school, constructed in 1884 or shortly after, but the church's corner stone gives the date as 1907. Congregations also formed in the white community. Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church was organized in 1875 (although the town's Methodists were meeting together earlier), the congregation of St. Andrews Episcopal Church was organized in 1879, the Columbia Baptist Church built its first building in 1882, and the Columbia Christian Church dates its origins to a nine-day revival held at the courthouse in 1902.
The lumber boom created by the establishment of the Branning Manufacturing Company and the location of other, smaller wood-products industries along the waterfront attracted people to Columbia who in turn required housing. In 1900, according to the Federal census, few of the town's white heads of households and none of its black household heads owned their residences. Hotels and boarding houses catered to the town's mobile population. A surviving example is Snell's Inn at 504 Martha Street, a large frame boarding house erected by J.B. "Brit" Snell between 1907 and 1910.
Columbia saw several improvements during the 1920s and 1930s. In 1926, a 566-foot-long timber, steel, and concrete highway bridge was built across the Scuppernong River into the town, the final link in the extension of U.S. 64 from Washington County to Columbia. The bridge incorporated a steel pony truss swing span that could be manually pivoted to allow the passage of ships. On September 7, 1926, the local citizenry celebrated the opening of the bridge that "reannexed" Tyrrell County to the rest of the state, hosting a parade, a barbecue, and a dance on the banks of the river. During the depression of the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration completed a number of improvement and construction projects in the county including the erection of the Tyrrell County Agriculture Building at 104 South Broad Street in 1935-1937. Brick sidewalks had been introduced to the town around 1910; one survives along Church Street next to the Erskine Brickhouse House at 413 Bridge Street. The town's streets and other sidewalks were paved in 1927. The first public library was assembled in 1930 and placed in the courthouse, and the post office moved to a building of its own for the first time in 1939, occupying a simple stuccoed concrete-block building at 114 South Broad Street.
Tyrrell County's population peaked in 1940 at 5,556 and has since declined to 3,856 in 1990, giving the county the smallest population of any county in North Carolina. Columbia's population has also declined, from 1,099 in 1960 to 836 in 1990. Railroad service to the town was discontinued in 1948 and the tracks taken up, but beginning in the late 1940s more state monies were expended on the paving of Tyrrell County roads, culminating in 1959 with the construction of the concrete U.S. 64 bridge. Today, Columbia continues in its historic role as the center of government and commerce in Tyrrell County. Local interest in the town's history has grown in recent decades. From 1974 to 1984 students and faculty at the Columbia High School published a literary/historical magazine known as Swamproots that preserved a wealth of oral history related to the town and its inhabitants. Excitement over the town's bicentennial and waterfront redevelopment have generated this National Register project and a number of private and public historic rehabilitation projects.
The nature of Columbia's early domestic and commercial architecture is unknown, since no positively dated antebellum building has been identified in the town, and period descriptions of the town's architecture are virtually nonexistent. The basic characteristics of the town's antebellum architecture may be inferred by comparison to other communities in the region. The region's nineteenth century urban and small-town architecture was predominately frame in construction, although brick was common for the more stylish residences and mercantile establishments in the larger towns. Dwellings were generally provided with foundations of brick piers, with or without underpinning, and were heated by brick chimneys usually placed on the exterior of one or more gable ends. Most buildings were sheathed in weatherboards and roofed with wood shingles. In fact, shingle production for export was an important industry in the county during the late antebellum period, with forty individual operations reported in the 1850 Federal census. The Simmons shingle operation, located in or adjacent to Columbia, employed sixty workers, many of whom were slaves from surrounding plantations hired out by their owners.
Although no intact antebellum building has been identified in Columbia, one or two dwellings in the town are believed to incorporate antebellum fabric. The McClees House at 109 South Broad Street is a 1-1/2-story heavy frame dwelling that was moved from the corner of Main and Broad streets in the 1890s to make way for a hotel. The house is rumored to date to the early 1800s, but the present exterior treatment with its ornate front porch dates from the 1880s or 1890s. Another house thought to incorporate early fabric is the Meekins House at 406 Main Street. Although the exterior finishes date to the late nineteenth century, the structure consists of heavy, mortise-and-tenon pegged corner posts, corner braces, sills, and plates, some of which may be hewn.
Considerable information survives for a particular antebellum Columbia building that, unfortunately, was never actually built in the town. In the late 1850s, the Rev. Joseph W. Murphy of St. David's Rectory in Scuppernong (located nine miles from Columbia) attempted to raise funds for the construction of an Episcopal church in Columbia. In 1859, Murphy corresponded with the celebrated New York architectural firm of Richard Upjohn and Company and requested that the firm send him plans for "a Church to seat comfortably 150 persons & to be built of wood, upright plank & open roof & of course a true Ch-like building." The plans and specifications Upjohn sent for the chapel (which do not survive) apparently called for a stone foundation and northern wood species for framing members and cladding. The Rev. Murphy wrote back to his architect: "As respects stone for foundation — We us[e] brick here [all] genuine Stone must be imported & costs very high...as regards the use of hemlock, spruce & white pine — We have not such wood & we have just as good without importing — The cypress will do just as well as any of them & cypress backed by our common yellow Carolina pine will certainly make a very good Church for any County."
The quarter-century following the Civil War is the first period for which buildings survive in significant numbers in Columbia. The earliest houses are associated with the town's late-nineteenth century lumber boom. One of the finest and best preserved of these is the Joseph A. Spruill House at 108 North Broad Street. Built in 1886, the two-story weatherboarded frame house features elaborate sawn cornice brackets, door and window heads, and porch detailing formerly accented with a polychromatic paint scheme. The center-passage-plan interior has fancy Victorian mantels, a staircase with turned newels and balusters; and paneled pocket doors allowing the connection of the principal parlor and the dining room. Another Spruill family home, the one-story double-pile 1890s William R. Spruill House at 112 South Broad Street, and the similar Meekins House at 406 Main Street feature front porches with arched friezes spanning between chamfered posts. Also of note is the Abner Alexander House at 108 South Road Street. The 1-1/2-story house probably dates to the 1880s and is one of the first in town to have paired, steeply-pitched, Gothic Revival-inspired front gables. Another distinctive characteristic of the house is the front porch, which has turned and chamfered posts and a concave mansard roof — another stylistic allusion, in this case to the Second Empire. All of these houses relied on materials and ornament produced at local sawmills for their structure, finishes, and detailing.
Nearly all of the town's early-twentieth century housing continued traditional architectural forms: frame structure, weatherboard siding, simple gabled forms, brick foundation piers, and brick chimneys (and flues). Added to this basic architectural vocabulary were distinctive traits — the signatures of individual builders — such as paired front gables, five-bay facades, one- and two-story bay windows, and wraparound verandas with corner gazebos. Many of the houses large and small built in Columbia during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries appear to have been used as speculative rental housing.
One notable house that achieved its final form during the first decade of the twentieth century is the Combs-Hussey House at 415 Main Street, begun in the late 1890s by hotelier and livery stable owner Seldon M. Combs and his wife Martha Combs. The first floor of the front of the house originally contained Martha's millinery shop. Soon afterwards, George Hussey acquired the house and added a wraparound porch with its fanciful corner gazebo. Hussey probably also inserted the two parlors into the former millinery shop, finishing the walls and ceilings with beaded tongue-and-groove sheathing and adding simple Victorian/Craftsman mantels, one with colonettes, a mirrored overmantel, and a mottled green-and-white ceramic tile hearth. Similar mantels and ceramic fireplace paving appear in the Clarence Flowers House at 116 South Broad Street, built for a doctor around 1910.
An important architectural development during the first years of the twentieth century was the construction of a new Tyrrell County Courthouse. Designed and built in 1903 by the B.F. Smith Construction Company, specialists in eastern North Carolina courthouse construction, the Romanesque building was among the first — if not the first — brick edifices in the town. The building has a hip roof enlivened by parapeted gables, segmental- and round-arched window and door openings, a mostly modern one-story front porch supported by classical columns, and fragmentary original interior detailing. Beside the courthouse is a ca.1910 two-story brick jail with barred segmental-arched windows, and a cast metal memorial to the county's Confederate officers and enlisted men. The ensemble is set amid lawns, plantings, and shade trees at the southeast corner of Main and Broad streets that contrasts with the commercial character of the other three corners of the intersection.
In 1905, Columbia's Baptist and Christian congregations erected stylish weatherboarded frame churches with lancet-arched windows, multi-staged corner bell towers, and fancy beaded tongue-and-groove interiors. The Methodists completed their church in 1912, a handsome brick building with a crenelated Perpendicular Gothic bell tower, an inset entry arcade, and a varnished tongue-and-groove sanctuary ceiling. Of particular interest among Columbia's historic churches is St. Andrews, located at 106 South Road Street. Built during the first decade of the twentieth century, the weatherboarded frame church has a relatively conventional exterior with lancet-arched stained-glass windows and a front entry tower topped by an octagonal open belfry with a belled roof and classical colonettes. Departing dramatically from the exterior is the interior, which features a varnished tongue-and-groove gambrel ceiling supported by a hammer-beam roof structure. The ends of the hammer beams are crudely shaped into dragon heads like those that once gave a fearsome appearance to the prows of Viking longboats. It is not known whether St. Andrews's builder, Thomas Swain of Washington County, was acquainted with Richard Upjohn's 1859 designs for an Episcopal chapel in Columbia.
The earliest surviving commercial buildings in Columbia date to the turn of the twentieth century. The oldest stores stand on the north side of Main Street and on adjoining back lots. One, the Jule C. McClees Store at 210 Main Street, is a two-story frame building where women's clothes, caskets, and a wide range of general merchandise were sold. The store features original display windows and shelving supported by hundreds of turned spindles. Next door at 212 Main Street is the similar Sam Sykes Store, and a block away at 108 North Elm Street is a large two-story frame building originally occupied by the Tyrrell Hardware Company and converted into the Columbia Theatre in 1919 (the cinema's first feature was "Granddaddy Longlegs" starring Mary Pickford). Located at 501 Bridge Street is the one-story George N. Hurdle Store, a general merchandise store opened in 1912 to cater to the new residential neighborhood on the north side of town. One of the more recent frame commercial buildings is the Riverside Cafe, located on the Scuppernong River waterfront at the intersection of Main and North Water streets. This two-story building with pressed metal siding was built in the 1920s as a restaurant and recreation center. All of the store buildings mentioned above have conventional nineteenth- and early-twentieth century gable-fronted forms with large display windows.
As the twentieth century progressed, merchants replaced the earlier frame stores with more permanent brick buildings. Reportedly among the first of the brick stores was the 1910s Columbia Drug Company at 211 Main Street, a two-story stretcher- and American-bond building with segmental-arched windows, recessed panels in the front parapet, and stepped parapets on the side elevations. The Davis & Coffield Building at 201 Main Street was another of this first generation of brick stores. The two-story double-store building has a pressed stretcher-bond brick street front with rusticated corner piers and decorative segmental window heads. A warehouse that formerly stood behind the store contained a varied stock of goods that earned Davis & Coffield a reputation as "the largest and most prosperous general store in eastern North Carolina."
Considerable rebuilding in brick occurred in the late 1920s and 1930s. A desire to improve the image of the town may have contributed to this push, for as one commentator noted, "At the beginning of this century, Columbia looked more like a hastily thrown-up frontier community than a century-old county seat. In the 1930's citizens got to work and tore down most of the old stop-gap buildings to make way for more substantial structures." The show piece of the new era was the Cohoon Building at 308 Main Street, built in 1929 as the headquarters of the A.J. Cohoon Oil Company, with twenty-five branch filling stations the principal oil distributor for the county at the time. The two-story buff-colored brick building displays Mission Style influence in the Spanish tile coping of the parapet and (formerly) above the cut-away corner where vehicles pulled in for fueling and service. Similar stylistically to the Cohoon Building is the 1931-1932 W.J. White Building at 214-216 Main Street, a one-story brick women's clothing emporium with a Spanish tile awning over the sidewalk on its east elevation. Somewhat more classical in inspiration is the 1932 S.M. & Martha Combs Building at 302 Main Street, a two-story brick commercial block with rusticated elevations and a basketweave parapet panel with a white marble date block.
New domestic architectural forms and styles were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s, paralleling the changes that occurred in the Main Street business district during the same period. One particularly interesting house of the period was the Steanie C. Chaplin House at 107 North Broad Street, built by the director of the town's hospital in 1928. The two-story buff-colored brick house is Mediterranean in inspiration, with an arcaded front porch, round-arched windows (one with stained glass), ceramic water spouts that project through the roof parapets in imitation of viga ends, and a Spanish-tile pent roof over the second-story front windows.
Behind the Chaplin House at 112 North Elm Street is a more conventional house that nevertheless represented a novelty for Columbia in the 1920s. The Johann Frederick "Fred" Schlez House, built by the town's German-immigrant theater owner, is a one-story Craftsman Bungalow with a front porch that combines classical columns with pergolas. Standing at the back corner of the house is the lone survivor of a once common fixture in Columbia: a wooden water tank. The tank is constructed of cedar planks held together with steel tension bands, sheltered under a conical metal roof, and supported by concrete posts. Cisterns like this one were fed with rain water from the roof of an adjoining building which was then purified with charcoal, and they may have been produced at one of the two barrel factories that operated in the town in the late 1920s. Few early outbuildings of any kind survive in the town. Only two small frame barns for horse stabling and fodder storage have been identified; one behind the Sam Sykes House at 109 Church Street and the other standing next to a modern modular home at 208 Pennsylvania Avenue. Most surviving historic outbuildings served as garages or storage sheds.
Another example of the eclectic taste that prevailed throughout the nation before World War II and eventually penetrated to Columbia is the Hazel and H.T. Davenport House at 302 North Water Street. The 1-1/2-story brick and wood-shingle house is a textbook example of the Tudor Revival style. Designed by Hazel Davenport and a Norfolk, Virginia architect, the house features a massive brick chimney with asymmetrical paved shoulders and joined to a front stoop with a frieze board suggestive of a flattened Tudor arch. The Davenport House was among the first in town to take advantage of the scenic qualities of the Scuppernong River waterfront. Houses like the Chaplin, Schlez, and Davenport residences testify to the town's growing links to national culture during the first half of the twentieth century.
A number of local construction firms and individual builders were active in Columbia during the early twentieth century. The Branning mill may have had a home-construction subsidiary known as the Branning Building Company. Stephen Brickhouse built several frame dwellings during the first decades of the century that feature Queen Anne-inspired bay windows, among them the Thomas Yerby House at 507 Bridge Street, the house at 506 Main Street, and possibly the house at 706 Bridge Street. Brickhouse was the second owner of the Kemp-Brickhouse House at 802 Green Street (located outside the Columbia Historic District), to which he added a monumental portico in the 1910s. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Alexander brothers were responsible for much of the imaginative brickwork in the town, working on the 1928 Steanie C. Chaplin House at 107 North Broad Street, the 1931-1932 W.J. White Building at 214-216 Main Street, and probably the 1928-1929 Cohoon Building at 308 Main Street. All three buildings incorporate Spanish tile roofing, a favorite detail of the builders. Another, more modest product of Alexander family brickwork is the Craftsman mantel inserted into the 1913 George N. Hurdle House at 505 Bridge Street in the 1930s. In addition to these professional builders were many amateur carpenters who left their mark on the town. One of these was Fred Schlez, who carved a Gothic altar rail for his wife's church, St. Andrews.
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Margaret McKeel Meekins Photograph Collection. Tyrrell County Public Library, Columbia, N.C.
McClees, Ray, and Wolke, Laura. "Scuppernong River Bridge." National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1991.
The North Carolina Year Book. Raleigh, N.C.: The News and Observer. Editions for the years 1901 through 1907 and 1910 through 1916.
Redford, Dorothy. Telephone interview, Creswell, N.C., July 22, 1993.
St. Andrews Episcopal Church file. Survey and Planning Branch, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C. Historic and modern correspondence concerning the church.
Saunders, W.O. "There'll Be Some Real Goings-On in Columbia." (Elizabeth City, N.C.) The Independent. September 2, 1927.
Sharpe, Bill. A New Geography of North Carolina, v.4. Raleigh, N.C.: Sharpe Publishing Co., 1965.
Southern Historical Collection, Pettigrew Family Papers. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Swamproots. Columbia, N.C.: Columbia High School. Volume 1 (1974) through volume 11 (1984).
Teller, Charles. "Baseline Data for an Economic History of Tyrrell County." 1992.
Tyrrell County deed and will records, Tyrrell County Courthouse, Columbia, N.C.
"Tyrrell County Courthouse." Survey and Planning Branch, Division of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.
"Tyrrell County Preparing for Bridge Opening." (Elizabeth City, N.C.) The Daily Advance. August 6, 1927.
United States Census. Tyrrell County population Schedules, 1850, 1870, and 1900.
Weeden, Ken & Associates, Planning Consultants. Tyrrell County 1990 Land Use Update and Town of Columbia 1990 Land Use Plan. Wilmington, N.C.: 1991.
‡ J. Daniel Pezzoni, Preservation Technologies, Inc., Columbia Historic District, Tyrrell County, North Carolina, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
2nd Street • Bridge Street • Bridge Street North • Bridge Street South • Church Street • Elm Street • Hicks Street • Howard Street • Light Street • Main Street • Martha Street • Pennsylvania Avenue • Road Street North • Virginia Avenue • Water Street North