Mott House significant history traces to General Wilson

Mott House history
Published: Sep. 9, 2014 at 3:31 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2014 at 3:29 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - The Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House in Columbus, recently destroyed by fire, had historical significance dating back to the pre Civil War era.

News Leader 9's Roslyn Giles talked with Retired Columbus State University History Professor Dr. John Lupold about how the Mott House originated.

"It's really the finest mansion ever built in Columbus and it's interesting how it has kept playing a role in its history," explained Lupold, former executive director of Historic Columbus, Inc., an organization that works to preserve the historical, architectural and cultural character of Columbus and its environs.

The riverfront property built in the 1840's is currently owned by TSYS, a credit card possessing company and was gutted by fire around 2:20 Sunday morning.

Looking at the destruction in disbelief on Monday afternoon, Lupold described the grim site as ,"sad."  Architecturally, it is significant in terms of its scale, solid brick walls and different styles evolved over time as the different owners added things, recalled Lupold.

You can see Greek Revivals in the columns and became what's called, Second Empire, a popular architecture style between 1865 and 1880.

"But what's interesting about the property," LuPold explained, " Is how it fits in with local history. The three men who owned it were very prominent; they were all entrepreneurs."

According to LuPold, this was not a plantation house, contrary to belief, they did not grow cotton around this house. These were guys who were involved in river commerce, railroads, building plank roads, banking, and national telegraph lines and as you look at these men they were all important in Columbus, but had importance beyond that.

James S. Calhoun built the house. He came to Columbus from Milledgeville and had already been a part of the General Assembly. Calhoun was very involved in banking and purchased the 2 acre property consisting of 4 lots in 1838. The exact date of the house was built is unknown, according to Puhold, but it was standing by 1841.

Calhoun then gets involved in international affairs, serving as U.S. Consul to Cuba and then engaged himself in the war with Mexico, the war Texas had with Mexico and the war the U.S. had with Mexico.

Calhoun was courageous in his efforts raising troops and fighting in the wars.  At the end of the war, he was appointed to initially as the first Indian agent for the New Mexico territory and then as the Governor of New Mexico territory. "He leaves and is located in the west and tragically he dies on the way home and even before that, his wife, Anna Howard Calhoun, was the sister of the man who developed the first industry along the Chattahoochee River," stated  Lupold.

That move created the first textile mill in town. The house was then sold to Daniel Griffin in 1849 and his significance is he was head of the Southern Telegraph Company which ran the telegraph line from Washington to New Orleans. In 1856, Griffin moved his residency to Washington and Randolph Mott acquired the prized house and everything associated with it, all the cows, horses and out buildings for $20,000.

Puhold said that was a very high figure for a house back then. The house was most closely identified with Mott, a native of Virginia, who also set stakes in North Carolina as an apprentice in the tailoring industry. In that job, he got to know a gentleman named, Andrew Johnson. President Abraham Lincoln's vice president who also became Lincoln's successor after Lincoln was assassinated.  But when the Civil War started, Mott became a Unionist. During that time, there were actually a sizable number of white southerners who were unionists and who didn't want succession and certainly didn't want Civil War.  But Mott is unusual because most of the unionists—once the Confederacy is formed, they support the Confederacy.

Mott does not support the Confederacy, he continues to be a Unionist. He flies an American flag in the upper part of his house during the entire war. And when the Union forces arrive here in 1865, they are going through the south, lower south, destroying industry so the south will not have the means and the will to keep fighting.

The troops had been to Selma, Montgomery and arrived in Columbus on Easter Sunday. They take the city during a night battle and what the Unionist Randolph L. Mott did—he invited General Wilson to come and stay at his house—one of the best known things locally about the Mott House, explained Lupold.

After the war, Mott then became a Republican and a leader of the Republican Party becoming very prominent in Georgia. He also served as  mayor pro tem of Columbus during reconstruction.

He served on state boards and one day after attending a board meeting; he crossed a rail yard in Atlanta and didn't see the train. He was hit and killed by the train. The house changed hands once more before being purchased by Muscogee Mill which started on south of 14 Street and  then in the 1880s' expanded north of 14 Street and by 1883, it surrounded the Mott house.

The Muscogee Mill was eventually demolished and TSYS built a campus on the site surrounding the Mott House.  TSYS was in the process of creating a conference room when the fire happened two days ago.

The company's future plans are unclear as fire investigators work to determine what caused the fire which destroyed  the coveted house that's now deemed structurally unsound by fire officials.

[Related: Historic Mott House destroyed from massive fire Sunday morning]

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