You might be surprised to learn that Columbus was the capital city of the state—but just for one day. It seems the honor was bestowed by a legislative quirk, but this town holds many more interesting surprises and is worth a long, leisurely visit.
Columbus sits in the middle of a rich black prairie, a geological oddity that extends for almost 18,000 acres. For countless years much of the Choctaw Nation, one of the five civilized tribes, lived and prospered here. Hernando de Soto also passed this way on his search for El Dorado and the riches he never found. Later, American pioneers traveled through Columbus and many stayed. Those who stayed found a fortune of another sort.
The black prairie was the true gold that de Soto never found. It’s incredibly rich soil was perfect for King Cotton, and many fortunes were made because of it. A walk through one of Columbus’s three National Register Historic Districts provides plenty of evidence of that wealth with a plethora of beautiful antebellum homes.
In modern times, the city benefited from the presence of Columbus Air Force Base and a growing industrial base. Major corporations call this city home, including Weyerhaeuser, Severstal, American Eurocopter, Aurora Flight Sciences, and Stark Aerospace, to name just a few. But Columbus is far from a gritty industrial center and offers many interesting places to visit and fun things to do. Mayor Robert E. Smith Sr. says, “Columbus is a city that preserves its past and promotes its future,” and a quick look around town easily proves that statement true.
The famed playwright Tennessee Williams was born in Columbus, and his childhood home now serves as the city’s welcome center, as well as a museum. It is a beautiful 135-year old Victorian home, which has been painstakingly restored. Another historical attraction is the Queen City Hotel marker. It was built in 1909 and was the epicenter of the African-American community. B.B. King, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and even James Brown stayed here. There are also several blues markers to see in Columbus, including one dedicated to blues legends Big Joe Williams. All are a part of Mississippi’s famed Blues Trail.
Friendship Cemetery was founded in 1849 and served as a burial place for hundreds of Confederate and Union soldiers killed during the battle of Shiloh. The soldiers were brought to Columbus by train and were cared for in local hospitals and private homes. The Union dead were later reinterred and moved to national cemeteries. It was also the site of the first Confederate Decoration Day. Today the beautiful cemetery is a lovely place for a long stroll.
Mississippi University for Women is an educational feather in this city’s proud cap. It was established in 1884, and its first class was composed of only 250 students. MUW was the first public women’s college in the United States. Today it has more than 2000 students and offers undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Columbus is also proud of its three National Register Districts. They collectively contain about 700 homes, churches, and other historic buildings. There are more 19th-Century homes here than in almost any other city in the state. Temple Heights is a grand example. It was built in 1837 and combines Greek Revival and Federal styles and has been beautifully restored. There are just too many beautiful homes in Columbus to mention them all, but Rosedale, Whitehall, and Rosewood Manor are certainly some of the most beautiful.
No matter what time of the year you visit Columbus, you will certainly find an interesting event or festival. There are about 20 events from which to choose, but the granddaddy of them all is the annual Spring Pilgrimage. This springtime event attracts more than 10,000 visitors and showcases beautifully restored homes, churches, and gardens. This year’s pilgrimage is the 74th annual event and includes a half-marathon River Run, the Mayor’s Picnic, concerts, dramatic presentations of famous citizens in the Friendship Cemetery, rides in horse-drawn carriages, and the famous Columbus double-decker bus. This is not an event you want to miss.
This year’s Catfish in the Alley will also be a part of Spring Pilgrimage. Catfish in the Alley celebrates the lives, culture, and contributions of the African-American community. This unique festival is held in historic Catfish Alley, the once vibrant business district where workers, farmers, and the area’s famous fishermen met and conducted business. Fresh-caught catfish were deep-fried on the spot and sold as a delicious and now famous sandwich.
The Decoration Day Reenactment not only reminds us of the terrible cost war brings, but it also reminds us of how our modern-day Memorial Day got its start. In 1866, local women gathered to place flowers on the graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the War Between the States, and in an act of great compassion, they also placed flowers on the graves of the Union causalities.
The Tennessee Williams Tribute celebrates the life and work of one of America’s best-known playwrights. This September event features plays, exhibits, and Victorian home tours. Another literary event is the Eudora Welty Writers Symposium. This symposium is a three-day gathering of Southern writers and scholars and culminates with the awarding of the Eudora Welty Prize for an unpublished book of scholarship.
Columbus hosts a festival or celebration that is sure to please everyone. Whether it is a downtown open house, a blues festival, or an event that celebrates local food and chefs, there always seems to be something interesting to do in Columbus.
Columbus has a vibrant downtown business district. If you add east Columbus, Jackson Square, and the Shops at Brickerton, you are sure to find just what you’ve been looking for. There are shops of every description that feature fashion, antiques, jewelry, and an old-time hardware store. Corie and Blaine Walters opened The Bride & Groom two years ago and are attracting customers from all over the South. This is the spot to visit when getting married and wanting to make it a very special occasion. Another clothing shop that will demand your attention is Mélange. Deborah Gardner has owned this classy shop for 16 years and has several others around the state as well. At Reed’s you can get outdoor oriented clothing for the entire family, and if your timing is right, you can get a signed copy of one of John Grisham’s books as well. This is another old Columbus shop that has other locations around the state.
If it’s a party you are planning, then Party & Paper is where you should head. This shop has been open for almost 25 years and carries party supplies, paper goods, stationery, and gourmet foods. Make sure to check out gifts made by the Little Bow Peep. Rae’s Jewelry is located in a 100-year-old building and offers fine jewelry, watches, and expert clock repair. Owner Pete Creekmore has been repairing clocks since he was nine years old.
The Mill is a home and design store that general manager Macy Walker runs, along with the help of her canine friend Kenzie. It’s a brand new shop with unique and elegant items for the home, including items the man of the house is sure to love. Another grand gift shop is the Purple Elephant, which has been around for 17 years, and is certain to have something that calls your name. Be sure to take a look at the Peter’s Pottery you find there. Pizazz is another gift shop that is well worth a visit. For those do-it-yourselfers, there’s Military Hardware. It’s an old-time hardware store where you can easily wander around for an hour or two. This store gets its name, by the way, from the highway that Andrew Jackson had built and not its contents.
After you have finished shopping for all that Columbus has to offer, try one of the three award winning spas this city has to offer. It’s a great way to end the day!
Small Southern towns are often proud of their many good restaurants, and Columbus has dozens of tempting eateries from which to choose. The Café on Main serves one of the best pork chops around, and if you pair it with the fried okra, you are in for a treat. The chocolate chip skillet cookie sundae is also locally famous, and is a sweet treat you will long and fondly remember. If you’re into soul food, then you need to visit Helen’s Kitchen. Owner and chef Helen Karriem tells her patrons, “I cook for the soul.” Try the salmon croquettes, turnip greens, and peach cobbler. Check out her cookbook if you can find a copy. Beans & Cream is a great coffee shop that also offers the best cheese biscuits you will find, and, if you are not full yet, just around the corner is the Corner Bakery. Harvey’s is a Columbus culinary institution, and is famed for its barbecue chicken salad, crab cakes, and a great prime rib sandwich. If you can make it to the Grill at Jackson Square, be sure to try the low country shrimp and grits or the Baja fish taco.
Columbus is another small town that is going to surprise you with its diversity of shopping and dining opportunities. This history-packed town offers more festivals and fun events than you can shake a stick at. It’s also a town on the move, with a growing economy, new shops, and more than 1,000 hotel and bed and breakfast rooms available. If you’ve never visited this black prairie town or haven’t been here in a while, a leisurely visit should be on your calendar.
Beard’s Antiquities on 5th
The Bride & Groom
Deep South Pout
Grapevine Framing Gallery
Magnolia Antique Mall
The Mill: Design + Home
Military Hardware & Garden Center
Palmer Home for Children
Party and Paper
The Purple Elephant
Big Joe Williams blues marker
Columbus War Museum
Howlin’ Wolfe blues marker
Mississippi University for Women
Plymouth Bluff Center
Queen City Hotel historical marker
The River Walk
Tennessee Williams House and Welcome Center
Catfish in the Alley
Downtown Spring Open House
Annual Spring Pilgrimage
Tales from the Crypt
Grilling on the River
Decoration Day Reenactment
Main Street Festival
Juneteenth at Sim Scott Park
Southside/Townsend Park Blues Festival
Tennessee Williams Tribute
Eudora Welty Writers Symposium
Ghosts and Legends Tour
Seventh Avenue Heritage Festival
Decorative Arts and Preservation Forum and Antiques Show and Sale
Downtown Christmas Open House
Holiday Tour of Homes
Beans & Cream
Cafe on Main
C J’s Pizza and Italian Bistro
Doug and Hazel’s Drive In
Front Door/Back Door
Grill at Jackson Square
Helen’s Kitchen & Catering
The Mexican Kitchen
Old Hickory Steak House
Ruben Fish & Steakhouse
Skeets Hot Dogs
Sao Thai Cuisine and Sushi Bar
Tampico Mexican Restaurant