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Columbia's construction boom, 1922-1923

By JIM

In 1922 and 1923, America's economy roared, and in keeping with the times, Columbia experienced a construction boom.

This uptick in construction included a tobacco receiving warehouse for the Burley Tobacco Co-operative Growers Association. In the summer of 1922, contractor Elsie Young promised to start work on the project, located "this side of the toll gate," immediately after the Fair; that is, in late August. Mr. Young and Judd Wood, job foreman, brought in completion of the huge structure -- it covered some three-quarters of an acre -- on or very near the mid-November target date. When the season closed in mid-March 1923, the News opined that "evidently an immense quantity" of leaf was brought to the receiving house to be prized and shipped, thus providing employment for several men as well as "a great convenience for the growers."

Among myriad new business houses and public buildings, James Claude Miller, scion of the Crocus Miller family, served as general contractor for three of the most important projects: the Bank of Columbia structure on the square; the combination gymnasium & dining hall on the Lindsey Wilson campus; and the Columbia Graded and High School building. Work commenced on the first two in 1922 and in 1923 on latter.



Prior to the March 1923 dedication of the Lindsey Wilson gymnasium, designed both for playing basketball and for general "physical culture" activities, the News stated it had cost $30,000 to build, and that it was "one of the best buildings ever erected in the county for any purpose." This multipurpose building played a crucial role in Lindsey Wilson's development, it being a requirement for the school to add the junior college component to the established training school.

In early May 1923, about a month before the Bank of Columbia opened in its new digs, word came that its "fire and burglar proof vault," including the installation of a $7,000 time lock screw door to the vault, was completed. Workmen were busy installing the tiling and mahogany furniture, and the paper commented that
"The front of this building is white stone with attractive columns," and "It has been said that when all the work is completed, the Bank of Columbia will have the finest, most complete and safest banking plant in southern Kentucky."
An advertisement in October 1922 noted the enrollment in the Columbia Graded and High stood at about 275 "and if they had seating capacity, there would be many more pupils in the school." A special school bond election, held in Columbia a few months later on a late Saturday in April 1923, passed by an amazing 472 to 25 and paved the way for a much-needed new classroom building. Sealed bids were let in June and the contract went to Mr. J.C. Miller on his bid of $40,600.12. A one-sentence blurb in the News in mid-July stated simply, "The work of laying the foundation and crushing rock has started on the new school building."

Come late March 1924, the "School Notes" column from the Graded and High School announced the new edifice would be dedicated on the evening of April 7, and that the week before, the Woman's Club would give "an entertainment" in Tutt's Hall "for the benefit of the fund to finish the new school auditorium." (The entertainment, a literary reading, played to a nearly full house at Walker's Theater, also known as Tutt's Hall.) The dedicatory ceremony had to be cancelled as the building was not ready for occupancy, but it was put into use in August at the beginning of the 1924-25 term.

Meanwhile, in the late summer of 1922, Fred Hill, a nephew of the Paull brothers who founded the drug store which carried their name, began construction of a business house on the "narrow lot" between the new bank and the drug store, the latter having been put up some ten or eleven years earlier. Toward the end of October, the News reported it was nearly finished.

On another part of the square, the First National Bank of Columbia, not to be outdone by its competitor, announced an ambitious expansion and renovation program in March 1923. According to the News,
"A new front will be put in and the building extended back the length of the Jeffries building. A new Vault will be built, and the whole of the interior will be changed. . .When finished, it is said by those on the inside, that it will be a modern, up-tp-date banking building." (For the record, the Jeffries building is 80 feet deep.)
Next door to the First National Bank, workmen were busy adding a third story to the Jeffries building at the exit corner of Jamestown Street and the Square, the additional level furnished by and exclusively occupied by Columbia Lodge, No. 96, Free and Accepted Masons, and Royal Arch, Columbia Chapter 7. The work, started the previous year, came to fruition in the spring of 1923, and, stated the News, the Masonic organization now had "one of the nicest and best fitted halls in the State."

1922 and 1923 saw other business houses erected, including Mr. E.L. Sinclair's frame store house, started in the fall of 1922 at "the corner of Mr. Wm Conover's residence," from which Mr. Sinclair proposed to sell notions at wholesale.

Many residences also went up with others renovated and brought up to date. Several of the new homes drew notice in the newspaper, but a larger picture of how active that market was may be drawn from an article in October 1922 which outlined astounding numbers in the sales of potential home sites in Columbia and the adjoining suburbs, to-wit:

Within the past two or three weeks, surveyor T. C. Faulkner had laid off over 400 building lots; Tilden Wilcoxson had over 350 lots already surveyed and ready to go on the market; W.C. Payne, "the real estate man," had the previous Saturday sold some forty lots lying just outside the corporate limits of town on the Jamestown Pike; and the following Saturday, real estate developer C.E. Buckley would bring to high bid auction another thirty-eight lots in the Richard Dohoney subdivision with the well-known Col. Boliver Bond crying the sale. (Mr. Buckley had paid Mr. Dohoney $3,000 for the property as a whole; the lots brought an aggregate of $5,600. Stated the newspaper, "those who purchased them, it is believed, bought them at a bargain.")

Information for the Dohoney sale mentioned the property adjoined the lands of Dr. S.P, Miller, the Lindsey-Wilson Training School, and those of the previous owner, Mr. J.O. Russell.

An ad printed a few days before the Payne sale said of Columbia and its people, "The citizenship and religious life of its people are of the very best, and it is surrounded by a good Agricultural county and a splendid people." The ad continued, using the close at hand educational opportunities as a selling point,

"Good schools always make property high, and now is time to buy. Now is the time to make a good investment in property near the two school building[s]. No City tax to pay, and please remember that every lot has good pike frontage."

With the crowd entertained by the Cane Valley Brass Band and kept fired and bidding up by the auctioneer, the nearly forty lots were knocked off in under two hours, each bringing from sixteen to sixty dollars.


This story was posted on 2019-12-21 09:45:31
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