Columbus, Mississippi

Columbus, Mississippi
Nickname(s): Possum Town
Motto: The Friendly City

Location of Columbus, Mississippi
Columbus, Mississippi

Location in the United States

Coordinates: 33°30′6″N 88°24′54″W / 33.50167°N 88.41500°W / 33.50167; -88.41500
Country United States
State Mississippi
County Lowndes
Founded 1821
  Mayor Robert Smith (D)
  Total 22.3 sq mi (57.8 km2)
  Land 21.4 sq mi (55.5 km2)
  Water 0.9 sq mi (2.3 km2)
Elevation 217 ft (66 m)
Population (2015)
  Total 23,168
  Density 1,211.5/sq mi (467.7/km2)
Time zone CST (UTC-6)
  Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 39701-39705
Area code(s) 662
FIPS code 28-15380
GNIS feature ID 0668721
Website Official website

Columbus is a city in Lowndes County, Mississippi that lies primarily east, but also north and northeast of the Tombigbee River, which is also referred to as the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway . It is approximately 146 miles (235 km) northeast of Jackson, 92 miles (148 km) north of Meridian, 63 miles (101 km) south of Tupelo, 60 miles (97 km) northwest of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and 120 miles (193 km) west of Birmingham, Alabama.[1] The population was 25,944 at the 2000 census and 23,640 in 2010.[2] The population in 2012 was estimated to be 23,452.[2] It is the county seat of Lowndes County[3] and the principal city of the Columbus Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is part of the larger Columbus-West Point Combined Statistical Area. Columbus is also part of the area of Mississippi called The Golden Triangle, consisting of Columbus, West Point and Starkville, in the counties of Lowndes, Clay and Oktibbeha.


Postcard of steamer American on Tombigbee River at Columbus, c. 1890-1920

The first record of the site of Columbus in Western history is found in the annals of the explorer Hernando de Soto, who is reputed to have crossed the nearby Tombigbee River on his search for El Dorado. However, the site does not enter the main continuity of American history until December 1810, when John Pitchlynn, the U.S. interpreter for the Choctaw Nation, moved to Plymouth Bluff where he built a home, established a farm and transacted Choctaw Agency business.


Columbus was founded in 1821. Before its incorporation, the town site was referred to informally as Possum Town, a name which was given by the local Native Americans. The name Possum Town remains the town's nickname among locals. Columbus came into existence as a result of the failure of a flooded settlement across the river, Plymouth, which was established in 1817. Plymouth Bluff (above the ruined settlement) is today an environmental center for Mississippi University for Women. The survivors of the flood moved to a site occupied by Thomas Moore and Dr. Gideon Lincecum. Silas McBee suggested the name Columbus; in return, a small local creek bears McBee's name.[4]

One of the first actions taken by the city's founders was to establish a public school; Franklin Academy remains in operation to the present day as Mississippi's first public school. However, its status as such awaited a correction to the territorial boundary of Mississippi and Alabama which, demarcated only a year earlier, had Franklin Academy in Alabama. In fact, during its early post-Mississippi-founding history, the city of Columbus itself was still referred to as Columbus, Alabama.

Civil War and aftermath

During the American Civil War, Columbus was a hospital town. However, Columbus also had an arsenal that made gunpowder, handguns and a few cannons. Because of this the Union ordered the invasion of Columbus but was stopped by General Nathan Bedford Forrest.This is substantiated in the book "The Battle of West Point: Confederate Triumph at Ellis Bridge" by John McBride. Many of the casualties from the Battle of Shiloh were brought there, and thousands were buried in the town's Friendship Cemetery. One of the hospitals was located at the still-operating Annunciation Catholic Church, built in 1863. The decision of a group of ladies to decorate the Union and Confederate graves with flowers together on April 25, 1866, is an early example of what became Memorial Day. A poet, Francis Miles Finch, happened to be in town that day and commemorated the occasion with the poem "The Blue and the Grey".[5]

As a result of Nathan Bedford Forrest preventing the Union Army from reaching Columbus, the Antebellum homes of Columbus were spared from being burned or destroyed, making its collection second only to Natchez as the most extensive in Mississippi. This again is substantiated in the book "The Battle of West Point: Confederate Triumph at Ellis Bridge" by John McBride. These antebellum homes may be toured during the annual Pilgrimage in which the residences open their homes to tourists from around the country.

During the war, Columbus attorney Jacob H. Sharp served as a brigadier general in the Confederate Army. After the war, he owned the Columbus Independent newspaper and served four years representing the district in the Mississippi House of Representatives.[6]

WPA mural

The mural Out of the Soil was completed in 1939 for the Columbus post office by WPA Section of Painting and Sculpture artist Bealah Betterworth.[7] Murals were produced from 1934 to 1943 in the United States through "the Section" of the U.S. Treasury Department.

20th century

Columbus has hosted Columbus Air Force Base (CAFB) since World War II. CAFB was founded as a flight training school. After a stint in the 1950s and 1960s as a Strategic Air Command (SAC) base (earning Columbus a spot in Soviet Union target lists), CAFB returned to its original role. Today, it is one of only four basic Air Force flight training bases in the United States, and prized as the only one where regular flight conditions may be experienced. Despite this, CAFB has repeatedly hung in the balance during Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) hearings.

Columbus boasted a number of industries during the mid-20th century, including the world's largest toilet seat manufacturer, Sanderson Plumbing Products, and major mattress, furniture and textile plants. Most of these had closed by 2000. A series of new plants at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport, including the Severstal mill, the American Eurocopter factory, the Paccar engine plant and the Aurora Flight Sciences facility, are revitalizing the local economy.

Columbus is the birthplace of famous playwright Tennessee Williams, author of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire. His birthplace, formerly the rectory of nearby St. Paul's Episcopal Church, is now the welcome center for Columbus (300 Main St., Columbus). Columbus is also the birthplace of baseball announcer Red Barber; boxing's first three-time world heavyweight champion, Henry Armstrong; rock singer Andrew Wood; the parents of Grammy-award winning bluegrass musician Alison Krauss; American Idol contestant Jasmine Murray; and bluegrass musician Ruby Jane Smith. Lenny Fant, award-winning basketball coach at the University of Louisiana at Monroe from 1957–1979, graduated from Lee High School in Columbus but was born in Hamilton, Alabama.

Recent history

Columbus has made the national news at least three times in recent decades. On June 12, 1990, a fireworks factory exploded, detonating a blast felt as far as 30 miles away from Columbus. Two workers were killed in the blast.[8][9] On June 26, 2000, the television show 48 Hours did an investigative report of five murders of senior citizens occurring in an 18-month period between late 1997 and early 1999.[10][11] On February 16, 2001, straightline winds measured at 74 miles per hour destroyed many homes and trees but fortunately resulted in no fatalities. The city was declared a federal disaster area the next day by President George W. Bush. In November 2002, a tornado hit Columbus and caused more damage to the city,[12][13] including the Mississippi University for Women.[14][15]

In 2010, Columbus won a Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust by Historic Preservation.[16]


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 22.3 square miles (57.8 square kilometers), of which 21.4 square miles (55.5 square kilometers) is land and 0.9 square miles (2.3 square kilometers) is water. Large lakes and rivers are nearby, such as the Buttahatchee River in northern Lowndes County that defines the border between Lowndes and Monroe counties; in the middle of the City of Columbus and Lowndes County lies the Luxapallila Creek, and the Tombigbee River with the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam impounding Columbus Lake. Columbus is a relatively flat place in the northern part of Lowndes County, as the land rises for a short period of time into hills and bluffs, in the southern/eastern part of the county, the land has rolling hills that quickly turn into flatland floodplains that dominate this county. This county lies in the Black Prairie Geographic Region, and the Northeastern Hills Region of the state/area. Prairies, forests and floodplain forests lie here. The soil quality is poor in the eastern part of the county, otherwise the soil is relatively fertile. Columbus and the surrounding areas are listed as an Arbor Day Hardiness Zone 8a (10 °F or −12.2 °C to 15 °F or −9.4 °C); note that temperatures in 2010 reached 11 °F (−12 °C), but the USDA Hardiness Zones list the area as zone 7b (5 °F or −15.0 °C to 10 °F or −12.2 °C).[17]


Climate data for Columbus, Mississippi
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 81
Average high °F (°C) 54
Average low °F (°C) 33
Record low °F (°C) −1
Average rainfall inches (mm) 5.70


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201523,168[18]−2.0%
U.S. Decennial Census[19]
Aerial view of Columbus

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 23,640 people residing in the city. 60.0% were African American, 37.4% White, 0.2% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 0.6% from some other race, and 1.1% of two or more races. 1.4% were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

Columbus' population has grown steadily since the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1900, 6,484 people lived in Columbus; in 1910, 8,988; in 1920, 10,501; and in 1940, 13,645. As of the census[20] of 2000, there were 25,944 people, 10,062 households, and 6,419 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,211.5 people per square mile (467.6/km²). There were 11,112 housing units at an average density of 518.9 per square mile (200.3/km²). The racial makeup of the city is 43.62% White, 54.41% African American, 0.10% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.51% from other races, and 0.79% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.13% of the population.

There were 10,062 households out of which 29.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.0% were married couples living together, 21.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.2% were non-families. 31.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.42 and the average family size was 3.07.

In the city the population was spread out with 26.0% under the age of 18, 12.0% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 15.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females there were 82.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,393, and the median income for a family was $37,068. Males had a median income of $30,773 versus $20,182 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,848.


Major Employers:


Columbus is home to a state university, the Mississippi University for Women. The MUW campus is also home to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, a state-funded school for academically gifted high school juniors and seniors.

The city's public high school (under the Columbus Municipal School District) is Columbus High School, located in the eastern part of town. It is the largest high school in the city and fifth largest in the state, enrolling approximately 1370 students. Columbus High School was formed by the merger of the city's two previous high schools, Stephen D. Lee High School and Caldwell High School; the schools were merged in 1992 and the campuses in 1997. Columbus is also home to the oldest public elementary school in Mississippi, Franklin Academy Elementary, founded in 1821. Lee High School was desegregated in 1970 and received a state award for the high school with the best race relations. A race relations committee was formed consisting of black and white students. The students decided to have both white and black homecoming courts so as to prevent sides being taken along racial lines. However, black students were allowed to vote for the white homecoming court and vice versa. The school went undefeated in football in 1970, which helped unite the student body. Students were ranked based on achievement score tests and divided into 3 groups in order to allow each group to learn at their own pace. This practice was in place prior to integration. It was continued after integration for a period but was later ruled to be illegal by a Federal court.

The Lowndes County School District operates three high schools—Caledonia, New Hope, and West Lowndes—fed by similarly named elementary and middle schools.

Columbus has several private schools, including:


Columbus' city newspapers are the daily (except Saturdays) Commercial Dispatch, the weekly (Thursdays) Columbus Packet and the internet-only paper, Real Media (formerly The Real Story). One television station, WCBI-TV 4, the CBS affiliate, is located in the city's historic downtown area; it broadcasts CW and MyNetworkTV programming on digital subchannels.

Two magazines are published in Columbus: The New Power Magazine, a regional urban magazine, and Columbus Fire and Rescue Magazine.

Columbus is also served by television stations from the Columbus / Tupelo / West Point DMA, ranked No. 133 nationally. These include NBC affiliate WTVA 9, its DT2 subchannel which is the market's ABC affiliate, and Fox affiliate WLOV-TV 27.

Radio Stations include:



Columbus lies on U.S. Highways 82 and 45. It is also served by state routes 12, 50, 69, and 182. Columbus is the eastern terminus of the Columbus and Greenville Railway; it is also served by the BNSF Railway (on the original right-of-way of the St. Louis - San Francisco Railway), the Norfolk Southern, and the Alabama Southern Railroad (using the original right-of-way of the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad). The local airport is Golden Triangle Regional Airport. The airport currently has three flights a day to Atlanta. The city is located on the east bank of the Tombigbee River and the associated Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Columbus Lake, formed by the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam, is approximately two miles north of downtown. The Luxapalila Creek runs through the town, separating East Columbus from Columbus proper (both are within city limits). The Lux, as it is locally known, joins the Tombigbee about three miles south of downtown.

Notable people

See also


  1. Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau Archived April 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. 1 2 "Columbus (city) QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Retrieved 2014-07-14.
  3. "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on 2011-05-31. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  4. Rowland, Dunbar, ed. Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons arranged in Cyclopedic Form in three volumes. Vol. 2. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907, pages 134-137.
  5. Fallows, Deborah.The Real Story of Memorial Day
  6. Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, page 481. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  7. Burnett, Garthia Elena (January 15, 2011). "Post office mural raises questions of racial sensitivity". Columbus, Mississippi: The Dispatch. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
  8. "Two Killed as Explosions Destroy Fireworks Factory". Los Angeles Times. June 13, 1990.
  9. "Explosions At Mississippi Fireworks Plant Kill Two". 1990-06-12. Retrieved 2014-07-14.
  10. "Ghosts Of Mississippi". CBS News. Retrieved 2014-07-14.
  11. "48 Hours Episode Guide 2001 - 48 Hours". Retrieved 2014-07-14.
  12. Archived November 9, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. Amy, Jeff (2013-02-14). "Tornado damage to University of Southern Mississippi estimated in tens of millions - U.S. News". Retrieved 2014-07-14.
  15. Archived November 10, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "Welcome to the Columbus Main Street Website". Columbus Main Street. Retrieved December 29, 2010.
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