A frequent question is; “why are there so many crooked streets in Columbus?” Columbus architect and historian Sam Kaye has studied the physical development of Columbus and has the answer.
People have asked about the strange diagonal route of Military Road and the offset in Fifth Street South at Columbus Light and Water Department. To understand this you need to imagine Columbus when the first settlers arrived to establish a town.
After the War of 1812 and the American victory at the Battle of New Orleans, Congress commissioned a new highway to be built from Madisonville, La., to Muscle Shoals, Ala., to make a better route for mail and military travel to New Orleans. The route was surveyed in 1816-17. Construction was complete by early 1820, prior to streets being laid out in Columbus. The road crossed the Tombigbee River, just north of the new bridge to the island and just south of Moore”s Creek and extended north-east toward the Alabama Territory.
In the early 1820s the survey of the land on which Columbus was located was conducted and it was discovered that the fledgling town was located on 16th Section school leasehold land. In 1821, the State of Mississippi chartered the Town of Columbus and Franklin Academy. When the new town was laid out, the first city limits were present day First Street on the west, Fourth Avenue on the south, Eighth Street on the east and Fifth Avenue on the north.
Military Road followed current Second Avenue North, breaking from the street grid at Eighth Street, the northeast corner of the original town limits. When the town limits were later expanded to the north, the Military Road route was already established so the new streets were simply laid out to fit over it.
In 1823 Richard Barry bought 160 acres south of Fourth Avenue South from the Federal Land Office. This land was located between Fourth Street South and Eighth Street South. His brother-in-law, Henry W. Hunt, built the Cartney-Hunt house on Seventh Street South and the fence at the north side of that property was the original south boundary of the Town of Columbus.
Barry”s land was crossed diagonally by the 1823 mail road to Pickensville and Tuscaloosa, Ala. To follow that route, start at Pickensville, and follow AL Highway 14 and MS Highway 69 to Old Pickensville Road, then follow that road west to its junction with Nashville Ferry Road. From there the road traveled in a straight line to 11th Avenue South and 13th Street, then straight to Fourth Avenue South and Market Street.
About 1835, Richard Barry began to lay out an addition to the south of Columbus. His 160 acres of land was bounded by the 16th Section town limits on the north, Fourth Street, 11th Avenue and Eighth Street. He also laid out the street grid due north and east, which explains the curve in the streets from 4th Street to 8th Street and the odd size of the blocks around 4th Avenue South because of the 16th section town boundary there. But Richard had a problem, Pickensville Road ran diagonally through his new town extension. His solution was to offset the streets where they intersected the highway, hence the offset at the light and water department and two more intersections to the south east.
Another early 1820s road that now crosses the city”s street grid at a diagonal is the Upper Tuscaloosa Road. It is now Highway 50 East and Waterworks Road.
The zigzag streets in Columbus resulted from the town”s street grid being laid out after three important roads had already been opened and were in use.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at email@example.com.