• Port City of the Wiregrass Area
    Columbia, Alabama

    A thriving inland port for more than 100 years,
    historic Columbia is one of the oldest towns
    in Southeast Alabama.

    Established on the Chattahoochee River in
    1820, Columbia boomed when paddlewheel
    steamboats arrived on the river later that
    same decade. From little more than a rough
    frontier settlement overlooking the river, the
    town quickly grew to include warehouses,
    stores, churches and homes.

    As an important port city, Columbia handled
    much of the trade of the plantations and
    farms of a large area of the Wiregrass area
    (so named for a wiry type of grass that grows
    in the pine woods). Riverboats stopped at the
    town as they headed both up and down the
    Chattahoochee, taking on cargoes of cotton,
    lumber and other products, while unloading
    shipments of both necessities and luxuries
    for the people of the region.

    As river commerce grew, so too did the
    prosperity of the town. From 1822-1833,
    Columbia served as the county seat of Henry
    County, which then included all or part of
    today's Covington, Dale, Coffee, Houston,
    Barbour, Crenshaw, Bullock and Geneva
    Counties. Even after the county seat moved,
    Columbia continued to grow.

    The Columbia Methodist Episcopal Church,
    South, was established in 1832, although
    Methodist circuit riders had served the town
    almost from the point it was founded. Also
    dating from this era is the Columbia Baptist
    Church, which originated in 1835 when six
    members broke away from Omussee Baptist
    Church and formed a congregation of their

    The oldest marked graves in the Columbia
    Cemetery also date from the 1830s. The
    cemetery is noted for the unique stone
    carvings and ornamental ironwork that adorn
    its graves. The beautiful little summer house
    that covers the cemetery entrance will soon
    be 130 years old.

    Columbia continued to grow during the years
    leading up to the Civil War and was an
    embarkation point for Confederate soldiers
    boarding steamboats for transport on to the
    front lines.

    Because of its strategic location on the river
    and in the center of a vast area of rich
    farmland, the town became an important
    post and commissary center for the Southern
    army. Records show that Confederate units
    from Alabama, Georgia and Florida received
    forage and other supplies from the military
    storehouses at Columbia. The town was
    also the location of a "tax in kind" depot,
    where citizens paid taxes in corn and other
    farm products, much of which was given to
    needy families.

    Columbia was just upriver from the important
    Confederate Navy Yard at Saffold, Georgia,
    and supplied both workers and supplies for
    that facility. The C.S.S. Chattahoochee, a
    large wooden warship, was built at Saffold in

    A unique structure surviving from the Civil
    War era is the historic Old Columbia Jail.
    Built during the early 1860s, it is one of the
    last wooden jails still standing in Alabama.
    The interior contained two 10 by 15 foot cells
    and the interior walls were studded every two
    inches with iron spikes to prevent escape

    Prosperity, interrupted by the Union blockade,
    returned to the Chattahoochee River after the
    war. It was the Golden Age of riverboat travel
    on the river and Columbia prospered as the
    number and size of the picturesque boats

    A number of the town's beautiful old homes
    date from this era, including the noteworthy
    Purcell-Killingsworth House. Completed in
    1890, it was the boyhood home of Bishop
    Clare Purcell, the only native of Alabama ever
    to become President of the Council of
    Bishops of the Methodist Church.

    The riverboat industry on which Columbia
    depended was ultimately destroyed by a new
    mode of transportation, the railroad. The
    Alabama Midland Railroad bypassed the
    town in 1889 and Columbia was rapidly
    replaced by Dothan as the commercial
    center of the area. When Houston County
    was formed in 1903, Dothan won the election
    for county seat.

    Columbia survives today as a charming and
    historic town. It is located at the intersection
    of Alabama Highways 52 and 95, eighteen
    miles northeast of Dothan.

    This article was taken from the website https://www.exploresouthernhistory.com, but has since been removed from that website.