Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 2, May, 1993 Page: 82
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Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal
On August 15, 1870, the state legislature passed An Act to incorporate the
City of Columbus, and for other purposes, which redefined the city limits to include the
Hancock and Henderson and the Jones and Smith Additions, and to extend one-half mile
south of Wallace Street and one-half mile west of Rampart Street. The law also reduced
the size of the city council to five aldermen.19
Eleven years later, on March 7, 1881, the city was divided into five wards
or election precincts by a specially appointed committee. Ward 1 was bounded Crockett
Street, Live Oak Street, North Street, and Forest Street, Ward 2 by Live Oak Street, the
Colorado River, Rampart Street, and Crockett Street, Ward 3 by Rampart Street, Wallace
Street, Austin Street, and Crockett Street, Ward 4 by Austin Street, Crockett Street,
Milam Street, and Wallace Street, and Ward 5 by Milam Street, Crockett Street, Forest
Street or the river, and Wallace Street.20
Downtown Columbus, 1885
The makeup of downtown Columbus in 1885 reveals much about the lives
of its residents. Then, as now, the courthouse in the center of the public square
dominated the downtown area. In 1885, however, the courthouse was small, wooden,
and architecturally undistinguished. Across Walnut Street from the courthouse were five
frame buildings containing attorney's offices. Collectively they were known as "legal
The downtown area also featured fourteen grocery stores and eight saloons,
a livery stable and a harness shop, four hotels, the Tooke, the Live Oak, the Wootton,
and the brand new Kulow, two tenement houses, a boarding house, and a railroad depot.
The numerous saloons and grocery stores existed presumably because food and drink
could not be stored in the home as readily as it can be today, and possibly because of
the way such commodities were packaged and marketed. The livery stable and harness
shop, of course, reflected the fact that most people used livestock for transportation.
The hotels and other accommodations were present in part because the depot was.
Salesmen routinely visited local merchants, coming by train and staying in town
overnight. In addition, travellers on horseback or in wagons, of which there must have
been quite a few, could go only short distances in a day and frequently required overnight
The face of downtown was already changing, however. Columbus was well
into its most prosperous decade. Within a few years, the courthouse would be
demolished and replaced by the structure still in use. The water tower on the southwest
corner of the courthouse square had only recently been erected. It was built as a direct
consequence of a May 14, 1883 fire that revealed the town's vulnerability to
conflagration. The fire destroyed a livery stable and hotel across Spring Street from the
courthouse. The debris of those buildings would shortly be removed and the Stafford
Opera House constructed in its place.21
19 Gammel, The Laws of Texas 1822-1897, volume 6, pp. 810-814.
20 Minutes of the City Council of the City of Columbus 1877-1893, pp. 76-77, Archives of the
Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus, Texas.
21 The map of downtown Columbus in 1885 is based on a similar map compiled by the Sanborn
Map & Publishing Company of New York in August 1885. The Sanborn map stated that the town then had
a population of 3,500, which is somewhat above the figures presented by federal census takers. According
to the census, Columbus had a population of 1,959 in 1880 and 2,054 in 1930.
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Nesbitt Memorial Library. Nesbitt Memorial Library Journal, Volume 3, Number 2, May, 1993, periodical, May 1993; Columbus, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth151388/m1/30/?q=nesbitt%20memorial%20library%20journal: accessed January 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Nesbitt Memorial Library.