Chattahoochee River at heart of area’s identity and development

May 23, 2010 

The Chief McIntosh trading post and a few rough houses were the only structures on the Coweta Falls area of the Chattahoochee River when surveyor E.L. Thomas brought his crew to this untamed land in February 1825.

On Dec. 11, 1826, the Georgia General Assembly authorized creation of Muscogee County, a 2,000-square-mile area that by 1827 had land carved away to create Harris, Marion and Talbot counties, followed in 1854 by divestment of land to create Chattahoochee County.

When E.L. Thomas completed his work, he had mapped more than 9,240 acres in Muscogee County, plus 1,200 acres within what would become the city of Columbus, incorporated on Dec. 19, 1828.

The powerful current of the Chattahoochee River was the very reason for the city’s creation. From a point about 30 miles north of Columbus to the center of the city, the river fell more than 360 feet, with more than 120 feet of that fall occurring during the last 3 miles, terminating in Columbus. That meant power — power for the great mills that industrialists could foresee lining the riverbanks.

Northern investors and local businessmen put that power to use, building a tremendous textile manufacturing center that would become known as the “Lowell of the South,” comparing it to the Massachusetts city whose textile industry brought it worldwide fame.

By 1861, Columbus’ manufacturing prowess would make it the arsenal of the Confederacy.

Columbus’ industries met the consequences of their success on April 16, 1865, when Union Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson and his 20,000-man army swept into the city.

One week after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Wilson’s Raiders burned to the ground Columbus’ iron works, Confederate naval works, munitions factory and most of its all-important textile plants and warehouses.

But the strength of the river and its people endured.

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