Historic Goetchius House will soon be resurrected as a Broadway restaurant

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 4, 2012 

The house was a labor of love right from the start, 173 years ago, when Richard Rose Goetchius built it for his bride, a Southern belle named Mary Anne Bennett, whom he married Sept. 11, 1839.

Descended from old Dutch New Yorkers, Goetchius in 1834 had come to the new Georgia city of Columbus to be an architect and builder. He designed and oversaw construction of the house, which was then on the southeast corner of what today is Second Avenue and 11th Street.

Its design was based upon houses visitors to New Orleans still see in that city's Garden District. "With wide veranda across the front and wrought-iron lacework forming the balustrade, and an overhanging canopy of the same black iron lace, it is a thing of beauty," Etta Blanchard Worsley wrote in "Columbus on the Chattahoochee."

That was in 1951, when the house still stood on Second Avenue's east side across from the old marble YMCA. Today that corner is a parking lot.

Worsley made note of the home's original purpose, and recorded interior details, when of Goetchius and his bride, she wrote: "It was for her that he built the beautiful home with its wide hall and high-ceiled rooms, carved cornices and handsome chandeliers. Of special interest is the carving over the arch breaking the center hall, the ornamented medallions around the lights and the heavy heart-timber that supports the house."

In 1969, the house was a labor of love again when James Woodruff Jr. had the antebellum home cut into pieces and moved from 204 11th St. to 405 Broadway, setting it atop a brick basement. He acquired antique woodwork with which to finish the downstairs bar as he restored the rest.

In 1971, he opened the Goetchius House restaurant. But he would not have long to relish this achievement. He died in 1976.

Werner Bludau bought the building in 1980, and the restaurant became Bludau's Goetchius House. But eventually the business fell on hard times, like many others in a bad economy, and on this past Jan. 24, Columbus Council refused to renew the restaurant's alcohol license after complaints it was operating more like a nightclub.

The old house went up for sale, and on Feb. 10, the Cantrells, known here for their Action Buildings enterprise and their fundraising for the St. Jude Children's Hospital, bought the property.

Mark Cantrell, a Muscogee school board member and son of John and Jean Cantrell, said they went to work on the building that very same day, their first task patching holes in the roof. Their primary contract workers, Rob McCormick and Terry Wright, have been at it ever since.

Once again, the Goetchius House is a labor of love.

The Cantrells plan to open another restaurant there, but should that plan change, the work will have been worth the effort, Mark Cantrell said.

"It's been a labor of love just restoring it," he said, adding it's a legacy his father, 78, and mother, 79, will leave for their children and grandchildren, and for Columbus.

Walking through freshly painted dining rooms once named for historic figures -- Oglethorpe, Forsyth, McIntosh, Troup and Jackson -- he talked about what has been done and what is yet to be.

The once-carpeted wood floors are yet to be refinished; the downstairs kitchen yet to be scoured clean and updated with new utensils. In a back room Wright and McCormick last week were putting up wood panels over old wallpaper. Mark Cantrell's daughter Jeanita, 20, will use that space for a photography studio.

What workers have not encountered, unlike so many others renovating historic buildings, is the big surprise -- the rot or termite damage, deteriorated plumbing or outdated electrical system that turns a modest project into a money pit.

As Cantrell likes to put it, what his family bought for $240,000 was not a 173-year-old house, but one only 41 years old, because Woodruff invested so much in it in 1971.

And what the Cantrells got was not just an 8,500-square-foot restaurant, but a prime location at the Oglethorpe Bridge end of Broadway, just north of Golden Park, with a backyard overlooking the Chattahoochee River and Riverwalk.

It was a little hard to tell what they had back there, in the beginning. Thirty years' growth of Confederate jasmine and climbing roses had taken over the courtyard and a rear outbuilding that needed a roof, though that was hard to tell, too. All that vegetation has been cut away, exposing the curving brick walls and ironwork that frame the courtyard and its fountain. The outbuilding has been reroofed and repainted.

Besides the historic house and its well-sited lot, the Cantrells now are the caretakers of countless memories. Mark Cantrell said he has heard from around 200 people who recalled weddings and receptions and other celebrations held at the Goetchius House.

Some folks were old enough even to recall when the house was still at 11th Street and Second Avenue and served a quarter-century as the offices of Dr. Mercer Blanchard, a pediatrician for whom Blanchard Elementary School is named.

Catching up on the history requires climbing a family tree: From Goetchius and his wife Mary, the house passed to daughter Mary, who married Guy McKinley of Milledgeville and died giving birth to her daughter Mary, who married Marshall Wellborn.

The Wellborns lived there until the mid-1920s, then moved to Third Avenue and 15th Street to care for aging relatives. The house was rented to Blanchard for his medical offices.

When Mary Wellborn died in 1955, the house passed to son Samuel Marshall Wellborn Jr. It later was donated to the Historic Columbus Foundation, which in 1969 gave it to Woodruff, then the foundation's board chairman, who moved it.

Cantrell said that along with memories of early doctor visits and later celebrations, people have shared other tales of the Goetchius House: ghost stories.

On Facebook Cantrell recounted a creepy experience he had there late one night, and triggered some freaky feedback. "People came out of the woodwork saying they'd seen ghosts," he said.

But he had not. He had just heard a loud crash while he was in the building alone, and could find nothing to explain the noise, though it was so loud it sounded like one of the dining rooms' massive mirrors had hit the floor.

He was inclined to think something creepy was going on -- until a few days later, when again the restaurant's ice machine dumped a fresh load.

Last week he figured the renovations will take two more months, and then the Goetchius House restaurant will be back in business. "Things can always change, and you never know the future," he acknowledged, but should that business plan go awry, at least one thing will remain.

The house Richard Rose Goetchius built for wife Mary will be restored, another labor of love for generations to come.

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