It went up in spectacular flames last September, becoming charred ruins amid a major renovation to turn it into a high-tech facility within historic bones.
On Thursday, credit card and payment processor TSYS, which owned the Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House before its demise, said it plans to “memorialize” the site where it once stood with a portion of facade closely resembling the original, along with panels on accompanying fencing that offer details of its colorful history.
“We look to create a positive out of the tragedy that occurred when the historic Mott House burned last year,” Troy Woods, TSYS chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We plan to highlight the history of the site, and its importance to our local community, by memorializing it in such a way that anyone interested will be able to visit and enjoy.”
The Calhoun-Griffin-Mott House — simply referred to as the Mott House — is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was constructed in 1841, home to Columbus businessmen James Calhoun and Daniel Griffin before being bought in 1856 by its most prominent inhabitant, Randolph Lawler Mott, an entrepreneur and Union sympathizer.
The three-story structure is said to have served as a temporary headquarters for Union Gen. James H. Wilson during the last land battle of the American Civil War, which occurred on April 16, 1865, in Phenix City and Columbus, days after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House in Virginia, all but ending the enormously bloody conflict. The battle also came one day after U.S. President Abraham Lincoln died from a bullet fired into his skull on April 14 by assassin John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C.
The Mott House lineage includes it eventually becoming surrounded by a growing textile mill, with names that included Muscogee Mills and Fieldcrest Cannon. It ultimately was walled in on three sides, with only its front exposed after being turned into office space for the mills.
TSYS took ownership of the property in 1998 as part of the $100 million construction project that built the firm’s state-of-the-art corporate campus overlooking the Chattahoochee River in downtown Columbus. The company opened the campus in 1999, but had already spent $1.5 million to shore up the deteriorating Mott House.
Then, in 2013, the firm made the decision to turn the structure into a technology-laden conference center and boardroom, investing nearly $4 million. But the red-brick home was virtually destroyed in an early morning blaze on Sept. 7, 2014, with investigators never determining its cause. TSYS and fire officials eventually decided it was best to tear down the remains of the unstable building.
That sets the stage for the current project to memorialize the Mott House. TSYS spokesman Cyle Mims said the company is paying for the work, being done by Columbus-based Thayer-Bray Construction, which was handling the renovation before last fall’s fire. Mims declined to disclose a cost estimate for the new project.
Work will begin this summer, the company said, with completion expected in the fall. TSYS said it has had discussions about the project with the Board of Historic Architectural Review and Historic Columbus. Local historian John Lupold will contribute to the information placed on the panels attached to the fence, while Columbus architect Neil Clark came up with the design and art renderings.
Elizabeth Barker, executive director of Historic Columbus, noted in a statement that her organization had been involved with TSYS and its vision for the Mott House renovation before the destructive blaze eight months ago.
“We are so pleased with their plans for the site following last year’s tragic fire and thrilled that residents and visitors will have this opportunity to learn more about the property and its incorporation into the history of our town,” she said.
Mims pointed out that the portion of the fence with the panels will mark the width of the house, while the portion of facade itself should be at the exact spot as the original structure, although there will be no front steps as before and the front door will be a gate.
Most, if not all, of the brick and ornamental materials such as iron railings should be original, he said.
“During the demolition, they salvaged the pieces they could and took them away and stored them separately to keep them safe while the rest of the demolition and landscaping was going on,” he said. “And there’s still landscaping work to be done.”
The art renderings show a small courtyard with trees and seating behind the facade and fencing.