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Columbus is a city in Muscogee County, Georgia, United States. It is the primary city of the Columbus, Georgia Metropolitan Statistical Area, an MSA which encompasses all of Columbus, Georgia, Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, and Muscogee counties, Georgia, and Russell County, Alabama, and which, along with the Auburn-Opelika, Alabama MSA and the Tuskegee, Alabama Micropolitan Statistical Area, comprise the greater Columbus-Auburn-Opelika, Georgia-Alabama Combined Statistical Area. As of the 2000 census, the entire city-county population was 186,291 and 276,000 in the Georgia-Alabama metro area. The city is the county seat of Muscogee County,GR1 with which it is a consolidated city-county.

Because of the consolidation and the 2001 annexation of Bibb City, Columbus is now listed with the same population and other demographic data as the entire county. Fort Benning takes up most of the rest of the county.

Founded in 1828 by an act of the Georgia Legislature, Columbus was situated at the end of the navigable portion of the Chattahoochee River and on the last stretch of the Federal Road before entering Alabama. The city was named for Christopher Columbus, its founders likely influenced by the writings of Washington Irving. The plan for the city was drawn up by Dr. Edwin L. DeGraffenried who placed the town on a bluff overlooking the river. Across the river, where Phenix City, Alabama is now located, Creek Indians lived until their removal in 1836.

The river served as Columbus' connection to the world, particularly connecting the plantations in the region with the international cotton market via New Orleans and ultimately Liverpool, England. The city's commercial importance increased in the 1850s with the arrival of the railroad. In addition, textile mills began springing up along the river, bringing industry to an area reliant upon agriculture. By 1860, the city was one of the more important industrial centers of the South, earning it the nickname "the Lowell of the South," in deference to the industrial town in Massachusetts.

When the outbreak of war came in 1861, the industries of Columbus expanded their production and Columbus became one of the most important centers of industry in the Confederacy. In addition to textiles, the city had an ironworks as well as a shipyard for the Confederate Navy. The city finally saw its only fighting on Easter Sunday, April 16, 1865, when a Union detachment under General James H. Wilson attacked the city and burned many of the industrial buildings. The inventor of Coca-Cola, Dr. John Stith Pemberton, was wounded in this battle. The owner of America's last slave ship, Col. Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar, was killed here. Ironically, the battle occurred after Confederate General Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, effectively ending the Civil War. A historic marker has been erected in Columbus marking the battle by Wilson's troops as the "Last Land Battle in the War Between the States."

Reconstruction began almost immediately and prosperity followed. The industrialization of the town led to rapid growth; the city had outgrown its original plan. Columbus was graced with the Springer Opera House on 10th Street, which has hosted over a century of great performers and still delights audiences today.

By the time of the Spanish American War, the city began to see much modernization including the addition of trolleys extending to outlying neighborhoods such as Rose Hill and Lakebottom and a new water works. Mayor Lucius Chappell also brought a training camp for soldiers to the area. This training camp named Camp Benning would grow into present day Fort Benning, named for General Henry L. Benning, a native of the city.

With the expansion of the city, the need for a university saw the establishment of Columbus College, a two-year institution which would later grow into Columbus State University, now a comprehensive center of higher learning. The city would consolidate city and county governments in 1971 and become the first of its kind in Georgia (and one of only 16 in the U.S. at the time). As the city has turned from its initial industry of textiles, it has provided a home for other prominent industries including the headquarters for Aflac, Synovus, TSYS and Carmike Cinemas.

During the 1970s and 1980s, urban blight, flight, and prostitution were serious problems in much of downtown Columbus and adjacent neighborhoods. Early efforts to halt the gradual deterioration of downtown included designation of various historic districts in and around downtown, demolition of large tracts of blighted areas, and construction of the Government Center. A significant period of urban renewal and revitalization occurred in the mid to late 1990s. With these improvements, residents and businesses began moving back to these formerly blighted areas. Examples of these municipal projects including the construction of a softball commons for the 1996 Olympic Games, construction of a riverwalk park on the Chattahoochee River, construction of the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the expansion of the Columbus Museum, and road improvements to include a new downtown bridge crossing the Chattahoochee River to Phenix City, Alabama. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, commercial activity expanded north of downtown along the interstate corridor. During the next several years, the expansion will continue starting with the growth at Fort Benning. Over the next several years more than 15,000 new troops will move to the Chattahoochee Valley.

 

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