1940 Inaugural Columbus Pilgrimage

Today is the start of Columbus’s two-week long Spring Pilgrimage. This makes it the opportune time to look back at the Pilgrimage, in fact, all the way back to the first one, in 1940. The “Program and Historical Facts” book published for the first Columbus Pilgrimage is a wealth of information on the Pilgrimage and Columbus as a whole in 1940. For the few days of this week, Preservation in Mississippi will be reprinting excerpts and scans from the program for the first Columbus Pilgrimage.

1940 Columbus Pilgrimage Cover

The 1940 Columbus Pilgrimage was the first Pilgrimage held in Columbus (the Pilgrimage was designated as the “Spring Pilgrimage” in later years). At the time of this inaugural Pilgrimage, it is unlikely any of the organizers would have foreseen Columbus having a more than 75 year tradition of holding an annual Pilgrimage (with a some interruptions during the 1940s). While the previous year, a small tour of homes was held in Columbus in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Mississippi State Federation of Music Clubs, that was just a trial run for the 1940 Pilgrimage. The entire city was filled with more Old South Columbus pride than Columbus probably ever had during the Old South period.

First, let us start with a welcome from Columbus Mayor T. W. Harris

“To the Visitors for the 1940 Pilgrimage Greetings:

“We open wide our gates to you and wish for you a happy, memorable visit.

“Columbus has much to offer in the way of beauty and historic interest. Our homes, untouched by the ravages of War, recall in their atmosphere and setting, the charm and exquisite grace of a rich and cherished past. Within the covers of this booklet, you will find account of our colorful history in which three great nations – Spain, France and America – had part.

“We invite you to visit also our splendid schools, our College which is the special pride of all Mississippians, to see Lee Park, attractive in its sylvan loveliness, churches representing a religious growth of over a century, Friendship Cemetery, historic inspiration for the poem “The Blue and The Gray”, and many other places of interest in this journey wherein you “Discover The Old South in Columbus.”

“Again we bid you welcome, thrice welcome, to our city!”

2016’s Columbus Spring Pilgrimage is thirteen days, and the modern Pilgrimage lasts about two weeks (the 2014 Pilgrimage stretched out to sixteen days). In 1940, however, all of Columbus was decked out in Pilgrimage finery for only three days, April 14-16. That is a short time to tour 22 antebellum houses (for those of you attending this year, you will be busy touring fifteen).

Sunday – April 14

  • 11:00 A.M. – Services at All Churches
  • 2:00 to 5:00 P.M. – Tour of Historic Homes and Friendship Cemetery
  • 5:00 P.M. – Vesper Services, Special Music, at Whitfield Auditorium, Mississippi State College for Women (Churches open in afternoon)

Monday – April 15

  • 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. – Tour of Historic Homes
  • 12:30 P.M. to 2:00 P.M. – Tour of Mississippi State College for Women
  • 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. – Tour of Historic Homes
  • 8:15 P.M. – Program of Dances at Whitfield Auditorium, Mississippi State College for Women

Tuesday – April 16

  • 9:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M. – Tour of Historic Homes
  • 2:00 P.M. to 6:00 P.M. – Tour of Historic Homes

To say that one got bang for their buck at the 1940 Columbus Pilgrimage would be accurate; each tour of homes cost $1.00 with a discount for students down to $0.50.

1940 Columbus Pilgrimage Page 51 Gilmer HotelWhile purchasing tickets for the 2016 Columbus Spring Pilgrimage at the Visit Columbus office (a new brick box of vaguely historical pastiche) possibly has some charm, the registration headquarters in 1940 was the Gilmer Hotel. The Gilmer Hotel was one of Mississippi’s finest and longest lasting antebellum hotels. It was the perfect headquarters for the 1940 Pilgrimage, where tourists could pretend just a little more thoroughly that they were in the Old South by staying at an Old South hotel (though “new in appointments” and possessing infinitely more indoor plumbing and electricity than any antebellum hotel did). Columbus has had numerous historic landmarks needlessly demolished in the name of progress, but none as egregiously as the 1962 replacement of the Greek Revival Gilmer Hotel with the pebble-coated concrete and faux wrought iron Gilmer Inn.

Now that everyone has their tickets purchased from the Gilmer Hotel, tomorrow, Preservation in Mississippi will begin the tour of homes from the 1940 Columbus Pilgrimage.

Categories: Antebellum, Columbus, Heritage Tourism, Historic Preservation, Lost Mississippi, Preservation People/Events


2 replies

  1. I can’t wait to see what’s ahead! And, isn’t it interesting that instead of cancelling (or ignoring) the church services they incorporated them into the Pilgrimage?


  2. Rufus Ward now owns NBF’s crutch(1) which is under glass. But how his great- grandfather came by it is another story best told by Rufus. I did not know about Louis Napoleon’s gift of field glasses to the General, though.



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