It’s an interesting coincidence that this post about the Columbus Marble Works is running the week of Memorial Day, not only because Columbus is a contender as having held the first Decoration Day in 1866, a holiday that later became Memorial Day, but also because this long-time Mississippi business has been producing marble grave markers for military veterans for a long time. In fact, as today’s guest author Jason Bigelow shows us, some of those grave markers have ended up in quite surprising places around Columbus.
Jason is an architect and preservation advocate from Columbus, MS. He has previously served on the Historic Preservation Boards of Southport, NC, and Bay Saint Louis, MS. A graduate of the MSU School of Architecture, he cut his teeth in Jackson working for architects Bill Easom and Larry Singleton, completing preservation projects in Port Gibson and Jackson. Jason’s continued interests and areas of study include the historic architecture of New Orleans, Columbus, and the written landscapes of Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor.
Thanks, Jason, for bringing us this post and for introducing us to such a unique aspect of Columbus architecture!
Columbus (MS) Marble Works is one of two companies under contract to produce marble monuments for Arlington (VA) National Cemetery. They produce the new and replacement 4” x 13” x 42” rounded top monuments for soldiers lost in all U.S. conflicts, as well as the distinctive pointed top headstones that mark Civil War Confederate graves.
Columbus Marble Works, along with the other contracted company, the Barre based Granite Industries of Vermont, fill all orders for monuments issued by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.
Columbus Marble Works was established in 1846 by two Scotchmen, Cornelius and Richard Miller, specifically to produce tombstones, mantles, and memorial urns. Since then, CMW has produced many of the distinctive tombstones and monuments in Columbus’ Friendship Cemetery, long held to be the site of the first Memorial Day in April of 1866.
As orders for monuments poured into the factory, a number of chipped blocks, misprints, mistakes, and lower quality culls created an island of misfit marble. At some point, most likely following the second World War, a number of these stones found their way into retaining walls, rip rap, retrofits, reclads, and artful facades for many buildings around the Friendly City.
A careful eye can still spot infill walls along alleys bearing the pointed tips of 13” marble blocks, shielding the name of a fallen Southern son.
A recent tumble of a planter wall exposed the names of Chester Young and James Rumph, veterans of The First World War, a second stone planted in the South, a duplicate reminder of singular men.
What stories of lives lived are represented by these stones?! To think that today in Virginia, the proud public memorials march in their exact rows, while miles away in Mississippi, their names are still memorialized, though often hidden, etched in stone, and still protecting and shielding many of the homes and edifices around Columbus, Mississippi.