Events aim to support piece of city’s history

Image result for athenaeum rectory columbia tn


By MIKE CHRISTEN  |  The Columbia Daily Herald

As the hot summer months give way to cooler days, the Athenaeum Rectory, a historic site and museum located near downtown Columbia, will benefit from two events tied to the month’s spooky spirit.

A tour by candlelight

On Saturday, Oct. 6, the more than 150-year-old building will open its doors at night for the annual candlelight tour.

The 1835 home will be dressed for mourning and lit entirely by candles. Costumed historians will guide guests through the home and share with visitors the mourning customs of the Antebellum South. The guides will also tell of the many ghostly experiences that have taken place at the Athenaeum.

Investigators from the Nashville Paranormal team will also be on site. The real-life ghost busters will be located in the rarely-opened basement of the Athenaeum. The space was once used as a laboratory by one of the home’s past owners. The ghost hunters will conduct an investigation of the space ans show some of their tools of the trade.

The Athenaeum was completed in 1837 under the supervision of Maury County master builder Nathan Vaught.

Originally intended to be the residence of Samuel Polk Walker, nephew of President James K. Polk, after three years of construction, the building was first occupied by The Columbia Female Institute, an Episcopal school for young women.

It served as the rectory for the school’s president, Reverend Franklin Gillette Smith, for 14 years before the institute closed due to Smith’s alleged improprieties with a student.

The scandal received attention from major publications across the country, which outlined the details between the 15-year-old girl and the school’s director.

“The scandal turned Maury County into a hornet’s nest of rumor, innuendo and flat out lies,” Maury County historian Bob Duncan wrote in The Daily Herald. “Most of these tale carriers didn’t know their elbow from third base, but it didn’t matter, the vicious verbal attacks on both parties continued.”

From the home, Smith founded a new girls’ school and named it The Columbia Athenaeum.

When Smith opened the Columbia Athenaeum School on the same grounds as the former institute, the building served as the new school’s rectory for more than half a century.

It remained occupied and under the ownership of the Smith family until 1973 when it was placed in the responsibility of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities for use by the residents of Maury County.

Today, the house is open to the public as a museum and event space operated by a nonprofit organization.

Now, the building is all that remains of the once-famous Athenaeum Girls’ School, established in 1852.

“Having such an intriguing history, it should be no surprise that the Athenaeum is among the most haunted sites in Maury County,” said Adam Southern, Maury County APTA president. ”“Ghostly occurrences at the Athenaeum range from small to large.”

Southern is the author of “Mad Maury: Ghosts, Murder & Mayhem in Maury Co., Tennessee.”

Mysterious footsteps have been heard frequently at the home and, as several guests can attest, several full-body apparitions have been seen inside and outside of the home.

The staff of the Athenaeum has multiple requests every year from those wanting to conduct investigations of the site.

“This weekend will be one of the only times this year that people will be able to participate in an investigation at the Athenaeum,” Southern said. “Anyone wanting to participate should call the Athenaeum to reserve their spot immediately as the number of investigations is limited.”

Admission for the candelight tour is $5. Tours will be given between 7 and 9 p.m.

The tours will begin at the Athenaeum’s front porch, 808 Athenaeum Street.

A stroll through the cemetery

On Oct. 27, tour Columbia’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

Costumed actors will portray some of Maury County’s most interesting characters who now call the historic cemetery their home.

The tours will begin at 7 p.m. and the last tour will begin at 9:30 p.m. Groups will be led through Rose Hill by a guide until all guests have been escorted through the cemetery.

The Maury County Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, the organization that owns and cares for the historic structure, invites the public the take part in the upcoming events.

“These events are a fun way to learn local history and to help a great cause,” said Southern. “Except for our Maury Christmas Home Tour in December, our October events are our largest fundraisers and allow us to keep the Athenaeum open to the public.”

Southern invites the community to tour the home and visit Maury County’s other historic plantations and dwellings.

“Go out and see what is out there,” Southern said. “I think the visitor’s center here has the slogan ‘experience Maury,’ and I think that is great because we have so much to be thankful for here in Maury County. We are blessed to have so many sites and I don’t think many people realize that.”

%d bloggers like this: