Columbus was created through the hard work and dedication of its founding families. This issue, we’re taking a closer look at one of those families, the Blackmars, and one of its most notable patriarchs: Alfred Owen II. From starting Columbus’ first fire insurance business to serving in education, Columbus would certainly be a very different city without his influence and contributions.
By Jack Schley
There have been six A. O. Blackmars to call Columbus, Georgia home. For a period of over one hundred years, all branches of this family could be found here in town, and many of their descendants continue to reside in Columbus to this day. The roots of the Blackmar family tree sprouted in America in the colony of Rhode Island in 1629. It was two hundred years later that the first Alfred Owen Blackmar, as well as his son carrying his namesake, arrived in Columbus.
The first Alfred O. Blackmar was living in Savannah, Georgia, when his wife Betsy Arnold gave birth to their son, A. O. II, on July 14, 1830. Five years later the family was living in Augusta. Betsy had passed away after the birth of her second son, and Alfred remarried to Susan Adeline Daly. Alfred worked as a cotton merchant.
With farm land opening up in the western part of the state, Alfred decided to move his family deep into future cotton country. A horse drawn stagecoach brought the family across the state in April of 1835 when they arrived to the small frontier town of Columbus, Georgia.
Later in life, Alfred II could recall the day he arrived to Columbus as a young boy at the age of five. He described the town as consisting of more people than there were structures to house them, and a large portion of the population was Indians.
The Native Americans lived across the river in Alabama, but could often be seen in the business district of downtown. Young A. O. II could recall one day when a Native American man patted him on top of his head as he walked with his father to the family store on Broad Street, near where the main CB&T building is presently situated. That particular man was called Jim Henry, and it was he who led the main force of hostile Indians in the Creek War of 1836. A rumor reached town one night during the conflict that Jim Henry and his raiders were going to attack Columbus. In response, the men in town armed themselves and were posted along the river and throughout the town.
Each night, while the men kept watch, the women and children of Columbus, including A. O. II, were quartered together in an incomplete hotel in downtown, surrounded by guards.
Columbus, and the neighboring town of Girard (now Phenix City), had a rough and tumble frontier reputation at that time. The same Alfred Blackmar recounted that when he was a boy the two towns were often referred to as Sodom and Gomorrah for the Biblical towns that were destroyed by fire from heaven for their heathenistic customs.
There were many Indians who were also friendly and quite prominent amongst the social circles of Columbus. One such man was named Paddy Carr. He owned a large farm near Fort Mitchell, Alabama and was well known and respected by the businessmen of the frontier days in Columbus. The woman that cared for the Blackmar family children once took young A. O. II to visit Paddy Carr and his family at their townhouse across the river. Alfred could recall later in life seeing Paddy Carr standing in his doorway smoking a pipe as they approached. The man held the young Blackmar boy, bounced him on his knee, and gave him beads and other trinkets to take home with him.
Carr had served as an Interpreter for General Andrew Jackson during the Indian War of 1813-1814. He also fought on behalf of the State of Georgia during the Creek War of 1836 to help defend Columbus from Jim Henry’s militant forces. Carr and his family were relocated to Oklahoma when the Creek Nation was forcibly removed from the area by the Federal Government following the war.
When Alfred II grew up he remained in Columbus and became very involved in the civic development of the town. He was one of the earliest volunteer fire fighters here, and started his business, Blackmar Company Realtors, a fire insurance firm, in 1846. He served many administrative duties on City Council, and as Mayor Pro-tem, as well as in local educational capacities for many years throughout his professional career.
He was known as the “Father of the High School,” after making the resolution that created Columbus High School in 1890 while serving as a member of the Board of Trustees for Columbus Public Schools. A. O. II was financially minded as well, serving as City Treasurer and in administrative roles at the earliest leading banks in town. Known to some as Captain Blackmar, he was also a licensed steam boat captain on the Chattahoochee River. He participated in passing steam ships through the Federal blockade during the War Between the States to bring supplies to and from Columbus by way of the river.
In 1851, Alfred married Mary Ann Blood in Columbus and together they had five children. They both lived to their one hundredth birthdays, and celebrated their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary in 1926, when they were locally claimed as “…models of marital grace and felicity…” All five of their children were born when the family moved to the family home that once stood at 1418 Fourth Avenue (now Veterans Parkway) in downtown. The elegant home was almost half a century old when the Blackmar family became the new owners in 1879. They called the homeplace “Opossum Ridge.”
Alfred and Mary Ann Blackmar’s son John went into the Fire Insurance business with his father. He married Susie Wellborn in January 1884 and ten months later their first son, Alfred Owen Blackmar III was born. A. O. III also joined his father and grandfather in the fire insurance business.
Alfred O. Blackmar III further developed the family name in the real estate sector by becoming President of the Columbus Real Estate Board. He was also appointed Chairman of the Government Appraisal Board, which was charged with the purchasing of private land for the Federal Government to establish Fort Benning outside of Columbus. The third A. O. Blackmar was a passionate horticulturalist. He enjoyed flower propagation and landscaping, which led him to be a charter member of the Columbus Country Club, and to provide a natural landscape for urban residents of the town. He married Mary Elizabeth Gordon in 1910. They had two children: Alfred O. IV and Margaret Blackmar Howard.
The family name of Blackmar continues on today in Columbus with a sixth Alfred Owen Blackmar, and a seventh generation of this pioneering Columbus family. They are one of just a handful of families whose surname can be traced through the Columbus history books, uninterrupted, back to the beginning days of settlement here by the river. The talents of each generation of the Blackmar family have contributed to the progress and development of Columbus. Due to this, our town continues to operate today as a testament to the founding families that gave their careers to the building of our modern city. SVM