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Athenaeum

The Athenaeum rectory is a historic Gothic Revival building in Columbia that was once part of a women's college and finishing school which operated between 1852 and 1903. The Reverend Franklin Gillete Smith, a Vermont native who came to Columbia to head the Columbia Female Institute, an Episcopal school, established the Athenaeum. Dismissed from the Institute by Bishop James Otey over alleged improprieties with a student, Smith organized his own school on an adjacent tract. Smith believed that female intelligence was equivalent to that of men, and his Athenaeum school offered courses such as physics, calculus, and marine biology previously taught only to male students. The school had a sixteen-thousand-volume library and a museum with six thousand specimens. The Tennessee General Assembly chartered it as a college in 1858.

The main school complex of twelve buildings stood until about 1915 on land now occupied by the Maury County Board of Education. Only the rectory and a small cottage used by Reverend Smith as a study survive. The castellated rectory is of eclectic Gothic design, featuring elements of Moorish, Italianate, Greek Revival, and other styles. It was constructed in 1835 by Maury County builder Nathan Vaught for Samuel Polk Walker, but he never lived there. In 1973 the Smith family deeded the rectory to the Maury County Chapter, Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, which restored it as a house museum.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010