Novelist Carson McCullers (1917-67), noted for her exploration of the dilemmas of modern American life in the context of the twentieth-century South, was born on February 19, 1917, in Columbus, Georgia. Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, published in 1940, delves into the lives of four isolated individuals—an adolescent girl, an embittered radical, a black physician, and a widower who owns a cafe—struggling to find their way in a small Southern town during the Great Depression. McCullers explored similar themes in later works such as The Ballad of the Sad Café and The Member of the Wedding. Her work is generally considered to be part of the Southern gothic school of writing, which includes writers such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, and Truman Capote. McCullers’ writing was shaped by her childhood in Columbus, Georgia. Located at the falls of the Chattahoochee River in the western part of the state, in its early years, Columbus boasted a thriving textile industry, powered by the river, Because of its position on the river, Columbus also served as an important port city and a regional center of commerce before railroads supplanted rivers as major transportation routes. During the Civil War, it was an important supply center for the Confederacy. Columbus remains one of the largest textile centers in the South.
As the Chattahoochee crosses the fall line at Columbus, Georgia, it falls 125 feet within 2 1/2 miles producing a potential energy of between 66,000 and 99,000 horsepower. That water power made Columbus one of the leading industrial centers within the South, attracting investors and entrepreneurs. As early as 1828 the river powered a grist mill and by the 1840s it supplied power for several textile mills. By 1880 Muscogee h. p. per sq. mile was greater than any other county south of New York. Conversion of that power to electricity began with arc lighting in 1880…
- Search the American Memory collection America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, 1935-1945 for the geographic location United States Georgia Muscogee County Columbus to view pictures of McCullers’ hometown during the period she was writing about.
- Browse the title list of WPA Life Histories from Georgia to find firsthand accounts of life in Georgia in the early part of the twentieth century.
- Browse the list of authors included in Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964 to see portraits of McCullers’ contemporaries.
- Search Built in America: Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present on the terms Georgia or Chattahoochee for images and information. Or try browsing the collection on the subject heading GEORGIA–Muscogee County–Columbus.
- See the Today in History feature on the first American cotton mill to learn more about the history of the textile industry in the U.S., or search the Today in History on Georgia to learn more about the history of the Peach State.