Lecture, tours will highlight history of Belair Hills Estates

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A drive through Belair Hills Estates reveals an interesting and eclectic mix of home styles ranging from 1950s ranch-style houses to modern McMansions.

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Belair Hills Estates has more than 200 homes, ranging from 1950s ranch style to McMansions.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/STAFF
Belair Hills Estates has more than 200 homes, ranging from 1950s ranch style to McMansions.
Lisa Kaylor
Staff Writer
E-mail | 706-828-3884

Some homes are still under construction, while others reflect the trends of the decade in which they were built. Though the neighborhood boasts more than 200 homes, lots are still available for purchase.

That fact, along with the neighborhood’s history as one of Augusta’s traditionally middle-class black neighborhoods, makes it a prime candidate for This Place Matters, an awareness event presented by Historic Augusta Inc. and the Lucy C. Laney Museum of Black History.

The fourth annual event will begin Friday evening with a lecture by Alex Thomas, vice chairman for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Board of Advisors.

On Saturday, a self-guided tour of the neighborhood, which is off Belair Road near Jimmie Dyess Parkway, will offer a glimpse into the area’s historical significance. After the tour, guests and residents will assemble in the neighborhood park for a panel discussion in which residents will share stories, photographs and history. The discussion will be moderated by Corey Rogers, a historian at the Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History.

“It’s a mid-century modern and traditionally African-American neighborhood,” said Julia Jackson, programs and marketing director for Historic Augusta. “A lot of people have a hard time seeing the neighborhood as historic.”

She said many of the homes were built in the 1950s and ’60s. The 50-year mark is the point at which a building is deemed historic.

“It’s interesting to look at things that are recently historic,” she said.

Marion Griffin, president of the homeowners association, built his home in 1963.

He worked with a man known as Skipper Scott, who opened Skipper’s Schooners in 1953 on a lake on the property. Scott later founded the neighborhood.

Griffin often went to Skipper’s Schooners with his church group. Boasting a dance hall, snack bar, meeting room and barbecue pit, it was popular among churches and civic groups as a place for picnics and parties.

It closed nine years later and shortly afterward burned down.

At that time, segregation meant there were few places for blacks to purchase property in the city. Scott, his wife and four other people formed Pioneers Inc. and worked to build a neighborhood on the site where blacks could own land and build homes.

“Skipper kept agonizing me and pestering me about purchasing property in Belair,” Griffin said.

He purchased two lots, one for him and one for his brother, who died in a car accident and never used the parcel.

Like many blacks at that time, Griffin struggled to get a loan that would allow him to build his home. When he did, he built a 2,000-square-foot split-level house, and he has been there ever since.

“I don’t intend to go any place until I go out to Hillcrest (Memorial Park),” he said.

His home will be one of the homes featured on the tour.

The mission of the tour is to educate and advocate for the preservation of buildings and neighborhood before they deteriorate, said Robyn Anderson, preservation services director for Historic Augusta.

“Having these programs is bringing up that discussion,” she said. “We need people to take their own initiative.”

Previous tours have featured Sand Hills, Laney-Walker and the Bethlehem neighborhoods, areas in which many buildings are in declining condition. The homes on this year’s tour are all occupied and in good condition, Anderson said.

Architectural features that will be discussed include exterior stonework, stucco details and domes that were popular in earlier eras, with a focus on preserving those details.

Anderson and Jackson will offer information about resources that are available to assist homeowners with preservation efforts.

“We need to educate and encourage people to understand (that) we need to be proactive and talk about it now and encourage the preservation,” Anderson said.

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