MCG plans memorial to Gilbert Manor namesake

Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
A man passes by the former site of Gilbert Manor. The Augusta Housing Authority has asked MCG to preserve the memory of the housing project and the man for whom it was named.

Gilbert Manor is about to be razed, but under the Medical College of Georgia's plans it won't be completely erased.

J. Michael Ash, vice president of administration for MCG, said the college is considering a memorial of some sort, both to the former public housing project and the man it was named for, pioneering black scholar John Wesley Gilbert.

"We haven't drawn any pictures yet," Dr. Ash said. "We're just tossing around concepts."

Removal of the 67-year-old housing complex is imminent, with a demolition fence already going up along R.A. Dent Boulevard. Groundbreaking on MCG's dental school should happen in late summer, Dr. Ash said.

Where on the 15-acre site the memorial would be hasn't been determined. It might have a platform built with bricks from Gilbert Manor's buildings, and it might use the marble sign now at the corner of R.A. Dent Boulevard and Spellman Street, Dr. Ash said. It's also likely to incorporate two bronze building plaques from the site that the Augusta Housing Authority has in storage.

Housing authority board members said at their last meeting that they would like to see those plaques used. The authority sold the project to the medical college last year for $6.9 million, part of $10 million the city gave MCG to keep its expansion in Augusta.

One of the plaques commemorates Dr. Gilbert and was affixed in Gilbert Manor's community center, built in 1989.

The other is the original building identification plaque from the administration building. It lists President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Augusta Mayor J.M. Woodall and housing authority Chairman Elbert Peabody.

An estimated 3,500 families lived in Gilbert Manor from its opening in 1941 until its shuttering in 2008, housing authority planning and development director Richard Arfman said.

Touted as a "slum-clearance project," it was the city's second public housing complex after Sunset Homes.

"I think there's a lot of public sentiment for it," Mr. Arfman said of the need for a memorial. "A lot of history comes from there."

Dr. Ash said the memorial would be one way MCG can thank the city for the site, in addition to the people uprooted so the college could expand.

"The property meant so much to so many people in the Augusta area," Dr. Ash said. "We just think it's appropriate."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

JOHN WESLEY GILBERT

When the Gilbert Manor site is redeveloped, a new thoroughfare connecting R.A. Dent Boulevard and Spellman Street will likely be named for John Wesley Gilbert, according to Medical College of Georgia vice president of administration J. Michael Ash.

Born in Hephzibah in 1864, Dr. Gilbert was Paine College's first student and its first black faculty member.

He became a classical Greek scholar and one of the first black archaeologists, studying in Greece on a scholarship and taking part in excavations throughout Greece and the Mediterranean islands.

After teaching Greek and religion at Paine College, in 1911 he accompanied Methodist Bishop Walter R. Lambuth on a mission to Africa, where they established a church in what was then Belgian Congo.

Dr. Gilbert died 18 years before Gilbert Manor opened in 1941. According to accounts from The Augusta Chronicle, two of his former students got the complex named for him.

Paine College's Gilbert-Lambuth Chapel is named for Dr. Gilbert and Bishop Lambuth, who was a trustee of the college.

Source: Paine College, Augusta Chronicle archives