Bethlehem redevelopment will save S.S. Johnson and W.S. Hornsby homes


Two historic landmarks could get a much-needed facelift as part of redevelopment efforts in Augusta’s Bethlehem neighborhood.


Chester Wheeler, the executive director of the city’s Housing and Community Development department, said the S.S. Johnson and W.S. Hornsby houses on Twiggs Street will remain standing while several other dilapidated structures on the block are demolished to make room for new construction.

Larger revitalization efforts are planned for the surrounding blocks by the department and the Augusta Housing Authority. The area, to be called Twiggs Circle, is one of six targeted areas for redevelopment efforts in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem.

In 2008, the city began a massive revitalization initiative in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods to replace blight with planned development. Private investment is sought to help leverage a $38.5 million public investment from a special 50-year hotel/motel fee that generates $750,000 a year for the project.

Redevelopment efforts have been under way since October 2009 on Heritage Pine, the project’s flagship development. Fifteen houses have been built on Pine and 11th streets off Laney-Walker Boulevard.

The housing department will begin the Twiggs Circle development by building eight single-family homes on the south side of the 1400 and 1500 blocks of Twiggs Street. The historic homes will bookend the new houses.

The Johnson house is owned by the Augusta Land Bank Authority and the Horns­by house by Charlotee Horns­by Watkins, according to city property records.

On the north side of Twiggs Street, the housing authority is waiting on approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Develop­ment to develop a 4- to 5-acre tract. It is currently undergoing environmental cleanup for lead in the soil, Wheeler said.

The first phase includes the construction of 16 duplexes and eight single-family homes for senior citizens, said Richard Arfman, the housing authority’s director of planning and development. About a dozen dilapidated structures will be demolished.

The land to begin both projects has been acquired by the Augusta Land Bank Authority. Wheeler said construction on the eight single-family homes by the housing department won’t occur for at least a year, but exterior work on the Johnson house and demolition of rundown structures will take place sooner.

“At some point in time, I think that’s going to become the premier development in Laney-Walker/Bethlehem,” Wheeler said. “You’ve got such a large tract of land that’s being cleared and redeveloped.”

Wheeler said the city plans to widen Twiggs Street and construct a traffic roundabout at the intersection of Wrightsboro Road and
Ninth Street starting in January.

The housing authority became interested in the land after they abandoned plans to redevelop the former Immaculate Conception church and school on Laney-Walker Boulevard. Historic preservation groups pressured the authority to save the buildings, which were razed this summer by the owner.

Arfman said there is a continual need for senior housing after the demolition of Gilbert Manor, a public housing complex that was sold to the Medical College of Georgia in 2008.

“We made a commitment to the area, when we took down Gilbert Manor, that we would look in the Laney-Walker area to fill the senior housing need,” Arfman said.

Future plans for senior and public housing in the Twiggs Street area will depend on success of the first units, he said.

The master plan for Twiggs Circle includes 137 townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes, two traffic roundabouts and neighborhood parks.

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The W.S. Hornsby House, at 1518 Twiggs St., was the home in 1916 of one of the co-founders of the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Co., the first insurance provider for blacks in Georgia and one of the largest employers in Augusta’s black community.

The S.S. Johnson house, at 1420 Twiggs St., was the home and office of Dr. Scipio S. Johnson, a physician and pharmacist in the black community.

The house was built in the 1920s at Twiggs and Nicholas streets.

Source: Historic Augusta, Inc. and The Augusta Chronicle archives

Laney Walker Bethlehem Redevelopment Website


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