Monument, residents preserve Gilbert Manor history

Unlike many Gilbert Manor residents, Glenda Rolland was supportive when their neighborhood was razed to build a new dental school. But standing in the atrium of the Georgia Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine for the first time on Friday, she doubted if it was worth losing her home for the expansion.

“Even just looking at the railroad tracks brings back memories,” Rolland said. “Living in Gilbert Manor was like a home and everybody knew one another and we all got along well.”

Georgia Health Sciences University dedicated a monument Saturday in memory of John Wesley Gilbert, the complex’s namesake. Former residents of Gilbert Manor said the monument – just outside the school’s main entrance off R.A. Dent Boulevard – preserves a community’s legacy that hasn’t yet faded from memory.

Rolland and other former residents moved to Olmstead Homes, another public housing project operated by the Augusta Housing Authority on upper Broad Street, when they were relocated in 2008. Now, they visit one another trying to preserve their old community and often reminiscing about Gilbert Manor where they walked to the corner store, played cards on the front porches and were close to medical care.

About 3,500 families lived at Gilbert Manor from the time it was built in 1941 until 2008, when the city of Augusta donated it to the university for the College of Dental Medicine clinical research building.

For the Gilbert monument, two large bronze plaques from the old Gilbert Manor were used to bookend a semi-circular stone bench. One commemorates Gilbert Manor’s original dedication and the second was affixed to the community center in 1989 honoring Gilbert, Paine College’s first student and its first black faculty member.

The original marble sign, bricks and concrete from the complex were also used.

Barbara Gresham, 62, also moved to Olmstead Homes in 2008. Next door lives another former resident and friend who worked with Gresham to save Gilbert Manor.

“To me, there was nothing wrong with those apartments. They told us they were dilapidated,” she said. “They didn’t have to put us all out of there.”

Gresham misses watching the medical students walk from their cars to class. She hasn’t gotten used to her new apartment, and the anger at being displaced lingers every time she drives by the site. Still, she appreciates the monument made from plaques – which she remembers from her former neighborhood.

“I loved Gilbert Manor,” Gresham said. “I consider that to be my home forever.”

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