James O’Neal asked for help and ideas about how to restore North Augusta’s Charles Hammond House, and he’s getting plenty of both.
On Friday, a Who’s Who of area preservation experts swarmed over the house and its grounds, pointing out details, telling stories and making recommendations: Don’t strip the old paint off the doors, for example. Layer by layer, it tells a story.
Jon Posey, a founder of Historic North Augusta who knew the last owner before O’Neal and has made a study of the house and the Hammond family genealogy, was there. He showed a drawing he made of the place in 1973 and talked about how the banisters that once graced the second-floor front porch looked. They’re long gone, but he knows because he has a picture taken back in the 1960s.
Posey also said he has a plat of the original cemetery and a family Bible from a branch of the Hammond family, both of which he offered to share with O’Neal.
Erick Montgomery of Historic Augusta was there, too. He’s helping O’Neal learn about federal grants and how to apply for them to help fund the restoration.
Others included Barney Lamar, who studied restoration in German and Switzerland and is working on the Horns Creek Baptist Church in Edgefield; Brenda Barrato, of the Aiken County Museum; Bryan Halterman, who is well known for renovating old and historic buildings in downtown Augusta; Lynn Thompson, chairman of Living History Park and president of North Augusta’s Olde Towne Preservation Association; and Jane Gunnell, of the Edgefield County Historical Society.
The gathering was largely arranged by North Augustan Beth Francis, Charles Hammond’s fifth-great-granddaughter, who called O’Neal “out of the blue” after learning that he had acquired the house, offering any help she could provide.
During a walk-around inside and outside Friday she and O’Neal huddled often, a living representation of the house’s past and future coming together.
“I’m so excited about the possibilities in front of us,” Francis said.
They talked a lot about finding, and possibly recreating, the formal English gardens that were put in in 1830. The brick borders might still be there, below ground now, and Francis suggested using ground-penetrating radar to find them. Posey said some of the bricks could still be seen in the 1970s, and rustled around under the front porch and found one.
Francis said the gardens drew crowds back in their day, especially when they bloomed.
O’Neal spoke to the group about his reverence for the house and how that motivates what he’s doing.
“I’ve renovated 25 houses, but my hand shook when I turned the key and opened that front door,” he said. “I’m at a point in my life where I’m looking to leave a legacy.”
O’Neal’s vision has come into sharper focus in the weeks since he bought the Hammond House. On Friday, he talked about it becoming a hospitality venue, a place to hold a wedding, or a reception – “to conduct business or just have a good time,” he said.
He wants to bring the house back to its “former glory,” and he aims to get even the smallest details right. He wants his renovation of the past to be appreciated by people in the future.
“Everything we do now is history and that’s awesome,” he said.
Reach James Folker at (706) 823-3338