Augusta firm is restoring 130-year-old Phinizy home

Rob Mauldin is no playwright, but he is hoping to write a third act for a building that has already seen 130 years of Augusta history.

It began as the fine home of a wealthy man during America’s Gilded Age. Its second act lasted more than 60 years as the last place thousands of Augustans passed through on their way to a final resting place.

Now workers are restoring the rambling complex on the corner of Monument and Greene streets after it sat empty and crumbling for almost a decade. Mauldin said when he and his partner, Dan King, bought the property in 2010, roof leaks and general neglect had taken a heavy toll.

They knew it was going to be a huge project to restore the place to its former glory, but someone had to take it on, Mauldin said.

“I just couldn’t stand to watch it go downhill,” said Mauldin, the vice president and principal architect at 2KM Architects, which is supervising the renovation and will become one of the tenants upon completion.

The brick home was built about 1882 by Jacob Phinizy, a member of a wealthy Augusta family involved in many business endeavors and local politics, said Erick Montgomery, the executive director of Historic Augusta. Phinizy, who served as president of Georgia Railroad Bank and twice as mayor of Augusta, lived there until his death in 1924.

Little is known about what happened at the house over the next decade, but by the late 1930s it had become a business – Grealish, Poteet and Ryan Funeral Home.

Within a few years, Henry Poteet bought out his partners and was raising a family on the home’s upper floors, said Tommy Poteet, one of Henry Poteet’s two sons.

Poteet said he and his brother, Howard, grew up there on Greene Street attending the Houghton school and St. James Methodist Church.

He said his father made most of the changes and renovations to the home to accommodate the family business. The most significant was the construction of a chapel in 1958.

“My father built that when I was in mortuary school in Nashville,” Poteet said.

He said his family sold the business to Loewen Group of Burnaby, British Columbia, in 1992 and entered into an agreement to manage it for the corporation.

That agreement lasted about 10 years, until Loewen went bankrupt and the Poteets were asked to vacate the premises.

“I got a letter that said my services were no longer needed,” he said.

The property, once valued at more than $1 million, sat vacant until 2KM purchased it for $220,000. Mauldin said the entire complex, house, chapel and attached stable total about 18,000 square feet.

“There’s even more roof than that,” he said, referring to their biggest priority for repair after obtaining the property. Roof leaks had collapsed ceilings and rotted out portions of wooden floors, he said.

“We’ve already spent a fortune on the chapel roof and restoring the home’s metal roofs,” he said.

In the past year, the work changed to selectively demolishing interior additions that had been constructed over the years and trying to get the home as close to the original layout as possible.

It will never be exactly how it looked when Phinizy lived there in the 1880s, however.

The 1958 addition sealed off windows and destroyed part of a wrap-around porch, and other changes, including a “bridge” connecting the house and stable, cannot be reversed.

Recently workers have uncovered evidence of old murals decorating wall panels in the home’s front parlor. The paintings, which lie underneath thick layers of paint and wallpaper, are being studied by 2KM project manager Michael Grenz, who is trained in art restoration.

Grenz said the paintings, which feature female figures styled after 19th-century Italian artwork, appear to be part of the home’s original decorations, but it is too early to say exactly what they are. Only a few scant portions have been revealed. It will take months of painstaking work to reveal and restore them, he said.

Mauldin said the restoration is progressing and 2KM hopes to relocate its offices from Wrightsboro Road to part of the complex by the fall. Other portions, including the interior of the chapel, will continue to be renovated and restored for other businesses to occupy, he said.

Poteet, whose funeral business Thomas Poteet and Son has been on Davis Road for the past decade, is happy to see what is happening to the place where his family lived and worked for more than 60 years.

“I think it is wonderful,” he said. “I was sick to see the place falling apart.”

Slideshow: Historic Phinizy Home

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