The fate of Augusta’s historic Goodale House, one of Georgia’s oldest surviving homes, could now rest in the hands of a Richmond County judge.
Built in 1799 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the Federal-style building was deemed a “nuisance property” in Richmond County Magistrate Court in late October and its owner, Wes Sims, was ordered to repair or demolish the structure.
Sims is scheduled to return to court July 22 to fight for the three-story house on Sand Bar Ferry Road whose west-facing chimney and adjoining wall collapsed in August 2011.
Both have remained unrepaired for nearly three years.
“It’s going to be up to the judge,” Rob Sherman, deputy director of Augusta’s Planning and Development Department, said of the house’s future. “At this point, (Sims), nor a contractor, has taken out a permit to repair or demolish the structure. He has not done anything and if he hasn’t by the court date, he’ll have to explain why.”
Sims’ has said since he purchased the family home of former South Carolina governor and Confederate general Wade Hampton III in 2009 for less than $20,000 that he intends to restore it, possibly transforming it into a bed-and-breakfast with some type of historical display inside.
Sims did not return phone messages seeking comment, but Richmond County tax records show the Alabama investor paid $507 of the $1,677 in taxes owed on the property in 2013 to prevent it from being auctioned on the courthouse steps. The property balance has since accrued $11.55 in penalty interest.
Historic Augusta, which has been identified by the city as a more appropriate suitor for the building’s restoration, has been trying to acquire the house to ensure it’s preserved, but has not been successful, said Erick Montgomery, the nonprofit’s executive director.
Sherman said members of the Augusta Historic Preservation Commission prefer the house be restored, but added that such a project would involve new architectural plans and a structural engineer to declare the building safe.
“It is going to take a lot of funds to save this structure and I don’t know if the present owner is going to do that,” Sherman said.
Sherman said city inspectors take cases involving mandated repairs to magistrate court monthly and in roughly 800 of them in the past 15 years, a demolition order has been granted.
This situation, however, is unique since the Goodale House is a historic structure.
A more likely outcome, Sherman said, is for a judge to seek a resolution where a private organization, such as Historic Augusta, which deemed the property endangered in 2012, spends its money to restore the house.
Montgomery said acquiring property through the courts would be “new ground” for Historic Augusta and that the organization would need to know the details before agreeing.
“Nobody’s talked to me about that particular scenario, but we would be interested in having possession to try to save it,” Montgomery said. “The house has a lot of historical associations and represents an important aspect of Augusta’s history.”
Sims could still make a strong case to keep the house, but Sherman said that “on a gut feeling, it’s unlikely.”