Tremont Temple Missionary Baptist Church was one of the centers of Macon’s civil rights movement.
And now a developer wants to demolish it and put up a doughnut shop.
It’s a scenario that’s been played out in countless U.S. cities: Part of a community’s history gives way to sterile, modern development – or, worse yet, parts of history just crumble and rot away.
It shouldn’t happen as often as it does.
Augusta has its share of those challenges, too. One of them, one of the oldest, sits on an unkempt lot on Sand Bar Ferry Road. The Goodale House has gone by many names since it was built in 1799. Some people might remember it as the Goodale Inn restaurant in the 1970s and ’80s.
Other folks might not remember it at all.
The city is seeking to demolish it – and if you’ve seen the house lately, you’d know why. The west wall has collapsed, and it’s uninhabitable.
But the preservation group Historic Augusta hopes the house will be saved. We hope it will, too.
First of all, it can be saved. An engineering study last year found that most of the structure is still stable and very salvageable.
The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That nomination, Historic Augusta has said, “suggests that Goodale is one of the oldest structures in Georgia to survive in a relatively unaltered condition.”
Other Augusta homes from the same time period have been saved. The Ezekiel Harris House, dating to 1797, was fully restored in 1964 and is considered by the Smithsonian Guide to Historic America as “the finest 18th-century house surviving in Georgia.”
The curators of Meadow Garden might take issue with that. That’s the Augusta home of George Walton, a Georgia
signer of the Declaration of Independence. It is Georgia’s oldest museum that was formerly a home.
If the Goodale House’s current owner can restore it, or sell it to someone who will, one of Georgia’s oldest pieces of history can be deservedly rescued.
“I think it helps to have organizations that are keyed into that and constantly remind people that this is a historic city that has historic buildings that need to be preserved,” said Erick Montgomery, Historic Augusta’s executive director. “You don’t have to give up progress and new development by sacrificing your old buildings, and it’s proved to be successful in many cities.”
Historic Augusta recently released its annual Endangered Properties List of historic buildings that are in danger of being lost through neglect or encroaching development. The list itself is not legally binding, and its designations can’t protect property. But the list should be a primer for anyone who cares about local history and wants to see it preserved. Historic Augusta has helped many, many owners through the process of restoring and caring for historic property.
One of the properties on this year’s list is the old First Baptist Church on Greene Street. As an ornate structure that sits on the site where the Southern Baptist Convention first met in 1845, it is crying out to be rescued.
And it sits on a block of Greene Street that already has some historical preservation success stories.
“You’ve got the new library on one end and First Baptist on the other end, but in the middle, look at all the houses that have been rehabbed recently,” Montgomery said. Buildings there include a single-family home, a small apartment complex and an accountant’s office, “whereas five years ago, three of those houses had an uncertain future,” he said. “So one thing leads to another. If you can get one house done, then that encourages someone to do the one next to it, and the one around the corner.”
That’s how historic preservation works best – incrementally. “You get one building here and one building there and before long you’ve got the whole street,” Montgomery said.
When Montgomery arrived here in the late 1980s, “Broad Street was full of empty buildings and derelict buildings,” he said. “Now the sore thumbs seem to stick out. But if you’ve been here a while and been watching it, you can’t help but feel proud of how far we’ve come.”
Historic Macon has said that Tremont Temple can be redeveloped as a food court with four tenants.
What does the future hold for the Goodale House? Hopefully, a future in which one of Georgia’s oldest homes can be saved.