Include past in our future

Augusta's oldest historic buildings shouldn't be left to decay

“If you ignore them, they’ll go away.” That piece of advice works in a lot of situations.

Sadly, it works too well for historic buildings.

You see far too much neglected property all around Augusta. The buildings are like forgotten tombstones – choked with weeds, their exteriors battered by the elements.

But at least they’re still standing, ripe for potential renovation. Others succumb to worse fates.

Take the 115-year-old house at 1425 Broad St. It was one of 40 homes on Broad and Jones streets financed by Augusta department store owner J.B. White. After the St. Sebastian Way road project was completed, the house occupied a plum corner lot that would have made a showcase location for a well-renovated Victorian home.

But apparently a homeless person trying to keep warm sent the building’s potential literally up in smoke. Firefighters arrived at the house late Oct. 21 to find the house aflame.

There are two similar J.B. White houses next to 1425 Broad – abandoned, boarded up and ripe for the same fate. And that’s unacceptable.

The preservation group Historic Augusta can help. It has helped many people preserve at-risk property, and each year it releases a list of Augusta’s endangered buildings with the greatest historical significance.

This year’s list includes the Goodale House, one of the oldest houses in Georgia. It sits on what used to be a 500-acre plantation established by Thomas Goodale, the operator of the Sand Bar Ferry, in 1740. The 1799 house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The list also includes pieces of Augusta’s African-American history, such as the home of Dr. S.S. Johnson, a prominent physician and pharmacist. Other homes include the former residences of the Rev. C.T. Walker, founder of the distinguished Tabernacle Baptist Church; and of W.S. Hornsby, a co-founder of the Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance Co., the first insurance provider for African-Americans in Georgia.

And before you write off renovations as being prohibitively expensive, bear in mind the words of Tennent Houston, an avid local developer of historic properties. He told us in August:

“(T)he cost of rehabilitation is almost always less than that of new construction, and the savings that come from the reuse of a well-built structure far outweigh the costs of dealing with hazardous materials and the deterioration that comes with vacancy and neglect.”

We’re aware in these uncertain economic times that Augustans have their hands full coping with their futures. But what about our past? And why can’t preserving our past be part of our future?

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