Include past in our future

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

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“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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Riverman1 12/31/11 - 08:10 am
An important editorial. We

An important editorial. We can't let them do a "historectomy" of our old buildings. We have to save our historic structures in Augusta and build new public buildings with a theme that keeps the character of our early American city. I read national publications that describe cities and one of the favorable aspects often mentioned about the city of Augusta is our historic character. You will never be sorry for saving a historic building.

About the cost of such restorations actually being cheaper, I'll defer to the expert, but I'll point out tax breaks also go to those who undertake such renovations of historic buildings.

scott-hudson 12/31/11 - 08:13 am
Bravo ACEB for this important

Bravo ACEB for this important reminder. We have had success in the past, the Red Star Theatre being one, but other great old structures like the old A.M.E. Church and the old Richmond Academy building need help. Paul King and Clay Boardman have done wonders with some of these old buildings but even their pockets only run so deep. Part of Augusta's charm is in its old buildings...I have committed that when I make my first million off my retail store I am buying Jessamine Hill if they will sell it to me...but I aint made that million yet!

Fundamental_Arminian 12/31/11 - 08:55 am
Though I enjoy historic

Though I enjoy historic buildings, I oppose using Historic Augusta or other forms of shadow government to restrict the rights of property owners. Certainly an individual or a private group that so chooses may buy and restore old buildings, but we should remember that no building is ours if we don't own it.

Property owners' rights are far more important than old buildings. We're supposed to be a nation whose citizens enjoy the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (a/k/a property).

omnomnom 12/31/11 - 11:39 am
perhaps the county will

perhaps the county will reconsider that blanket rezoning of south augusta from farmland to residential... higher taxes mean property owners are usually forced to sell out.. ending up with tract housing.. more homes in a county with basically stagnant population.. means older homes stay empty longer..

harley_52 12/31/11 - 01:18 pm
My opinion on this is pretty

My opinion on this is pretty much the same as it is with telling a restaurant/bar owner he can't let people smoke in his establishment.

If you own the property, you have the right to decide how it's used.

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