Originally created 02/24/02

Historic charm



Even in a neighborhood with weedy, vacant lots and boarded-up houses, the front yard looked like a wilderness - but Isaac Johnson knew that in that wilderness was a 70-year-old stucco house with a slice of Augusta history.

"I fell in love with it," said Mr. Johnson, a lifelong Augustan and preservationist who cut his teeth as a historian researching Springfield Baptist Church and Springfield Village.

The 1930s cottage in the Sand Hills area off Wheeler Road was built by Adrian Clark, a black contractor. With three bedrooms, a bath, a spacious dining room and kitchen, it had plenty of room for a bachelor such as Mr. Johnson, who loves to cook piles of spaghetti for friends and relatives.

He sold his house in downtown Augusta and moved into the 2,600-square-foot Sand Hills cottage about 15 years ago. He became an urban pioneer, committed to saving the neighborhood.

He cleared about 30 trees from the half-acre lot but spared the tall oaks in the front and back yards and the azaleas, planted long before Mr. Johnson saw the house.

The front porch's arches gave the house a Spanish look.

Mr. Johnson painted the interior, upgraded the electric lights, stripped paint off interior doors and refinished hardwood floors. He added a bath last year.

When he pulled up the asbestos linoleum from the kitchen floor, he found hardwood beneath and decided he liked the look. "It holds up good," he said. "And I work in here a lot."

He kept the tongue-and-groove ceiling on the back porch when he enclosed it to accommodate a washer and dryer about five years ago. At the same time, he added a sink and a garbage disposal. The original sink in the kitchen is still in use, he said, but "you cannot put a garbage disposal in it."

When friends come over, he loves to cook bowls of spaghetti or his own concoction of shrimp, bell peppers, celery, rice and seasonings. For the Springfield Village Park dedication this month, he created a chili casserole.

"It was like making a lasagna. When it comes out, it looks like a pan of cornbread, but when you dip into it, you've got the chili, the Cheddar, cream cheese and onion (layers)," he said.

A breakfast room connects the kitchen to the dining room, where two dining-room suites sit side by side. Both blond wood and contemporary, one was a gift from a nephew, he said.

With the addition of a small table set for four, he can serve 20.

Silver serving dishes, gifts from friends and relatives, are displayed in the room. "I have never bought a piece of silver," he said.

In the living room, a mirror hangs over an exposed-brick fireplace. "I tried to keep as much of the original house as I could," Mr. Johnson said.

The living room's couch and a pair of wing chairs are in earth tones.

He uses one bedroom as a den. Photographs of nieces, nephews and his 1961 classmates from Lucy Laney High School are mounted on the walls.

Moldings over doorways do double duty. He uses them to display his collections, including name tags he wore at preservation conferences. He has spoken several times for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington.

He has found that it takes more than one voice to change neighborhoods such as Sand Hills, but he enjoys lobbying, he said. "Once you try it, it is very simple. You just have to talk and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to do."

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.