Originally created 06/29/02

Pittman: Historic DeLaigle house will be saved, restored



ON MAY 10, I wrote a guest column in The Chronicle asking the community to come to the aid of the Augusta-Richmond County Historic Preservation Commission and help save the home that Mary DeLaigle built on Greene Street in 1873. Thanks to the many good citizens who responded so magnificently and the hard work of Mayor Bob Young, we are going to save the DeLaigle house.

It's an important victory for all who labored in the cause, but keep your powder dry. We face a determined foe dressed in black judicial robes, and they expect us to fall prostrate at their feet when they demand that significant, historic buildings be destroyed. They dislike the idea of walking a reasonable distance to reach their new, palatial offices.

The historic Richmond Academy building, the Old Medical College building and the original courthouse annex are next on their "hit list." It simply makes no sense, whatsoever, to destroy these important structures, when we have a huge civic center parking lot that is empty during the daylight hours. It takes just three minutes to walk from the middle of the civic center parking lot to the front door of the Municipal Building (soon to be the new Judicial Center).

So, I suggest we all pitch in and buy our distinguished judges some fancy new walking shoes; they could use the fresh air and exercise.

I WANT TO thank those involved and briefly explain the plan to save Mary DeLaigle's house. Mrs. DeLaigle would be very proud of her descendants, who take great pride in their family's long history of service to our community. They lobbied city officials, mounted a petition drive and appeared before the Augusta Commission to urge that their ancestral home be saved, and repaired the structure's leaking roof at their own expense.

Scores of other good citizens took the time to call, e-mail and write Mayor Young and the Augusta commissioners to urge that they devise a plan to preserve the DeLaigle house. Equally gratifying was the wonderful response from architects, engineers, builders, sub-contractors and craftsmen in Richmond and nearby counties. Many offered to volunteer their professional skills, labor and materials to what can best be described as a proposed "This Old House" project to save Mrs. DeLaigle's house.

The response to my poor attempt to sound the alarm was heartwarming and reaffirms my faith that we, as a community, value our rich history and are determined to save it.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to give credit to the public officials I lambasted in my article. Many took my words good-naturedly and called to promise their personal support. I am delighted that Mayor Young has devised a plan to preserve the DeLaigle house. It's also significant to point out that, in a rare display of collaboration, all 10 Augusta commissioners have endorsed the mayor's proposal.

AS SOON AS District Attorney Danny Craig and his staff vacate the DeLaigle house, the city of Augusta will return the building to the private sector for rehabilitation and remove its tax-exempt status. The property will be appraised and transferred to the Land Bank Authority. The authority will then engage Historic Augusta, through its revolving fund, to market the property to a private sector purchaser, who will agree to properly restore the building. The DeLaigle house will be sold for the value of the land, and the proceeds will be conveyed back to the city.

Once restoration is complete, the house will be listed in the property tax books at its new appraised value. This provides the incentive for the private sector, perhaps even the DeLaigle family, to acquire the historic home and restore it.

Best of all, no public funds will be used to restore the home, although, a wise investor will want to make use of a facade grant and take advantage of the state and federal tax incentives available for historic properties. It's a sound plan and Mayor Young is to be commended for putting the package together.

TO EVERYONE involved in the effort to save the historic DeLaigle house, I extend my heartfelt thanks for your concern and support.

(Editor's note: The writer is the chairman of the Augusta-Richmond County Historic Preservation Commission.)