Originally created 07/31/05

Woman's love of history led to preservation group



Summer vacations can inspire a lifetime of memories. A family trip that Jane Crayton Davis took when she was 15 made a lasting impression.

The Aiken resident said she vividly remembers a monthlong trip she took with her mother and brother from their home in LaGrange, Ga., to Connecticut to visit a friend. Along the way, they explored air fields, Civil War battlefields and East Coast architecture.

Because of the impressions from the trip, Mrs. Davis helped start the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation 15 years ago.

"I've been interested since I was a teenager because my mother was interested in architecture," she said. "I just grew up looking at old houses."

The Palmetto Trust, which recognized Mrs. Davis for her preservation efforts at an event at Rose Hill Estate on July 22, is South Carolina's only statewide partner with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

"People like Jane are the reason we exist," said Cindy NeSmith, the Palmetto Trust director. "She has spent untold hours - and blood, sweat, tears and cash - to preserve the past for future generations."

The Palmetto Trust finances its preservation efforts with a revolving fund from which it purchases and resells historic properties.

The Palmetto Trust differs from the National Register of Historic Places by preserving its historic structures in perpetuity with preservation easements, Ms. NeSmith said.

"When the Palmetto Trust buys a house and resells it," Mrs. Davis said, "they put a restriction on it."

The owner of a Palmetto Trust property must check with the organization before making any changes to the structure, she said.

A listing on the National Register indicates that a property has historic value, but it does not guarantee preservation, Ms. NeSmith said.

The trust frequently supports and partners with preservation organizations in South Carolina's larger cities, she said.

However, she said, "We really have made an emphasis on smaller communities that don't have the infrastructures to save their structures."

Many of the trust's preservation efforts are concentrated on small homes that might be overlooked by other organizations, Mrs. Davis said.

Ms. NeSmith said the Palmetto Trust has saved about 12 structures statewide in its 15 years.

"More people understand the value of historic preservation," she said. "But the challenges of historic preservation are greater than they ever have been."

Preservation trusts often compete for money with organizations that are combatting social problems, she said. In addition, many of the homes are in areas that have evolved from neighborhoods into commercial districts.

Although the organization has no easements in Aiken, Ms. NeSmith said, "We know that there are some properties in Aiken that need to be preserved."

Historic structures allow us to "absorb how people lived," Mrs. Davis said. "It gives you a feeling of what the town was like in the olden days. It gives you a feeling of history just to look at these buildings."

For more information about the Palmetto Trust, call Ms. NeSmith at 896-6234.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.