Originally created 10/24/06

Embrace the past and the future



Too often people look so intently toward the future that, to their detriment, the past is ignored. So you would think that, in a city founded in 1736, a lot of residents would want to cling to parts of their community that reflect its interesting history.

But in Augusta, that's not necessarily so.

That's why the preservation group Historic Augusta Inc. needs all the support it can get in its effort to rescue the city's aging historical buildings and homes.

A century-old boarding school and orphanage for African-American girls sits in sad neglect on Twelfth Street. An antebellum, Greek Revival home on D'Antignac Street is choked with weeds as it plunges into decay. Three Victorian homes alone on the 1200 block of Greene Street face uncertain futures. A fourth building on that block, the old Greene Street Presbyterian Church, was hailed in The Augusta Chronicle as "a model of beauty" when it opened to worshippers in 1906. In 2006, its beauty is fading fast.

Why would any property owner reject the opportunity to preserve a historical structure? Improve the building and your property value goes up. It beautifies your community. Workers doing the preservation are performing jobs you created, which improves the local economy. And when you're done, you can enjoy your attractive property or sell it for a profit. But you say you don't have the money to preserve it? Often there are grants and tax breaks available. There's little excuse not to preserve, really.

For inspiration, residents of Georgia's Second City can look to Georgia's First City, Savannah, to see the benefit of preserving a community's history. That city had the advantage of hearing its wake-up call decades ago.

In 1954, Savannahians allowed their huge City Market building, dating to the 1880s, to be torn down to erect a parking garage. But the next year, when a stately home built in 1820 was targeted for demolition - so a funeral home could expand its parking - residents spoke up and did something.

Seven ladies founded the Historic Savannah Foundation, which raised $22,500 to buy the house and save it just hours before it was to be destroyed. Today, the Isaiah Davenport House is a museum. It's also a monument to what vigorous civic action can accomplish. In no small part because of this commitment to preservation, Savannah is recognized today as having one of the most striking historical districts in the nation, attracting visitors worldwide.

Augusta likely couldn't capture the same live-oaks-and-cobblestones charm of Savannah. But it doesn't have to. Augustans need to restore their past with an eye on how these buildings can be used in the future.

Take the old depot on Reynolds Street. It's sitting on a site that is set to be occupied by condominiums. So why not incorporate the depot into the condo plans, turning it into tasteful retail space, or a multi-use facility that the whole community can enjoy?

Take Sibley Mill. It's in not one but two historic districts, making it eligible for all kinds of government funding for rehabilitation. And with the Salvation Army's Kroc Center planned nearby, perhaps Sibley Mill could be rehabbed for a purpose complementary to the Kroc.

Augustans like to talk about their city's potential, and there's plenty of it. Goodness knows we're fully supportive of progress. But in our drive toward the future, we shouldn't leave our past behind.

Visit www.historicaugusta.org on the Web. If you own historical property, or you know someone who wants to restore that kind of property - or even if you just want to find out more about how to save Augusta's past - Historic Augusta Inc. wants to talk to you.