College president enjoys historic downtown

When friends visit Augusta, Terry Elam serves as a tour guide, showing off what sets his city apart from others -- its historic downtown.

Many cities can boast new developments in their suburbs, but few have a downtown as rich in history as Augusta, Mr. Elam, president of Augusta Technical College, said.

While much of the city's downtown perished in the fire of 1916, historic sites on and around Telfair Street survived, he said. Many visitors, however, don't realize the history captured in many of these buildings.

Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta Inc., said winds and floating embers spread the fire, which devastated block of downtown. Some areas, though, were spared.

The Old Government House on Telfair, for instance, is one, which holds particular memories for Mr. Elam. It was there that he worked as a caterer when he was in his 20s, and it was there that he met Prince Andrew, Duke of York, in 2004.

Only a couple of doors down from the Old Government House, however, is the home owned by Amanda America Dickson, a structure with particular significance, he said.

Although difficult to prove, Ms. Dickson was considered the wealthiest black woman in the nation in the 19th century, Mr. Montgomery said. She was the daughter of both a plantation owner and a slave, but he called it an anomaly that her father accepted her and her mother into his house.

When her father died, she won a court case that upheld his will passing on his assets to her, Mr. Montgomery said.

Augusta is as historic as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., Mr. Elam said. Often, the city's visitors are familiar with the historic spots along Broad and Reynolds streets, but other sites get overlooked.

It would just take someone with initiative and a van to begin giving official tours throughout downtown, he said.

"We've got all of these wonderful historic sites, but we've got no ribbon that connects them," he said.

As someone involved in economic development, Mr. Elam takes a particular interest in the way Augusta's downtown has evolved.

Growing up here, he walked the streets of downtown when retail stores dominated the area, he said. That has since given way to businesses and now new developments.

Mr. Elam said it makes him proud seeing the buildings being redeveloped and reused.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.


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YOUR AUGUSTA

"Among the wonderful places to visit are the Enterprise Mill including a tour of the canal, the Augusta History Museum and the Boyhood Home of Woodrow Wilson. These should not be missed."

-- Marilyn Smith