The former Atlanta Constitution newspaper building and a Gullah Geechee community facing displacement are among the “Places in Peril” on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic sites.
The 2024 list — announced Nov. 15 and dated to encourage rescue actions in the coming year — includes sites ranging from schools and churches to a mountain wilderness and an African American cemetery in Buckhead.
This is the 19th annual list from the Atlanta-headquartered Georgia Trust. The focus is on significant historic buildings or sites that face a “serious threat” to their existence or integrity and have a “demonstrable level of community commitment and support for the preservation.” The Georgia Trust particularly highlights those with active preservation efforts that the listing can promote.
W. Wright Mitchell, the Georgia Trust’s president and CEO, told SaportaReport that two items on this year’s list are especially significant to him. They are Buckhead’s Piney Grove Cemetery — the last remnants of long-gone African American communities of the 1800s — and Hogg Hummock, the Gullah Geechee community whose potential displacement by rezoning is now the subject of a Southern Poverty Law Center legal appeal. Mitchell says both cases show Georgia’s historical dynamic of wealthier, white interests finding ways to displace Black communities.
“I think it’s a perfect modern-day example of what’s happened historically to African American communities throughout the state of Georgia and especially in Atlanta…” Mitchell said of Hogg Hummock, noting that many Black communities here were displaced by redevelopment or highways. He said that juxtaposing past and present on the list “is a great way to understand marginalization” of African American people and their land-owning rights.
Mitchell took over leadership of the Georgia Trust in September. He previously founded the Buckhead Heritage Society, a move inspired by his concern for another neglected cemetery there.
Many previous “Places in Peril” have been saved with efforts from the Georgia Trust and local preservation organizations whose efforts are often highlighted by the list. The 2023 list included a historic office building at 229 Auburn Ave. in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn, which is now to be saved as part of a redevelopment that once threatened it after advocacy from the Atlanta Preservation Center.
The following are the Georgia Trust’s details of this year’s “Places in Peril” and the threats they face.
Atlanta Constitution Building (Atlanta)
This five-story Art Moderne building at 143 Alabama St. in Downtown was built in 1947 for the Atlanta Constitution during the editorship of future Pulitzer Prize-winning editor Ralph McGill, a supporter of the Civil Rights movement. Its newspaper use ceased in 1955 when the Constitution merged with the Atlanta Journal to create today’s AJC. Georgia Power then occupied the building until 1972. It has been vacant ever since, with failed redevelopment proposals from the Georgia Department of Transportation and private developers.
Concerns about its future have been frequently raised by the Atlanta Preservation Center. The location is near Five Points, the founding spot of the city. “A landmark in Atlanta, now is the time for the Constitution Building to serve as the heart of a downtown revitalization,” says the Georgia Trust. The AJC, currently based in Sandy Springs, intends to move back into Atlanta next year — though to somewhere in Midtown.
Broad Avenue Elementary (Albany)
Dating to the 1930s, this school building ceased operations in 2005. Despite being a contributing structure in a local historic district, it is “under threat of condemnation and demolition due to its deteriorated condition.” SOWEGA Rising, a nonprofit, took ownership in 2019 and intends to rehabilitate it into a “rural innovation center” for students and entrepreneurs. “Significant fundraising is required to bring this vision to reality while preserving and revitalizing this historic structure,” says the Georgia Trust.
Cedar Grove (Martinez)
This 1851 Italianate house in Columbia County near Augusta is named after cedar trees planted out front. Our Savior Episcopal Church has owned it since 1964, using part of it as a sanctuary and event space. The county’s first integrated kindergarten program operated there from 1970 to 1980. The building is now challenged by the discovery of mold, ongoing maintenance costs, and the “needs and capacity” of the congregation. “Advocates hope that raising awareness will help identify a thoughtful approach to its preservation,” says the Georgia Trust.
Church of the Good Shepherd (Thomasville)
This South Georgia church was built in 1894 by an African American congregation, with a site that includes a classroom and library that hosted Thomasville’s first African American Boy Scout troop. The church continues to operate a food pantry, soup kitchen and community garden. But the small congregation has challenges, with all three buildings in peril from deferred “major repairs” and other issues. “A commitment to preservation is required of the broader community to assist the Church in its effort to maintain its buildings and its history of service,” says the Georgia Trust.
Grace Baptist Church (Darien)
Built in the 1890s by an African American congregation, this church is on one of the original squares of Darien, one of Georgia’s oldest cities. The congregation disbanded in the 1990s. In April 2022, an oak tree fell on the church, heavily damaging it. The City in May 2023 “issued a citation that may lead to demolition of the property,” says the Georgia Trust, while local advocates and remaining church trustees hope to find funding and a case for reuse.
Hogg Hummock (Sapelo Island)
Hogg Hummock has been the subject of repeated controversy about displacement of its Gullah Geechee community. The Gullah Geechee are an African American group with its own language and cultural traditions descended from enslaved people who formed communities in the Lowcountry and along the Atlantic Ocean coast between North Carolina and Florida. The Geechee often refers specifically to Georgia’s Gullah communities.
Sapelo, a large island on the coast roughly between Brunswick and Savannah, was the site of plantations whose enslaved population became the foundation of a Gullah Geechee community. In the 1930s, most of the island was bought by an heir to the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco fortune, whose property acquisitions forced the Gullah Geechee residents into the single community of Hogg Hummock. The family later sold the majority of the island to the state in the 1950s.
Today, roughly 30 people remain in Hogg Hummock, a decline from more than 100 in the early 2000s. The community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Hogg Hummock has been involved in repeated legal controversies with McIntosh County over attempts to displace the community. Last year, the community and the County settled a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging the county government provided unequal services and attempted to displace it with property tax increases. This year, the County sparked another controversy by passing new zoning regulations allowing much larger houses in Hogg Hummock that could lead to gentrification and displacement. The move also drew criticism for a lack of public input and hearings that may have violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act. The Southern Poverty Law Center and a private law firm have filed a legal appeal alleging racial discrimination.
The Georgia Trust cites the rezoning as one way Hogg Hummock “faces persistent pressures that threaten the historic fabric of their community.”
Old First Baptist Church (Augusta)
This historic Beaux Arts church was built in 1902 and designed by Willis Denny, a prominent architect who also designed Rhodes Hall, the Georgia Trust’s headquarters. Among significant historical events that happened there was the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Now privately owned, it is “in a state of disrepair,” according to the Georgia Trust, which adds, “Local advocates continue to work with the owner to identify viable reuse opportunities, development partners and financial incentives that can be used to bring the space back to its former glory.”
Pine Log Mountain (Bartow County)
This privately owned wilderness in Northeast Georgia has historic resources spanning centuries. They include a rock wall and burial cairns built by indigenous peoples; four 1840s-era stone iron furnaces used in mining; and remains of the Sugar Hill Convict Labor Camp, whose cruelties helped end a system of using prisoners as slave labor. The Georgia Trust says the property is now for sale following the end of a lease to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the County has plans to rezone it for various types of redevelopment and mining. “Many of the historic resources have not been surveyed, and there is no preservation plan currently in place to protect these historic sites,” says the Georgia Trust.
Piney Grove Cemetery (Atlanta)
This African American burial ground dates to the 1800s and is the final resting place for over 300 people, likely including enslaved people. Today, it is tucked amid residential and commercial developments between Ga. 400 and Lenox Road in Buckhead. As the AJC reported, the cemetery is not maintained amid a responsibility dispute with the homeowners’ association of an adjacent condo complex built in 2017. A group called Friends of Piney Grove Cemetery — including descendants of those buried there – has been working to preserve it, with support and funding from such organizations as the Buckhead Heritage Society, the Buckhead Coalition and the Rotary Club of Buckhead. “Piney Grove Cemetery serves as an important marker for Atlanta’s history, and its preservation is essential to the city’s cultural fabric,” says the Georgia Trust.
Sugar Valley Consolidated School (Sugar Valley)
This Gordon County school operated from 1927 to 1974 and since then has served as a community center, voting precinct and event space. An alumni association works with the County on repairs and maintenance. Now the County has deemed the building “unsafe” and plans to demolish it for replacement with a fire station, according to the Georgia Trust, adding, “The threat to this historic school is imminent, jeopardizing the preservation of its rich history and significance to the community.”