Georgia Trust’s 2016 list of 10 ‘Places in Peril’ highlights challenges to preserve historic sites

By Maria Saporta

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation Wednesday morning released its 2016 list of the state’s “Ten Places in Peril” – hoping they will be saved like the Hancock County Courthouse in Sparta rather than be demolished like Glenridge Hall in Sandy Springs.

Glenridge Hall

An exterior view of Glenridge Hall as it was a year ago. Glenridge Hall was demolished earlier this year (Source: Georgia Trust)

Glenridge Hall, which was one of the “Ten Places in Peril” in last year’s list, was demolished in early 2015 despite valiant attempts by the Trust and other preservationists to save it.

On the other hand, the Hancock County Courthouse – which also had been on the 2015 list – now is being reconstructed after a fire destroyed much of its interior in 2014.

“This is the Trust’s 11th annual ‘Places in Peril’ list,” said Mark C. McDonald, president and CEO of the Trust. “We hope the list will continue to bring preservation solutions to Georgia’s imperiled historic resources by highlighting 10 representative sites.”

The 2016 list is as diverse as Georgia’s geography.

It includes the Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta (Fulton County) to the Children of Israel Synagogue and Court of Ordinary in Augusta (Richmond County) to the Claflin School in Columbus (Muscogee County) and to the Gene Theater in McRae (Telfair County).

Hancock County Courthouse, which was on the 2015 list, now is being preserved (Source: Georgia Trust)

Hancock County Courthouse, which was on the 2015 list, now is being preserved (Source: Georgia Trust)

The 2016 list also has one unusual listing – a category by itself – which it calls the “Teardowns in Atlanta’s historic neighborhoods.”

As the Trust explains, Atlanta is home to 54 historic districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The districts represent the evolution of architecture and urban development in the years immediately following the Civil War through the mid-20th century.

Of these 54 districts, only 17 are locally designated by the City of Atlanta as Landmark or Historic Districts, offering extra layers of protection, enhancement and perpetuation of Atlanta’s cultural, social, economic and architectural history.

Rather than naming each of the neighborhoods individually or the particular historic homes and buildings at risk, the Trust decided to put all the existing housing stock of Atlanta’s historic intown neighborhoods on the list.

A desire by more people to move close in to the city has prompted a rebound of the housing market in the historic Atlanta neighborhoods, where traditional single family homes often are bought up by speculative developers and demolished so the property can be redeveloped into multi-family residences or MacMansions with little “regard to the traditional size, scale or architectural designs of existing neighborhoods,” the Georgia Trust said.

morningside home

A home in Morningside that’s for sale (Photo by Terry Kearns)

The “Places in Peril” is designed to raise awareness about Georgia’s significant historic, archaeological and cultural resources, including buildings, structures, districts, archaeological sites and cultural landscapes that are threatened by demolition, neglect, lack of maintenance, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.

The Georgia Trust encourages “owners and individuals, organizations and communities to employ proven preservation tools, financial resources and partnerships in order to reclaim, restore and revitalize historic properties that are in peril,” according to the organization.

Founded in 1973, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation is one of the country’s largest statewide, nonprofit preservation organizations. It is committed to preserving and enhancing Georgia’s communities and their diverse historic resources for the education and enjoyment of all,

The Georgia Trust generates community revitalization by finding buyers for endangered properties acquired by its “Revolving Fund;” provides design assistance to Georgia Main Street cities and encourages neighborhood revitalization; trains teachers in Georgia’s school systems to engage students to discover state and national history through their local historic resources; and, advocates for funding, tax incentives and other laws aiding preservation efforts.

The Trust will premier the 2016 list at a reception at Rhodes Hall at 6 p.m. on Nov. 11.

Here is detailed information of the 10 “Places in Peril” on the 2016 list. For additional background information and images of each site, please visit the Georgia Trust’s website with details of the 2016 list. 

Georgia Trust’s 2016 “10 Places in Peril” list:

1. Teardowns in Atlanta’s Historic Neighborhoods:

Morningside home demolished

Home in Morningside being demolished (Photo by Terry Kearns)

Atlanta is home to 54 historic districts listed in the National Register of Historic Places. These districts represent the evolution of architecture and urban development in the years immediately following the Civil War through the mid-20th century. Of these districts, only 17 are locally designated by the City of Atlanta as Landmark or Historic Districts, offering extra layers of protection, enhancement and perpetuation of Atlanta’s cultural, social, economic and architectural history.

With a rebounding housing market and a renewed desire by many to relocate to intown Atlanta, traditional, single-family homes in historic neighborhoods are routinely purchased by speculative developers and demolished to make way for new construction – often without regard to the traditional size, scale or architectural designs of existing neighborhoods.

2. Bobby Jones Golf Course (Atlanta, Fulton County)

Bobby Jones Golf Course

Bobby Jones Golf Course in Atlanta (Photo by Halston Pitman)

The Bobby Jones Golf Course, completed in 1933, was built as a public course by the City of Atlanta with the intention of honoring the golfing legend. Following the Great Depression, the formal clubhouse was completed in 1941. The course played an integral role in Atlanta’s early Civil Rights history when in 1951, Alfred “Tup” Holmes, a talented African-American amateur golfer, attempted to play a round of golf at the then segregated club. When he was denied entry, he brought suit against the City of Atlanta. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that all of Atlanta’s public courses were to be desegregated.

A recent plan for Atlanta Memorial Park recommended that the course be dramatically altered and converted into a nine-hole course and driving range. This plan would not utilize the clubhouse, and both it and the course are in danger of being drastically altered or demolished.

3. Children of Israel Synagogue and Court of Ordinary (Augusta, Richmond County)

Children of Israel synagogue

Children of Israel Synagogue in Augusta (Photo by Nick Woolever)

The Children of Israel Synagogue and the Court of Ordinary are significant mid-19th century buildings in Augusta. In 1869 the cornerstone for the Greek Revival temple-style synagogue was laid, making it the oldest standing synagogue in the state. When the congregation moved in the 1950s, the building became government offices. After several buildings were damaged by fires during the 1850s, a fireproof building was proposed for the Court of the Ordinary. Construction began in 1861 for the building which would house public records. Both buildings were vacant by 2015.

Augusta-Richmond County and Historic Augusta, Inc. have reached an agreement for the preservation of both buildings which will be used as a new Augusta Historic Jewish Museum. This agreement is contingent on reaching fundraising benchmarks and Historic Augusta, Inc. is accepting donations to be earmarked for the museum project until the museum’s nonprofit status is approved.

4. Claflin School (Columbus, Muscogee County)

Claflin School

Claflin School in Columbus (Photo by Halston Pitman)

In 1868 a schoolhouse was built in downtown Columbus to educate the African American community following the Civil War. This school eventually became part of the Muscogee County public school system and its campus was expanded in 1921, when a larger masonry building was added. The Claflin School campus was expanded again in the 1940s with the construction of a brick equalization school. The original 1868 structure was destroyed by fire in 1958, but two buildings from the first half of the 20th century remain.

In 2005 the Muscogee County School District moved their operations to a new building, boarding up Claflin’s windows and leaving the buildings vacant. The campus fell victim to vandalism, theft and deterioration. In 2014 the city of Columbus took ownership of the buildings, which require significant and costly rehabilitation.

5. Gene Theater (McRae, Telfair County)

Gene Theater

Gene Theater in McRae (Photo by Nick Woolever)

Residents of rural Telfair County once spent their Saturdays in the town of McRae at its star attraction, the Princess Theater. By 1950 the Princess was outdated and overcrowded, leading its owners to replace it with a new theater dedicated to four-time Georgia governor and Telfair county native Eugene Talmadge. Known as “The Gene,” the theater’s unique façade, designed by contemporary architect Bernard Webb, Jr., featured “Gene” in flowing script on a monumental plaid background. The vibrant theater showed movies through the 1970s, and then was used for pageants, craft shows and musical productions.

The Gene Theater has been closed since 2005. Interior elements were sold at auction in the 1990s, and a leaky roof has led to deterioration of the structure. The City of McRae lacks a historic preservation ordinance that could offer protection for the site, and the current property owners have limited resources available to restore this historic theater.

6. Hawkes Children’s Library (Jackson, Butts County)

Hawkes Children's Library

Hawkes Children’s Library in Jackson (Photo by Halston Pitman)

Albert King Hawkes was an inventor, optometrist and philanthropist who advocated the construction of libraries in rural towns in Georgia. The Hawkes Childrens’ Library in Jackson is one of only six Hawkes libraries in the state. Designed in 1924 by prominent Atlanta architect J. Neel Reid, the building served as the Butts County Library from 1925 to 1992. After 1992 the building was used as county offices for several years.

The Hawkes Library was abandoned in 2006, and deferred maintenance led to a roof collapse that destroyed most of the interior. After the collapse, the city set a demolition date for the building, but efforts from the community halted its destruction at the last minute. The roof has since been replaced, but the interior of the building remains in shambles with no ceilings or interior walls. While the structure has been stabilized, the city currently does not have the funds to fully restore the library.

7. Hudson-Nash House and Cemetery (Lilburn, Gwinnett County)

Hudson-Nash House

Hudson-Nash House in Lilburn (Photo by Halston Pitman)

Thomas P. Hudson, a Georgia legislator in the 1850s and 1860s, moved his family from South Carolina to Gwinnett County in 1839. There he purchased 542 acres and built a Plantation Plain Style house with folk Victorian elements. Other structures on the property served as a post office, general store, and a small school for residents of the nearby Yellow River community. Hudson allowed a local guard group to practice on his property and provided his community with food and necessities during the Civil War. A family cemetery is maintained adjacent to the rear of the house, and contains gravesites for Hudson, his family and slaves.

The original 542-acre tract has been divided, and most it has been developed over the years. The privately owned and poorly maintained Hudson-Nash House and the Hudson family cemetery are threatened by encroaching development. Alternatives to demolition, sub-division and development are being sought in order to preserve the historic structures and five acres of property that remain.

8. Johns Homestead (Tucker, DeKalb County)

Johns Homestead

Johns Homestead in Tucker (Photo by Halston Pitman)

The Johns Homestead is thought to have been built between 1829 and 1832. The main house is a rare example of a single pen turned saddlebag house type. Among the property’s many typical late 19th century and early 20th century outbuildings stands a historically significant dairy building. This building was constructed of rammed-earth, an ancient construction technique that became popular in the United States during the 1800s. Very few examples of vernacular rammed-earth buildings remain in Georgia, and Johns Homestead contains the only documented example in the state.

In 2004 the remaining 22 acres of the original 202-acre homestead were sold to DeKalb County. Some demolition that the County deemed necessary has already take place, and other historic structures remain in various states of disrepair. Budget cuts have left the site largely neglected and unsecured, resulting in vandalism. The property is located in a prime real estate area, which presents a constant threat of development should the property be sold.

9. Norcross Woman’s Club Old Library

Norcross Woman Club library

Norcross Woman’s Club Old Library (Photo by Halston Pitman)

The Norcross Woman’s Club was founded in 1905 by civic-minded women involved with the National Library Movement. The women approached various businessmen and philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie, for donations to support the construction of a library building and by 1921, they had raised enough funds to construct the first library in Gwinnett County. After growing to 24,000 books in circulation and 1,400 registered members by 1966, the library was relocated to a new building. The original library building was periodically used as a storage facility and a country store run by members of the Norcross Woman’s Club.

The Norcross Woman’s Club has retained ownership of the building, but they struggle with the building’s continual maintenance needs, as well as finding a sustainable use for the building. The building sits next to a vacant lot in a prime location for development. The city has rejected proposals for a historic preservation ordinance, leaving the library even more vulnerable to development.

10. Riverside Cemetery (Macon, Bibb County)

Riverside Cemetery

Riverside Cemetery in Macon (Photo: Georgia Trust)

Established in 1887 as an alternative to the public Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, the private Riverside Cemetery originally consisted of 23 acres designed by renowned landscape architect Calvert Vaux. Additional parcels of land were purchased for the cemetery’s expansion in 1902, 1929 and 1931, and were developed in sympathy with its original design. In 1966 construction of Interstate 75 split the cemetery into two sections.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is planning to construct a new elevated interchange for I-75 and I-16. This plan places retaining walls less than six feet from graves in Riverside Cemetery and calls for the removal of trees that currently serve as natural barriers to sunlight, traffic noise and pollution.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

5 replies
  1. John Ingersoll says:

    The Hancock County CH in Sparta was (is) my favorite of all 159 courthouses in Georgia. I could hardly believe its elegance, and luckily I took dozens of pictures of it over the years.Report

    Reply
  2. OvelleBarton says:

    Wish you would look into preservation of the historic old Barton Funeral Home in Adairsville, GA once a log cabin (which is enclosed in the walls of present Victorian building) and owned by founder of Adairsville. It sets on a hill overlooking the town where William Watts could look down on the land lots he owned. Later owned by Dr. Joe P. Bowdoin (who built the home as it is now). Dr. Bowdoin also was connected to the CDC and various organizations..there is a monument dedicated to home. The home is on the National Register of Historic Homes. The Barton family bought it in 1940 and lived in the upstairs while downstairs was a funeral home. Four years ago the funeral home was moved to new location and I believe this home known as “On the Hill” needs to be preserved with all the history over the years plus the foundation being on stacked rocks since 1845. There is also history with Barton Family. Thank you. June 29, 2017Report

    Reply

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