Sweet Auburn office building is among Georgia Trust’s 10 historic ‘Places in Peril’
By John Ruch
A Sweet Auburn office building nearly lost to redevelopment is among the “Places in Peril” on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of the 10 most endangered historic sites.
The 2023 list — announced Nov. 16 and dated to encourage rescue actions in the coming year — includes five metro Atlanta sites and others statewide, ranging from schools to a semi-ruined mill.
This is the 18th 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.
Many sites on previous lists have been saved or at least not lost yet. Among those on last year’s list was the site of Atlanta’s Chattahoochee Brick Company, which notoriously used slave labor by prisoners. The City this year moved ahead on plans to preserve the site as a memorial and park.
“We hope the list will continue to bring preservation solutions to Georgia’s imperiled historic resources by highlighting ten representative sites,” said Georgia Trust President and CEO Mark C. McDonald in a press release.
The local Atlanta Preservation Center (APC) led the advocacy this year on saving the 229 Auburn Ave. office building, which the Georgia Trust joined. APC Executive Director David Yoakley Mitchell successfully nominated that building as well as the Old Campbell County Courthouse in Fairburn to this year’s list, showing the two preservation nonprofits’ continued alignment on specific advocacy efforts.
“The connection of these two significant and vulnerable structures being identified and shared with the entire state exemplifies a genuine desire to see our culture and identity both maintained and preserved,” said Mitchell. “As we all continue to better understand ourselves, these places will serve as guides to improve this work. The partnerships being made in this process make it very satisfying to be bringing attention to the meaningful work of historic preservation.”
The following are the Georgia Trust’s details of this year’s “Places in Peril” and the threats they face.
229 AUBURN AVE.
Dating from sometime between 1892 and 1908, this long-vacant office building in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn housed Georgia’s first state-chartered Black-owned bank and a branch of the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, an important Black-owned business. That makes it a significant survivor of the neighborhood’s origins as a bastion of Black community wealth and independence in the Jim Crow era of racist segregation and violence.
Long endangered by neglect, the building this year faced a City demolition order due to its condition and driven by a plan to replace it and much of its block with a mixed-use redevelopment including affordable housing, as SaportaReport first revealed. Under public pressure, the developers – the Butler Street Community Development Corporation (CDC) and Gorman & Company – agreed to save the office building and incorporate it into the plan.
“While owners and developers are in the planning process, the rehabilitation and sensible reuse of 229 Auburn is vital to the long-term preservation of this district to maintain its national significance,” says the Georgia Trust.
There is also a bigger context of preservation, as the CDC also owns and has reuse plans for two other historic buildings across the street: Butler Street YMCA and the 1948 Walden Building.
BEULAH GROVE LODGE AND SCHOOL
This combination of a Masonic lodge and a school in Douglasville was built around 1910 as the brainchild of Jack Smith, who had been enslaved and provided land in 1881 for the plan and the neighboring Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. The building has not been in regular use for nearly 40 years.
“Beulah Grove Lodge and School stands as an important piece of history in the Jim Crow South,” says the Georgia Trust, noting that Douglas County recently added it to the South Georgia Scenic Bypass Route, a state-promoted tourism effort, “encouraging those involved to see this important historic site saved.”
CHICKAMAUGA MASONIC LODGE NO. 221
This Prince Hall Masons lodge was founded in 1916 by formerly enslaved and first-generation freed African Americans. The original building burned and the current one dates to 1924. The lodge also was home to the Walker County African American VFW in the 1940s and the Order of the Eastern Star in the same period.
“The interior and exterior of the building need repair. Pressing needs include a new roof and structural evaluation,” says the Georgia Trust. “Now cared for by local Masons from other regional lodges, the building remains an important space for the African American community in Chickamauga.”
DASHER HIGH SCHOOL
This former school in Valdosta was built in 1928 for African American students and is the only remaining school building from that era. Among its prominent graduates was Louis E. Lomax, the nation’s first African American television journalist. The building is now used as a community center and Coastal Plain Area Economic Opportunity Authority services for low-income households, but parts are unsafe. “The Economic Opportunity Authority, in partnership with the Valdosta Heritage Foundation and a local Rotary Club chapter, hopes to preserve this part of Valdosta’s African American legacy by restoring Dasher High School and utilizing it to better serve its residents,” says the Georgia Trust.
DUDLEY MOTEL, CAFE AND SERVICE STATION
This small motel in Dublin in Laurens County was opened in 1958 by Herbert “Hub” Dudley to serve Black travelers in the Civil Rights era, with guests including Martin Luther King Jr. and Andrew Young. It was listed in African American travel guides, such as the Green Book. It shuttered in the 1980s and has remained vacant, but its original details remain intact.
“Although it has been identified as a significant site with potential for heritage tourism, a preservation plan is needed to protect and rehabilitate the hotel, both for its cultural significance and its example of mid-century architecture,” says the Georgia Trust.
LEE’S MILL RUINS
This ruined mill on the Flint River in Forest Park may predate the Civil War and was in operation until 1933 with the death of W.L. Lee, leader of the family that owned it. The wooden part of the structure stood as late as 1946. But the mill is now in ruins and harmed by runoff from surrounding industrial developments and vandalism from trespassers on the unsecured private land. “
Today, the ruins of Lee’s Mill are a small pocket of Georgia’s rural past, tucked into the shadows of industrial expansion,” says the Georgia Trust. “…Stabilization efforts will allow this tangible connection to a rural past to be saved for future appreciation of a history that can be difficult to discern in such an intensively developed portion of the state.”
Dating to the late 1830s, this house in Milton was built by Brigadier General and state Senator Eli McConnell, who enslaved people and “worked to mediate conflict between Native Americans and white settlers in the area and to sell property after the 1838 Cherokee Removal,” the Georgia Trust says. He helped to found the town of Hickory Flat and advocated for the creation of Milton County, which is now part of Fulton County. The house is also architecturally significant for its Greek Revival design. Today, it is vacant and threatened by development.
“The preservation of this historic house has the potential to allow the public to understand a full history of the area, including McConnell’s role in the forced removal of native Cherokee, white expansion through the land lottery system, and development of the area through local and state politics,” says the Georgia Trust.
OLD CAMPBELL COUNTY COURTHOUSE
This historic courthouse in Fairburn in what is now Fulton County suffered a serious fire in August after two years of vacancy. It was built in 1871 as one of the last Greek Revival buildings in Georgia and operated until 1932 when Campbell County was annexed into Fulton. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976 and formerly housed the local historical society.
“Members of the community hope to gather support to stabilize and rehabilitate this historic courthouse, using the opportunity to develop and implement a successful plan to return the building to productive use,” says the Georgia Trust.
WILKES COUNTY TRAINING SCHOOL
Built in Washington in 1956, this structure was what was known as an “equalization school” – an attempt by the state to maintain segregated education with higher-quality schools for African American students. In 1970, a previously segregated white high school was merged on the campus, with that element renamed the Washington Wilkes Comprehensive High School.
“Vacant since 2011, the Training School is a vital resource in telling the local and state history of African American public education,” says the Georgia Trust. “The building suffers from a lack of maintenance and deterioration. Involved residents hope to see Wilkes County Training School restored, used as a new space for the community, and recognized as an important piece of local heritage.”
This house in Ringgold was built in the late 1830s by Presley and Rachel Thedford Yates near Yates Springs. Presley Yates received the land in the Cherokee Land Lottery of 1832. He served as a delegate to the Georgia Secession Convention in 1861 – where the state voted to leave the Union amid the turmoil that led to the Civil War – and voted against secession despite being an enslaver.
“Because of the house’s location next to a critical water source, which provides much of Catoosa County’s clean water supply, public access and intensive rehabilitation are not currently viable,” says the Georgia Trust. “The house has been vandalized on several occasions and needs improved security. The options for saving the Yates House may be limited, but the property owner, local historical society and community advocates are eager to collaborate on opportunities to preserve this early resource and its unique history.”