by Jana Riley
In the ever-changing varied landscape of the city of Augusta, the architecture and history are unmatched, offering a visually captivating journey through time with a simple stroll down one of its streets. Stories of eras past are told through the stone and brick facades of downtown businesses, through the arches and columns of craftsman homes in adjacent neighborhoods, and in the hallways and entrances of various schools in the region.
A unique city with rich history, Augusta is one whose past has been at least in part preserved thanks to the team at Historic Augusta, Incorporated, a private non-profit whose mission is "to preserve and protect historically or architecturally significant sites in Augusta and Richmond County, Georgia."
Historic Augusta was charted in 1965 when members of the community began to notice a disturbing trend of demolishing older structures to make way for new buildings and parking lots, often to keep up with the demand of more automobiles on the road after World War II.
The trend was a phenomenon witnessed far and wide, and national attention to the unceasing demolition later led to the passing of the National Historical Preservation Act in 1966.
In Augusta, residents were saddened to see the grand courthouse, the city hall, the train station and other significant buildings torn down. A small group banded together to create Historic Augusta, Inc. with the intent of saving as many structures as possible from the wrecking ball. The organization recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
One of the most powerful actions of Historic Augusta, Inc. was the creation of their real estate program in 1968, a venture focused on utilizing its members and their connections to bring together buyers and sellers of historic real estate.
Through the program, the team identifies at-risk historically or architecturally significant buildings, lists them on their website, calls upon potentially interested members to consider a purchase, and often secures preservation easements to provide for the protection of the structures in perpetuity.
Once a location is listed on the master list of "Endangered Properties," it remains on there until it is saved or lost. While every demolition is deeply upsetting for the team, the victories in sales, or "saves," are causes for triumphant celebration.
The responsibility to purchase and restore the childhood home of a former president rested solely in their hands.
Occasionally, upon encountering a particularly significant, yet overlooked property, the members of Historic Augusta feel compelled to do more than join buyer and seller. Most notable is the home at 419 Seventh Street, which served as the boyhood home of President Woodrow Wilson.
The house changed hands and varying levels of upkeep over the years until 1991, when it went to auction. After raising the required capital, they purchased the home and spent ten years painstakingly restoring it to its 1860 appearance.
In 1995, Historic Augusta purchased the home next door, which served as Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar's boyhood home, and began extensive rehabilitation on the dilapidated building. In 2001, the Woodrow Wilson home was opened as a house museum with the Joseph Lamar house serving as its visitor's center and headquarters of Historic Augusta.
Now, the organization runs tours of the president's home in an effort to bring more light to the unique history of the area.
Held each May during National Preservation Month, this self-paced walking tour provides an intimate look inside more than a dozen historic buildings and loft spaces in the Augusta Downtown Historic District.
Led by costumed "spirit" guides, this unique tour of Augusta's cemeteries shares the interesting history of the cemetery. Along the way, you'll meet the cemetery's "residents" and hear their stories.
A perfect tour to celebrate the holiday season. During the month of December, the Civil War era home will be decorated in period holiday style with fresh evergreens.