I recently learned from Janet Brock and Joy Hobbs that this Victorian landmark, long one Ashburn’s grandest homes, is in immediate danger of being lost. They commented out of concern for the ongoing loss of local history, as many who follow this site often do and I was so alarmed that I posted an update about its status on the Vanishing South Georgia Facebook page. In just a few hours, over 16,000 people viewed the post and shared a collective sadness about its impending fate. One of the most poignant responses came from Debbie Dixon, the granddaughter of a former owner,: “This was my grandmother’s house. I spent my summers there and my mother grew up in this house. So sad they would do this.” Another comment from a county commissioner in another part of Georgia was more humorous: “Move the bank. Save the house!‘ Elaine Conner, who lived in Ashburn for thirty years wrote: “…it was used for many functions when the bank was a locally owned bank. Then a larger bank bought out Community National Bank and it now is South Georgia Bank…my heart breaks to hear it’s in jeopardy!!!” John Ingersoll notes that he knew an Emory alumnus “who was visiting the Thrashers after church Sunday afternoon when Pearl Harbor came on the radio. Oh, please do not move this historic structure.” So the history of the house is palpable and crosses generations.
The house is owned by South Georgia Bank, whose main office sits directly adjacent to the property; they desire to expand their drive-through banking facility and therefore want the structure removed. Apparently, they are open to essentially giving the house away to anyone who can afford the high cost of having it relocated. (My initial understanding of this was a bit incorrect; I don’t think they will literally give it away, but perhaps sell it low if they even can sell it. See Ben Baker’s comments elsewhere in this post). I don’t know if this implies an individual or a non-profit organization. And repairs not visible to the eye in this photograph could run upwards of $100,000. So it’s not a mission just anyone could take on. If you’re that person or organization, please contact the bank!
I spoke with Mayor Jim Hedges of Ashburn, who has been very receptive to input on similar local historical issues in the past, and he voiced his concern that he hopes it can be saved. He noted that the Downtown Development Authority doesn’t have the resources to move it and update it and that the Turner County Development Authority hasn’t shown a serious interest, either. He’s still working on possible solutions and he genuinely understands its importance to Ashburn. He’s open to serious suggestions. I have to say that Jim is unusual in that he responds to these issues quickly and honestly, something I appreciate since I’m not trying to politicize the issue to begin with. I’m just sharing information.
And here’s some valuable insight from Wiregrass-Farmer publisher Ben Baker: “This is a complicated issue. Moving the house will cost quite a bit. There’s no nearby location suitable for the house. There’s also the question of the original purchase contract signed between the people who sold the house and Community National Bank (now South Georgia Bank). Those selling the house believe part of the contract requires the bank to maintain the home. Still checking on that. The house is part of the Ashburn Historic District and doing anything to affect the exterior, or moving it, requires the approval of the Historic Preservation Commission (which I sit on.) The HPC is working VERY hard to find a way to preserve this amazing home, but absolutely does not have money to do so by itself. Moving the house, from what HPC has learned so far, means moving it in two sections. This begs another question, is the old building structurally sound enough to sustain that kind of work? Can it handle being sectioned? Can it handle being moved at all?”
And the reality is sad. There are houses like this throughout the United States in danger of being lost. Many are lost every day. They’ve been neglected in one way or another over time and the cost of renovating or stabilizing them is astronomical. Figure in higher utility bills, the constant need to repaint and other variables and it’s not any easy thing. Few people in small towns these days can afford such expenses and it’s really no one’s fault. Even the bank, whom many will want to blame, isn’t in the preservation business. I just hope that as people learn about the value of places like this there won’t be as many lost in the future.
As of 25 April 2017, I’m told that demolition is imminent.