Ashburn’s Historic Thrasher House Could Soon Be Gone

ashburn-ga-thrasher-house-photograph-copyright-brian-brown-vanishing-south-georgia-usa-2014Thrasher House, Circa 1900 © Brian Brown

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.


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23 Comments

Filed under --TURNER COUNTY GA--, Ashburn GA

23 responses to “Ashburn’s Historic Thrasher House Could Soon Be Gone

  1. David Baldwin

    According to the Wiregrass Farmer, the Thrasher House was built in 1906 by Clarence Emmett Thrasher, a young farmer at the time, a cotton warehouseman,and later president of the Ashburn Bank. He had a son, Tigner Thrasher, who was the youngest mayor of Ashburn, and one of the youngest to serve as a representative in the Ga. assembly at his time. The son was an honor graduate of Emory University. This group of Thrashers are from Watkinsville, Georgia. Dr. Tigner Hester Thrasher came to Ashburn in the early days. His influence brought Dr. James Baxter, an understudy, to Ashburn. He is the father of famed English teacher, Miss Florence Baxter. When my great grandmother, Ola Thrasher Jackson’s husband died, she come to Ashburn to be a mid wife to help Dr. Thrasher. Annelle Thrasher Murphy, the daughter of Dr. Thrasher and the organ player at the Methodist church, is also part of this clan. Finally, Barton Thrasher, Sr. lawyer and brother to Clarence Emmett Thrasher’s father, Issac Thrasher, stayed in Watkinsville, but his son, Barton Edmond Thrasher, Jr. was the State Auditor during the Eugene Talmadge administration and it was said by a representative from St. Marys that Gene didn’t spend any money until Barton gave the ok. The Wiregrass records only a few visits by Issac Thrasher to Ashburn. He was a farmer in Watkinsville.

    Ashburn has a number of lovely home. The Sparrow’s Nest was built in the 1890’s. The Evans house was built in 1897. Among others.

  2. Can’t they expand the drive through in a different position so history can be saved? Architects are paid GOOD money to design. I believe it can be done. If someone really wanted to preserve it, it could be preserved. Just saying.

  3. VADesigner

    So, the house appears to be listed as the “Community Center” and is located at 725 Hudson Avenue. What is the arrangement between the Bank and the Town that the home has been used as the community center?

    After a precursory look at the Bank on Google Maps, it appears that there is more than ample room to locate a drive thru facility to the either side of the existing bank. Is that much parking necessary?! Could bank employee parking be granted, perhaps at the entrance to the park at the rear of the bank?

    I have not seen the plans of the bank, but it appears there is more than sufficient room to build onto the existing bank and leave the house well enough alone. The bank could even subdivide the lot, granting the house to the City, and take some sort of tax deduction.

    What incentives has the City proposed to the bank to leave the house where it is?

  4. VADesigner

    The City of Ashburn’s City ordinances are available on Municode.com. It appears that the Ordinances outline the powers of the Historic Preservation Committee in Section 54-34, which includes recommendations to the Mayor and City Council, as well as issuing cease and desist orders “in the event work within a historic district or on a historic property is not performed in accordance with the respective certificate of appropriateness.” I would imagine that a demolition permit would be required first and foremost. And I cannot understand how demolishing a historic structure would fall under such a “Certificate of Appropriateness.”
    Again, any request by the bank for a variance or special use permit can carry a condition which states the house MUST be moved and preserved within the historic district.
    It would be better for the bank, and the community, to locate the bank elsewhere. Sometimes trades can be made… does the City own property with which it can trade with the bank in order to preserve the house?
    The house will lose ALL historic tax incentives if moved from it’s location, unless a case can be made to the SHPO that it would be moved within it’s historic context.
    It takes a community, however, to understand that Historic Preservation is not just about preserving history and beautiful buildings, but rather a highly desirable force in a small town’s ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Tourists spend money, and tourists are attracted by AUTHENTIC history. A bank drive thru will not draw tourist dollars. Additionally, restored historic properties greatly increase the tax roles and local property values. Public/Private partnerships can help. And there should be tons of grants available for such a project.
    Look to the Town of Atlanta Illinois as an example. (http://archives.lincolndailynews.com/2013/Dec/02/Features/tourism120213_atl.shtml) I had a two hour phone meeting with Bill Thomas, the Town treasurer, who explained that for their town, putting preservation first has greatly increased their Tourist Dollars.
    Unfortunately, we just lost a great historic house in our town, despite my putting together a $1.5M proposal that would have greatly increased traffic downtown through moving the structure. The Town failed to support it and the owner refused to grant enough time to move the structure. It can be seen on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/SavetheHistoricNelsonHouse

  5. Great work Brian!!! Thank you for bringing this to the main streams attention!!! I personally have saved 3 endangered properties (The 1907 E. M. Rogers House, The 1912 Homer L. Parish House and the 1912 Tyson/Stedham House) in Adel, GA. A town that did not value their past and destoryed anything and everything in the name of “progress” from the 1960’s through the early 2000’s. Only now do they admitt the demolishion on the past has hindered their future. As a designer and historic restoration expert who won (The Best Restoration and Rehabilitation in 2011 by The Georgia Trust For Historic Presevation). I’d like to clear up the myth that the house cannot take being moved as it is infact a myth. This house can easily be moved and does NOT have to be cut in half to do so. I know this for a fact as it is my career, trade and profession. The point is they don’t want to move the house due to the cost and in all reality the house should not be moved period, I totally disagree it is not the banks fault as this is South Georgia space is NOT an issue, land is NOT expensive and also plentiful. The sad and truthful fact is the house does not make profit the city or county and therefore they do not really care to save the property. I know South Georgia like the back of my hand and I’ve yet to see a town so large they “need” to tear down historic structures to promote growth. We’re not talking about areas like Manhattan, Atlanta, LA or Miami were talking about towns with a few thousand people in most cases. The sad thing is in Adel everyone would say they wanted the properties saved but no one did or helpped to do anything. This house clearly from the pictures is not in demo condition or even poor condition. Saddly enough it will be lost as no one cares enough to work together to save the home. All the politicians care to do is say or its so expensive, we don’t have the money blah blah blah. The funny thing is I’m a private citizen and I saved three myself. I found an investor, wrote grants and so on and so forth, but the point is I GOT IT DONE and did not whine that I did not have the money or could not find investors and I’m not funded like the government nor do I have their connections.

    Thanks,

    Dustin W. K. Van Fleet

  6. the Old House Guy

    If part of a historic district there should be a demolition clause in the ordinance which should at the least delay any demolition by 6 months or more.

    If it is not on the historic register but eligible the SHPO may be able to get involved with a Section 106 if any government funds are used for the new building. Contacting your legislature and anyone in office to express your interest in saving the building can also help. In a similar situation, a mayor strongly convinced a church to build on another property instead of demolishing a historic house. Don’t give up. Make calls to the bank board of directors and show them you care. This building is in a district and there is no reason it should be allowed to be demolished. Best of luck – don’t back down and let the bank bully you. Once it’s gone it’s gone and the HPC is the steward of this historic resource.

    • VADesigner

      If the bank requires any kind of special exception or variance from the Town to locate a new drive up, then the Town can REQUIRE the owner, as a condition to granting the variance, to move the house. The Preservation board should also be able to get a Motion to Halt Demolition if it comes down to that.

  7. Michael Jacobs

    Feeling thankful that people like Brian are taking the photos for the grandkids of tomorrow. It only justifies his position in this matter.

    In the worst case scenario:
    If the house cannot be saved or has to be moved, I would rather see the bank move into the house and expand upon the lot they are using now.

    • Very kind of you to say, Michael. I’m more than glad to hear it’s justified! I feel that I know it, but it’s nice to hear 🙂 And your solution sounds like a great one. I hope it will be viable…

    • ben dooley

      I am aware of at least 2 examples of banks successfully locating banking facilities in historic houses (Athens GA and Apalachicola, FL) and am sure there are many more. The problem is it requires a bank with as much commitment to the community as to the bottom line…a rare combination these days.

  8. I hope it can be saved. I’d love to buy one of these some day. I photograph many of the same things as you Brian, and I can’t count the number of photos I now have that no one else is ever going to take because the object of the photograph is now gone.

    It is my hope that one day in the future I will visit your state and find this house still intact and hopefully providing someone a wonderful home. Thank you for doing what you can to make folks aware of the situation. (And for drawing attention to all the things you photograph)

    Your brother in arms from up North,

    Ryan Ware

  9. Ellen Roberts

    I live in St Augustine, Fl. We had several old houses being moved, from downtown near the old Castillio Fort, North to the property of The Old Jail. All the utility companies raised their lines in advance of the move. It was like watching an all day parade. the streets were lined with people watching this house be moved. Afterward the power, telephone & cable tv lines were all lowered back to their original heights. These houses were restored & visitors can see what live was like in early St Augustine days.

  10. Nancy Komlos

    oh, I do so hope it can be saved!

  11. Susan Mcdaniel

    If people were more like you in appreciation of such historical value, the world would be a beautiful place, as this place is.

  12. Francoise H. Fussell

    I’m on 2 committees in a small town in SC that have saved 2 old, historic buildings. This is an ongoing, arduous and expensive process but it’s worth every penny! I’m praying that a group can be formed that can save this “grand old lady”!

  13. 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?

    Those of us involved in Ashburn’s development and progress would love for someone to come up with an answer. If you have any, I’m at The Wiregrass Farmer most days. Best to call in the morning.

    • Thanks for this insight, Ben. As I’ve attempted to point out, the issue is not as simple as it would seem. Hopefully, a viable resolution can be found, as it would be a real shame to lose the place…I can tell you from landmarks I know that have been needlessly lost in Fitzgerald that you cannot replace them, nor can you make some foolish attempt to redesign something in their image and call that caring about local history. I genuinely hope someone can come to the rescue.

  14. RoyceNell@cox.net

    Hi Brian . . . If enough people donated toward the bank relocating itself to a better site for a drive-thru, wouldn’t that be an easier solution? Maybe it could even be an upgrade for the bank. Are there any possible empty business-town-sites available for the bank? Then the historic house wouldn’t need moving. Oh well, this is probably too simple, huh?? Thanks for all your dedicated work, and enthusiastic attitude toward saving Georgia’s History. I do love your site!!! Nell Hinson, San Diego, California

  15. ben dooley

    Brian, do you know whether this house is on the Nat’l Register of Historic Places? If so, the bank or a buyer / mover may be able to claim some tax credits (that’s credits, not deductions) for restoration costs. They will have to jump through some hoops but it may be worth. I think there may still be some smaller credits available for 50+ year old structures even if not on the register.

    • I don’t find it on the NRHP. Good suggestion, Ben!

      • Lawana Brantley

        Brian, would love to move this house but after checking with a local mover,he said he had checked it for someone and found it to high to move even with the roof off,and a problem with the heavy cables in town, he said he could not find any way to get it out of town. I live in Douglas and would move it,if there is a way.Maybe you could get me some info. thanks Lawana Brantley

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