City preservation groups restoring Charleston Cottage-style homes history
Its sun-bleached exterior is without a side piazza, plywood covers broken windows, and a sea of trash and overgrown foliage litters its base.
WHAT: 19th century homes known for details like side piazza and gabled roof.
PROBLEM: Several of these historic structures are in need of repair due to neglect.
SOLUTION: Preservation Society of Charleston recently launched a program designed to salvage and resell the endangered homes.
Inside, the Charleston Cottage-style home at 227 Nassau St. has peeling paint, exposed pipes, holes in the ceiling and loose flooring.
The Preservation Society of Charleston recently purchased the dilapidated home in the city’s East Side neighborhood to kick-start its program designed to salvage and resell endangered homes to first-time home buyers. The program, Charleston Vernacular Revolving Fund, is part of the society’s “Seven to Save” list, an agenda unveiled last year that focuses on endangered sites.
“What’s great about a cottage is that it’s of a scale where the capital required to rehab a cottage is lower than dealing with a two-story home that’s falling apart, which is why this makes a lot sense,” said Evan Thompson, executive director of the society.
The Preservation Society launched the vernacular program with private funds and a maximum $250,000 low-interest loan from the Charleston Housing Authority.
The program is designed to thwart a growing number of Charleston Cottages, also known as Freedman’s Cottages, facing demolition due to neglect, Thompson added.
Charleston Cottages are defined as single-story homes with a side piazza and a gabled roof, with the gabled end facing the street. Many of the dwellings date as far back as the 19th century and housed freed slaves after the Civil War.
Many are located in parts of the city that are outside the oversight of the Board of Architectural Review, the city panel charged with preserving and protecting historic structures.
The lack of such oversight has meant some of the city’s cottages have been radically redesigned or face neglect, preservationists say.
The society’s vernacular program marks the latest effort to salvage the piece of the city’s home-building history. There have been various efforts to restore the crumbling single-story homes that pepper the peninsula.
Earlier this month, Historic Charleston Foundation announced the completion of a rehabbed historic freedman’s cottage at 159 Romney St. as part of its Neighborhood Impact Initiative program.
The preservation group collaborated with Habitat for Humanity and the city of Charleston for the year-long rehabilitation project of the early 1900s home.
The Romney Street home marked the 14th house rehabilitated as part of the foundation’s Neighborhood Impact Initiative, which was formed in 1995 to promote preservation of entire neighborhoods by rehabilitating deteriorated properties with architectural merit, officials said.
The Neighborhood Impact Initiative is part of the Frances Edmunds Revolving Fund, which was established in 1958 to acquire and preserve important buildings.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley lauded the latest efforts to target the deteriorating cottages.
“It is a very important historic structure,” Riley said. “I think for the Preservation Society to get involved in restoring them is very terrific, and we can use all the help we can get to restore the buildings and the neighborhoods.”
All throughout the country, preservationists are making efforts to restore deteriorating pieces of residential history that have been neglected.
For example, in Chicago, the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association was formed years ago to restore the unique early 1900s rectangular-shaped brick dwellings through a combination of educating homeowners and offering financing opportunities.
Such preservation efforts are beneficial in helping stabilize neighborhoods and promoting home ownership, while also restoring historical character, said John Hildreth, director of the National Trust’s Southern Office in Charleston.
The Preservation Society of Charleston is conducting a survey of all Charleston Cottage structures throughout the city in an effort to detail the conditions of such homes and plan future restoration projects, Thompson said.
The group is already looking to restore more cottages on the East Side, including some dwellings on Jackson Street.
The society is also looking to nominate the city’s cottage design to the National Register of Historic Places, a label that brings benefits such as tax incentives.
As for the Nassau Street property, the preservation society purchased the 1880s structure for $30,000, officials said.
The property at the corner of Harris Street has been vacant for roughly a decade, officials said. In coming weeks, volunteers will clean up garbage strewn around the property and do some light demolition work, such as the removal of dry wall, Thompson said.
The reconstruction project, with the help of licensed contractors, includes restoring many historical appointments in the 800-square-foot structure, including its chimney and hardwood floors that are hidden under coats of linoleum, in addition to installing wood windows and a side piazza.
Contractors also will add another bedroom to the rear of the structure, Thompson said.
The project is expected to be completed by the spring.
“This will be used as a trial to show people how they can do this in a reasonable way,” Thompson said. “It will show how you can make it a livable structure in the 21st century and keep the character and form, with the right compromise that balances enough historical details with the right amenities.”
Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.