Saved: S.C. Slave Cabins
By Tricia McCarter-Joseph | Online Only | Dec. 2, 2009
A row of four small houses believed to be slave cabins were discovered in South Carolina last month. The 800-square-foot structures have since been purchased by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, which wants them to be restored as houses or offices.
The cabins were built in the mid-1800s in Anderson, S.C., located between Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. In August, after the houses' current owner applied for a demolition permit, the city's board of architecture review condemned the buildings. Then board members called on Michael Bedenbaugh, executive director of the Palmetto Trust, to investigate the historic value of the houses, just five blocks from Anderson's historic district.
During a visit, Bedenbaugh examined the foundation bricks for clues about when the houses may have been built. He says he suspects that the houses were part of a "slave alley," one of only a few in the upstate region. The Palmetto Trust purchased the houses from the owner for about $6,200.
Last month about 20 locals gathered to clean up the houses, some of which were occupied by tenants. A contractor boarded up some windows and doors.
"It was a safety issue, since vagrants were getting into the buildings, and we were concerned about a fire breaking out," says Amanda Noble, a representative of Anderson Heritage, a local preservation group, and a member of the city's board of architecture review. "It's been an exciting project to be involved in. In the course of three months, it was saved, when it could have easily been demolished."
Bedenbaugh says that a more thorough review is under way to determine more about the history of the structures and to confirm their designation as contributing structures to the historic district. "We hope to use these buildings as a way to research and understand a lot about Anderson's history over the last 150 years," he says, adding that he would like to pursue having them designated National Historic Landmarks.
More research will reveal more of the story, Noble says. "There have been some historic structures that were lost before Anderson Heritage and the Palmetto Trust were formed. We feel that these buildings are part of a working piece of property [such as a plantation], and it gives us a glimpse of the way the area developed over the years," she says.
Bedenbaugh's group hopes to find a buyer willing to renovate the properties as either residential or commercial properties.
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