AAA  Jan. 13, 2018 12:02 AM ET
S Carolina antebellum treasure to get new life as residence
By ERIC CONNOR, The Greenville News
The Greenville News
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(AP) — Why?

The question has crossed Jori Magg's mind more than once as she's spent the past few months tearing apart the most-worn elements of the historic Beattie House.

"Every day, I have that thought: 'Why am I doing this? This is overwhelming,'" says Magg, who along with her husband, Ryan, and with five children in tow, is in the inglorious demolition phase of preparing the Antebellum home for its long-awaited transformation. "But it's going to be amazing and just needs to come to fruition."

It's been just short of a year since the city of Greenville selected the couple as the winning bidders to own and renovate the 1834 home on a pastoral 2.4-acre estate between Bennett and Church streets.

They weren't the highest bidders when awarded the contract for $600,000 this past January, but they offered the city something valuable after two years of searching for a buyer: preservation of one of Greenville's oldest residences as a personal home once again.

The contract was awarded to the Maggs on the condition that a historic preservation easement be placed on the home to maintain its designation on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house — named for businessman Fountain Fox Beattie, who constructed the residence as a gift for his new bride — served for more than half a century as the meeting place of the Greenville Woman's Club, but it fell into disrepair after the group disbanded in 2014.

Work is moving along as planned, Magg said. At this point, it's mostly confined to demo inside.

Outside, the paved parking lot has been dug up as one of the most-prominent changes to be seen from outside. The plans call for an expansive lawn to take the place of the parking lot. The lawn will feature a sports field, and heavy vegetation will be planted along Church Street where the existing entrance will be closed.

Inside, the home has suffered the pains of wear and tear and recent lack of maintenance. Old light fixtures are dirty and the paint is peeling.

The couple plans to maintain historic elements, re-using some light fixtures, keeping the historic marker that tells the history of the home and preserving the brick patio that features the names of members of the Woman's Club.

The hope is to have the project completed in the spring, Magg said. Much of that, she said, depends on how cold the weather will be, which if it's too frigid will prevent outside painting.

Magg is chronicling some of the renovation via a blog.

Once complete, it will be but the latest chapter in the long history of the home.

The home had stayed within the Beattie family until World War II.

Its fate since that time was fraught with uncertainty — multiple threats of demolition, two moves and promising deals that fell through.

It will be the first time someone has lived in the house since the Beattie family controlled it some 70 years ago.

In 1834, Fountain Fox Beattie was a 27-year-old businessman newly married and newly arrived from Virginia.

Set on building a home for his new bride, Emily Edgeworth Hamlin, Beattie bought three acres across from Christ Church on what would become East North Street, according to Judy Bainbridge, a Greenville historian and Furman University professor who has chronicled the home's history.

By the time of the Civil War, Beattie listed his personal fortune at $90,000, enough to afford decorative touches to the Italianate-style home.

The Beatties prospered even during the tumultuous Reconstruction period. As the family grew, the house expanded with one-story wings and an "elaborately columned porch with Queen Anne-style Italianate brackets," Bainbridge said.

The home remained in use by the family until it was rented out at the onset of World War II. By that time, the push was on to widen Church Street, a project that forever changed downtown and displaced established neighborhoods.

Like other homes in the path of the road project, it had been slated for demolition.

In 1946, the Woman's Club implored the city to protect the home and promised to use it as a meeting space. The city paid $92,500, and the home was moved to a new location along a newly created street, appropriately named Beattie Place.

The Woman's Club leased the building from the city for a dollar a year in 1950, a deal that would last up until three years ago. The home was listed on the National Register in 1974.

By the end of the 1970s, Beattie Place had become a busy thoroughfare.

In 1983, the city's Economic Development Office and the women of the club worked out a deal to move the building as a regional developer eyed the home's spot on Beattie Street as a prime location for the Liberty Square high-rise office buildings.

The city and the company, U.S. Shelter, shared the $58,000 cost to move the house to its current location. The company contributed another $75,000 to provide new foundations, heating and cooling units and a glassed-in reception area on the back.

The Woman's Club was a thriving social outlet for Greenville's leading women. Two decades ago, its members numbered close to 1,000. At the time the club disbanded in summer 2014, membership had dwindled to about 350.

As participation dropped, so did the club's ability to keep the building and grounds maintained. The city could find no use for it and didn't want to take on the cost of upkeep.

After a public bid process, the city had come to terms with the development group founded by South African golf legend Gary Player, but the plans to turn the home into a headquarters fell through.

The $275,000 deal was reached in April 2015 with Player's son, Marc. However, after a year of delay, he announced that "business conditions have changed" and the headquarters would instead be located in London.

The city regrouped and decided to farm out marketing of the property to the Greenville Local Development Corporation, which used a real estate firm to solicit proposals.

One idea was to subdivide some of the property on Bennett Street to allow for home construction, which would have provided a buffer for the neighborhood if the Beattie House were used for commercial purposes.

The effort yielded eight proposals, which included use by a nonprofit organization, a restaurant, a bed and breakfast or further subdivision of the property, City Councilwoman Amy Ryberg Doyle said.

Some of the ideas were appealing — and some would have paid more than the $600,000 sale price — but none fit as well with the area's zoning in the East Park Historic District, Doyle said.

The main objective was to keep the home preserved and in harmony with the neighborhood.

The deal had allowed for a half-acre parcel along Bennett Street to be developed or sold for housing, but Magg said the couple will leave the area wooded and undeveloped.

The Beattie House is among a small number of Antebellum houses in Greenville that have been preserved, Bainbridge said. Only two — Whitehall and Earl Town House — are in their original locations.

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Information from: The Greenville News, http://www.greenvillenews.com

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