Conservation group plans restoration of Daufuskie's Gullah cottage

gmartin@islandpacket.comMarch 18, 2012 

Several abandoned, dilapidated Gullah cottages on Daufuskie Island could be restored by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, a Columbia-based nonprofit organization.

In fact, the group intends to make them habitable again.

The trust intends to repair the cottages and return them to their owners after a transitional phase in which they would be available as vacation rentals.

According to Michael Bedenbaugh, the group's executive director, renovation of the first cottage could be completed by June 1.

"These are very important structures that communicate the story of Daufuskie Island better than any sign or pamphlet could," Bedenbaugh said. "But right now, they're empty and subject to vandalism and weather."

No work has been performed on any of what Bedenbaugh said are "several" potential project sites, and the group is negotiating with landowners to secure their approval.

Some of the homes are about 150 years old, vestiges of the dwindling Gullah community that has lived on the island since the early 18th century, Bedenbaugh said.

Each cottage will be restored and decorated to educate visitors about the Gullah culture and will display photographs and documents pertaining to its former owners.

"They'll have central heating and air and updated plumbing, but there will be some primitive aspects, too," Bedenbaugh said. "We don't want to make it so modern that it won't look like a Gullah cottage."

Bedenbaugh hopes to sublet each renovated cottage to tourists, under the oversight of a professional rental association.

Once enough rental income has been recouped to cover renovation costs, the cottage will be returned to its owner, he said.

Bedenbaugh says his group has the money to restore two cottages within the next 15 months, and it would like to continue the project as long as it has sufficient funding.

He added that the proposal has received support from the Daufuskie community.

"We've had nothing but positive reaction from everyone about this idea, and we're looking forward to making it work," he said.

Ervin Simmons, president of the Daufuskie Island Foundation, said the cottages need restoration, but he is concerned about their subsequent management.

"My hope is that in this overall process we can somehow begin to attract more native people back here," he said. "I'm concerned about the risk of further loss in the African-American community. Historically, so much land has been stolen from us on this island."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

'Little house' gradually transformed into Gullah museum, April 5, 2011

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