Maybe Graves House can be salvaged after all

Bluffton developer says he can restore and move the historic structure.

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 15, 2014 

Yet another plan has been hatched to move the century-old Graves House in Bluffton to a new site.

We're starting to wonder if the old home will ever be moved or if it's destined to be razed.

We hope the latter will not occur but also realize there is a finite amount of time and money that should be spent on the endeavor. Some properties cannot be successfully salvaged even if they are historic.

The Calhoun Street House, built in 1908 by a ship's carpenter from Maine, was only recently scheduled for destruction. Purchased in 2011 for $170,000, it was found to be in serious disrepair including structural flaws as well as termite and water damage. The extent of the damage derailed the new owners' plans to convert it into offices.

"I understand preservation, but truly, what are they going to have left that's original to the house?" said owner Michael Hahn at the time. "The columns are good and maybe the front door, but even that has broken glass."

The town's Historic Preservation Commission voted in 2012 to allow it to be torn down despite objections by town staff and some members of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society who felt the structure was salvageable.

The house is a contributing structure in Bluffton's historic district that primarily includes vernacular homes with brick pier foundations and full-width, one-story porches, but also some that include elements of the Queen Anne, Craftsman and Colonial Revival styles, according to the S.C. Department of Archives and History.

Take a walk through the district and, according to the department, you'll see examples of commercial and residential structures from the Antebellum era (1815-1860), the Civil War and Reconstruction period (1860-1880), and the Commercial Growth and Decline period (1880-1945). The Graves House is part of that important historical narrative.

Bluffton resident Garfield Moss felt the same and, in 2013, proposed moving the house to Bluffton property he owned.

The town signed off on Moss' plan and agreed to give $8,000 to determine whether moving the house was possible and, if so, to develop a plan for bracing it during the trip.

Fast forward to today. Moss has withdrawn his application.

Moss has not publicly said why, but we suspect it may have something to do with the difficulties and expense of deconstructing the house, bracing it with temporary walls and steal beams, cutting it in half and trucking it piece by piece to a new site.

Assuming the house could withstand the trip, much additional work would have been needed to bring it up to livable standards. And, like Hahn, we're not certain there would have been much of the original house left when work was complete, defeating the purpose of saving the historic property.

Now, someone else is attempting to save the house. Bluffton developer and owner of the Old Town Dispensary, Thomas Viljac, says he is up to the challenge of restoring and moving the house to another lot on Calhoun Street -- a process that could take five months and cost up to $30,000.

The town's Historic Preservation Commission has unanimously agreed to let Viljac do the work as it did for Moss. We wish Viljac success.

But if this effort falls flat like the previous one, the town may have to accept that this restoration project is a nonstarter. It may need to consider allowing the house to be razed to make way for offices and other gathering space planned by The Bluffton United Methodist Church.

The church owns the Graves House and has been working diligently to find someone to move it. They backed Moss' plans and are now coordinating with Viljac. But the town cannot expect the church to put its expansion plan on hold indefinitely.

While we would like to see the house moved to a new location within the district and put to a new use, that may not be a sensible solution if the house is in extreme disrepair or if a substantial portion of it must be replaced to make it inhabitable.

We hope that's not the case. But if it is, we hope Bluffton's historic community and town leaders will agree that it's time to move on.

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