The small two-story white house on King Street has sat empty for seven years.
Its owner, the Baptist Church of Beaufort, says it can't afford to restore it. But local preservationists say demolishing the building -- known as the Mulligan Grayson House -- would damage the neighborhood's historical integrity.
"Basically, what we're faced with is letting the property sit," congregation member Peggy Infinger said.
This summer, the church applied to the city to demolish the house to create a prayer garden. The request was denied last week.
"We thought that would beautify the neighborhood, and it would provide a prayer garden not only for the church but for the neighborhood that would be a place of respite," said Dr. Jim Wooten, the church's pastor.
It was the latest attempt by the church to use the property since 2005, when it bought the house for about $230,000, Infinger said.
HOUSE IN LIMBO
Seven years ago, the plan was to use the house as a ministry center for Operation Good Neighbor, a church outreach program.
The city required the church to first seek approval for renovations from the Historic District Review Board. The historic renovation would have cost $300,000 to $400,000, Infinger said.
The church set aside plans for the building for three years, then tried again in 2008. The plan was denied again.
The board deemed the house too valuable and said its historical integrity should be maintained.
According to the Historic Beaufort Foundation, the house was built between 1875 and 1880. It's listed as a contributing resource that makes up downtown Beaufort by the National Park Service in the National Historic Landmark District.
"It is part of a small but historically important group of houses known to have been built in Beaufort by named black artisans during the first few decades after emancipation," according to Maxine Lutz, the foundation's interim executive director.
The house also serves as an anchor to the intersection of Duke and King streets, which also is home to three other buildings constructed by the black community, she said.
Other important structures on the block were demolished by the church in the 1960s and 1970s for parking, buildings and other uses, Lutz said.
The foundation and its architectural historian, Colin Brooker, determined the house's structural integrity has been compromised by additions, inappropriate materials, neglect, poor repairs and demolition. However, "it is far from being beyond repair and should not be considered a candidate for demolition on structural grounds," according to Lutz.
The preservationists support three options:
Infinger said the church appreciates the house's historical significance and might be willing to give it away and help pay for its relocation. In the 1970s, the William Wigg Barnwell House was moved from 800 Prince St. to 501 King St. to save it from demolition.
But she said the church was "not willing to give away the land and the structure."
Infinger said the church would consider alternatives, but it cannot afford to lose more money on the property. It intends to have the property reappraised to determine its value.
"We can't afford to basically give it away, which is what would be involved if we tried to put it on the market right now," she said.