The oldest intact structure on Hilton Head Island is in danger of collapsing.
The Baynard Mausoleum in the Zion Chapel of Ease cemetery at the intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Mathews Drive was built more than 165 years ago. But it won't remain standing if something isn't done soon, according to the Heritage Library Foundation.
It hopes to raise $175,000 to save it.
The 1,200- to 1,500-pound limestone slabs that make up the roof are cracked and in jeopardy of caving, said Charleston masonry specialist Frank Genello, who would head the restoration.
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"Whether it would (fall apart) tomorrow or five years from now is anybody's guess."
Moisture has cracked the sandstone walls and rotted wood that supported the limestone slabs. The mausoleum's tile floors have deteriorated.
The Heritage Library Foundation put a tarpaulin over the roof in March 2013 to keep out moisture. A local builder has done work to temporarily brace the slabs.
Foundation executive director Linda Piekut wants to remove the tarp next spring and start renovating.
Along with stabilizing the structure, plans call for a Plexiglass door on the mausoleum, a new fence around it and benches. Piekut foresees the site becoming an "antebellum-era learning center" for visitors to tour and learn about the island's history.
"It's the only surviving building we have from that era," she said.
Built in 1846 by wealthy planter William Eddings Baynard, the mausoleum stands in the 2.8-acre cemetery where two Revolutionary War patriots are buried.
The cemetery was at the core of the settlements on Hilton Head in the days leading to the Civil War. It sits adjacent to the former Zion Chapel of Ease, a wood and brick building where services were regularly held until 1861, when Union troops invaded.
"It was the center of town life," said Piekut.
The cemetery's earliest grave dates to 1795.
One marker commemorates the life of Capt. John Stoney, a soldier in the Revolutionary War, planter on the island, founder of the Episcopal Church on Hilton Head and ancestor of the Stoneys of South Carolina.
As many as seven people, including Baynard, were buried in copper coffins in the mausoleum, according to a Savannah College of Art and Design architectural analysis. Marble veneer covering the crypt's 21 burial chambers remains intact.
Sometime after the Civil War, grave robbers raided the building. One partial coffin remains at the Coastal Discovery Museum, according to the report.
The library foundation is asking the town for $2,500 to install a sign next to the mausoleum. It also is requesting about $172,500 from local and federal groups to fund the restoration.
Piekut said she should know in spring whether the foundation will receive the money.
"We're trying to pick away at the funding so we can get what we need," she said. "Because once the project starts, we can't do part of it. Once that roof comes off, you're committed."
Follow reporter Dan Burley at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.