When the Graves House in Bluffton was approved for demolition this week, some wondered if its historic status could remain since the replica to replace it will be built with materials salvaged from the 100-year-old home.
Town staff, audience members and commissioners at times offered conflicting responses Wednesday to the question, which preceded a 5-2 vote by the Bluffton Historic Preservation Commission allowing demolition.
Turns out, the answer is no, according to the state's top preservation official.
"Once you take it down, it's no longer a contributing structure," said Eric Emerson, agency director for the S.C. Department of Archives and History, which administers the National Register of Historic Places program in South Carolina.
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Reuse of salvaged materials does not change that, he said.
"I don't care what goes up in its place or how similar it looks. Once it's demolished, it no longer contributes to the historic district."
Bluffton United Methodist Church wants to buy the Graves House property at 85 Calhoun St. It plans to raze the home and build a replica in its place. The new building would have offices and outreach space for the growing congregation.
The house is recognized by the federal government as a "contributing structure" in the Bluffton Historic District, which comprises most of old town. The Church of the Cross, also on Calhoun Street, is the town's only building on the National Register of Historic Places.
"If they tear it down, and just because they take good wood out of it and use it in the new structure, that means nothing regarding its National Register status," said Mike Bedenbaugh, director of the nonprofit Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation. "It's an irrelevant point."
Bedenbaugh said he was disappointed with the commission's decision, which he called a "terrible, terrible omen for the historic district in Bluffton if the process doesn't change."
William Court, an architect hired by the Methodist church, did not concede that the home's historic status would definitely be lost, even if the replica is built in 2012 or 2013.
" I believe it will be up to Bluffton, not the state, to decide whether or not (the replica) Graves House will be on the (contributing structure) list when it's all said and done."
Meanwhile, Roberts Vaux, an attorney for the owners of the Graves House, urged the town to create new designation in its codes that would allow for a middle step between preservation and demolition.
A "dismantling permit," Vaux argued, would better capture the spirit of recent makeovers to some local historic properties in old town, including the Deer Tongue Building, now home to Pepper's Porch restaurant, and Pine House, which have undergone significant renovations.
Commissioners and town staff gave no indication whether the issue would be revisited.