David Lauderdale

Another piece of Beaufort torn from the landscape

If the walls could talk at 1012 Congress St. in Beaufort, they could tell an uplifting story.

But the walls are gone now. On Monday, the home built shortly after the Civil War was demolished. It had been unoccupied and neglected for decades.

The house was what is called a "freedman's cottage," similar to many homes built after the Civil War in a section of Beaufort now called the Northwest Quadrant.

Monday's demolition symbolizes the long-running frustrations of preservationists, city planners and landowners who all need each other's help if the demolition of old homes representing an important piece of the city's 300-year history is to ever stop.

This home was bought in 1919 by Henry W. Saxon, a butcher in rural Lobeco. He bought it so his children could get a better education in the city. About a decade later, he was murdered during a robbery at his butcher shop, a family member says. But if he were alive today, he could see that his sacrifice on behalf of his children paid nice dividends.

Henry Saxon IV is a regional service director for the Boys & Girls Club of America.

His brother, James Saxon, went to a junior college out of Robert Smalls High School, which served blacks prior to integration, then to San Jose State University and then played eight years in the National Football League. Today, he coaches running backs for the Minnesota Vikings and his son, Devin Saxon, is a senior defensive back at Harvard University.

Current owner Albertha Saxon Shumpert of Teaneck, N.J., a Verizon retiree, remembers visiting the old house as a teenager. Her aunt Verniel Saxon Garrett ran a beauty parlor in an addition off the front porch. Shumpert said her aunt started a bridge club, and the women would get all dressed up to go to each other's homes to play.

In the late 1970s, then-owner Henry Saxon III, a retired merchant seaman, pleaded with the City Council not to demolish the house, already considered dilapidated. "I think it's as much a part of Beaufort as any building in Beaufort," he said. The city changed its mind, but the property was never restored.

The nonprofit Beaufort Historical Foundation worked for years to reverse its fortunes. Volunteers who at one point helped clean up the property said this week they cannot bear to even drive by the site. They praised the home for its high ceilings, wood wainscoting, heart-pine structural timbers -- and its sheer endurance.

"This broke my heart," said foundation chairman Pete Palmer. "It was a treasure. There's a sadness to all this."

It's a sadness that is pervasive in the Northwest Quadrant. It usually involves people leaving town for opportunity. It sometimes involves squabbles within families about what to do with property in Beaufort. Sometimes it involves land-ownership issues. And it always involves money.

Shumpert said she did not want the house to be demolished but felt she had no other option. She said she needed help paying for the restoration. She thought grant money or public money could match her 50-50. "We wanted to save it and couldn't," she said. She said the site is important to the family and, out of respect for the sacrifices of Henry Saxon, she did not consider selling it to be an option.

All that remains now is the chimney. The foundation was allowed to salvage anything useful before the demolition, but because the property had not been waterproofed, all it came away with was a heart-pine mantel and some windows.

"There are 16 houses like this on the city's Vacant and Abandoned Property List," said Maxine Lutz, the Historic Beaufort Foundation's executive and board assistant. "Each one has its own story. When they're gone, not only is a piece of the fabric of the city missing, but their stories are also gone."

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