William S. “Billy” Morris III will soon no longer be the owner of The Augusta Chronicle.
For many in Augusta, that news is still impossible to believe.
While it’s true that Morris Communications has also agreed to sell 10 of its other daily and non-daily newspapers such as The Florida Times-Union, The St. Augustine Record, The Savannah Morning News and The Athens Banner-Herald to the New York-based GateHouse Media, the announcement last week that Morris is expected to finalize the sale of the Chronicle on Oct. 2 was a shocking revelation for local readers.
After all, the Morris family has owned the Chronicle since 1945, when William S. Morris Jr. and North Carolina financier Herman Moore purchased a controlling interest in the Chronicle Publishing Co.
A decade later, William S. Morris Jr. bought out Moore’s share of the company.
It is a tremendous local success story considering William S. Morris Jr. joined the paper as a 26-year-old bookkeeper in 1929, according to the Chronicle’s archives.
By 1937, William S. Morris Jr. was already named publisher and company president. He later acquired the Chronicle’s afternoon competition, the Augusta Herald in 1955.
It wasn’t until 1966 that Billy Morris took control of Southeastern Newspaper Corp. and was named publisher of the Chronicle and Herald.
But for more than 50 years, Billy Morris has been the man behind The Augusta Chronicle.
That’s why last week’s announcement of the newspaper’s pending sale to GateHouse Media was so shocking for the Augusta community.
It was also obviously a difficult decision for Billy Morris.
“Since 1929, the Morris family has had a great love and passion for journalism and the local communities that they serve,” Billy Morris, chairman of Morris Communications and publisher of the Chronicle, stated in a press release.
“However, every newspaper company in America is battling trends and redirected advertising dollars, so it is necessary for newspapers to be part of a large newspaper group to build and maintain the necessary resources to compete.”
The sale of 11 of Morris Communications’ daily and non-daily newspaper holdings, its Texas-based commercial printing operation and other related publications to GateHouse Media is part of the company’s “strategic restructuring to focus its business on lifestyle and niche publications, broadband operations, property development and new business,” the press release stated.
“We are deeply grateful for the many friendships and business relationships we have enjoyed for these many years,” Billy Morris stated, “and look forward to the impact the next generation will make.”
Morris Communications did announce that Billy Morris is expected to remain on as publisher of The Augusta Chronicle and will oversee editorial-page policy for the three Morris newspapers in Georgia.
But many wonder how long that arrangement will last under the newspaper’s new ownership by GateHouse Media.
The other big question that remains is, how will The Augusta Chronicle change?
The Augusta Chronicle is known as “The South’s Oldest Newspaper,” but it is also one of the oldest in the nation.
In fact, The Augusta Chronicle is older than The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post.
The Augusta Chronicle is said to be the third oldest continuously published newspaper in the United States, after the New Hampshire Gazette which began in 1756 and the Hartford Courant which was started in 1764.
While it began as a weekly newspaper called the Augusta Gazette by owner Greenberg Hughes on Aug. 30, 1785, he left Augusta the following year.
The newspaper’s second owner and publisher, John Smith of Germany, officially changed the name to The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State by 1789.
Smith’s plan was to develop the newspaper into a public forum that he hoped would promote “free and ample discussion of political topics,” according to the Chronicle’s archives.
In fact, Smith added on the newspaper’s masthead a quote from the Georgia Constitution: “Freedom of the Press, and Trial by Jury, to remain inviolate forever.”
From the very beginning, the newspaper was a clear symbol of the enormous progress being made in the Augusta area.
By May 1791, The Augusta Chronicle was reporting on several significant developments in the region including a visit by Gen. George Washington, then the president of the United States, according to the book, “Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia” by Charles C. Jones Jr.
After being greeted by Georgia Gov. Edward Telfair along with several local dignitaries, Washington praised Augusta and its grand reception.
“I receive your congratulations on my arrival in Augusta with great pleasure,” Washington stated, according to the May 21, 1791, article in the Chronicle. “I desire to assure you that it will afford me the most sensible satisfaction to learn the progression of your prosperity. My best wishes for your happiness, collectively and individually, are sincerely offered.”
By 1831, a new owner, A. H. Pemberton, reportedly shortened the newspaper’s name to The Augusta Chronicle and began using the newspaper to voice opposition to the growing abolitionist movement across the country.
In fact, he advocated for secession and initially was against the establishment of the railroad to Augusta because he was concerned it would negatively impact the city’s river trade.
By 1840, the newspaper was again sold to two brothers, William and James Jones, who supported states’ rights and slavery in the South.
Under their leadership, the newspaper began to gain more content because the brothers saw the potential of the newly invented telegraph machine for acquiring news content.
Around 1849, the Chronicle began receiving telegraphic dispatches in the paper, according to the book, “Memorial History of Augusta, Georgia” by Charles Jones Jr.
“The issue of Jan. 1, 1849, has a dispatch which is said to have left New York on ten o’clock on Friday night, and to have been received in Augusta on Saturday afternoon,” Charles Jones wrote. “It appears in the paper on Monday morning, or some 60 hours after; but slow work as this appears now, it was a wonderful improvement then.”
By 1850, the Jones brothers began the first Sunday edition of the Chronicle and soon boosted the circulation to 5,500 readers, which was reportedly the largest in Georgia at the time.
Once the Civil War began, the Jones brothers were instrumental in the formation of the Press Association of the Confederacy, a consortium of 15 southern daily newspapers founded in Augusta in 1862, according to research by the Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press.
The Jones brothers soon sold the newspaper, and Nathan Morse eventually became the editor and owner of the Chronicle.
“Morse, a Connecticut native, was a controversial choice for the time,” the University of Georgia Press reported. “Although initially an advocate of the Southern cause, he became increasingly critical of Confederate president Jefferson Davis as the war continued, and he ultimately used the paper to urge an end to hostilities.”
However, by 1866, Morse sold the Chronicle to new owners, H. P. Moore and former Confederate General Ambrose Wright.
By the time the Chronicle’s centennial edition was published in 1885, it was honored as “the pioneer in the journalistic field” of Augusta.
“A newspaper one hundred years old!” the centennial edition proclaimed. “A gazette that for three generations has, in its each recurring issue, set out the current history of the day, and been read in each succeeding epoch by grandsire, by father, and by son. A contemporaneous annalist of the times, keeping pace with decades and lusters until a century is complete. Such is now The Augusta Chronicle.”
The special edition of the paper proclaimed that the Chronicle had survived along with the city of Augusta through ravages of yellow fever, the battles of the Civil War and the struggle to rebuild the South.
“Southern journalism fairly starved. But the difficulties of that period daunted our predecessors not,” The Augusta Chronicle wrote in 1885. “If printers could not be found, they were made; if new type could not be had, the veterans of the past were furbished up and set to work again; if your fine, white, double extra, improved printing paper had become a mere historical reminiscence, there was enough of that dingy, home-made, cartilaginous, saffron-hued product, known as Confederate paper, to take the impress of the type. Amid the war, as through the pestilence, the Chronicle came out promptly at the appointed day.”
Following the Civil War and the end of slavery, Charles Jones wrote that several new editors and owners of the Chronicle began to promote the values of “humanity, morality, and good government.”
“Mr. H. Gregg Wright was an exceedingly attractive and forcible writer, and systematically devoted his great abilities to discountenancing dueling and lynch law,” Jones wrote. “He steadily iterated and reiterated the great truth that no people can truly prosper who do not cherish an abiding faith in and reverence for the majesty of the law.”
By 1880, a new publisher and owner from Ireland, Patrick Walsh, “fought for black civil rights and campaigned against lynchings, both unpopular stances for the era,” the Chronicle stated.
In the early 1900s, the newspaper began being used by then editor and publisher, Thomas Loyless, to promote Augusta as a commercial center.
“In 1911, Loyless became the majority owner of the Chronicle as part of a group of investors that also featured baseball legend Ty Cobb,” the Chronicle wrote. “Three years later, Loyless moved the newspaper into the city’s first skyscraper, The Chronicle Building. Now called the Marion Building, it stood a whopping 10 stories, and was heralded as ‘fireproof.’ But two years later, the great fire of 1916 gutted the structure. The Chronicle left the building and never returned.”
From 1919 until 1937, Thomas Hamilton was the publisher and became known for the column, “Ambitions for Augusta,” that detailed his visions for the city.
“Hamilton wrote of Augusta’s need for a $20 million power dam, dredging of the Savannah River, an airfield, a city planning commission, resort hotels, a new black grammar school and a University of Augusta,” the Chronicle reported. “Much of his vision became reality before his death in 1937, including construction and enlargement of the levee, completion of the $2 million New Savannah Lock and Dam, and the planning stages of Clarks Hill Dam.”
Which brings us back to when William S. Morris Jr., Billy Morris’ father, was named publisher and company president in 1937.
The Morris family has owned the newspaper ever since.
When William S. Morris Jr. took over, the politics of the newspaper began to once again change.
“Under his leadership, the paper broke with its longstanding support of the Democratic Party by endorsing segregationist Strom Thurmond, a State’s Rights Democrat, over Harry S. Truman in the 1948 U.S. presidential election,” according to the University of Georgia Press.
By 1956, Billy Morris, who began delivering newspapers from horseback in Augusta as a boy, officially joined the company only a few days before his 22nd birthday, according to the Morris Media Network.
He became publisher of the Augusta newspaper and president of the corporation 10 years later.
Ever since that time, Billy Morris, now 82, has been the face of The Augusta Chronicle.
Even though his son, Will Morris, became president of Morris Communications in 1996 and is the third generation of the Morris family to hold that position in the media business, Billy Morris is still chairman of the company.
Under Billy Morris’ leadership, the company diversified into magazine and book publishing, outdoor advertising and commercial printing services, in addition to acquiring more than a dozen newspapers.
Over the years, Billy Morris has also taken great pride in the opinion page of the Chronicle, which has clearly maintained a politically conservative editorial voice.
Back in its heyday, the editorial page attracted the most attention by showcasing the award-winning artwork of longtime editorial cartoonist Clyde Wells alongside columns written by the highly controversial editorial writer Phil Kent.
Beginning in 1971, Wells drew politically conservative cartoons for The Augusta Chronicle for 27 years, unabashedly going after everyone from county commissioners to local sheriffs to the president of the United States.
“Back then, we had a five-person county commission full of characters,” Wells said, chuckling. “I had an easy job because they were constantly involved in political fights and it was just one crisis after another. And there were extremely bitter political races.”
When Wells worked for Billy Morris, there was no doubt at all who was in charge of the editorial page, he said.
“As everybody knows, the Chronicle is known as a staunch conservative newspaper, so now that GateHouse has purchased the paper, it’ll be interesting to see if they truly maintain that,” Wells said.
“They are saying that Billy (Morris) is going to oversee the editorial page, but I think that might be an interim thing because I don’t believe Billy hovers over the editorial page like he used to. He used to control it. I mean, Billy ran that page.”
For the more than 25 years he worked at the Chronicle, Wells admits he and Morris had quite a few heated arguments about the content of his editorial cartoons.
“I am conservative, but I was not as far right as Billy and not nearly as far right as Phil Kent,” Wells said, smiling. “So Billy and I argued sometimes, but we did a lot of arguing behind his door because Billy had one rule: you could say anything you wanted to, but it just didn’t leave the building.”
Above and beyond anything else, Wells said the two men had great respect for one another and the work that they did.
“We had a stormy relationship, but we both were always wanting to put out the best paper we could,” Wells said, adding that Morris once told him he was “the heart” of the Chronicle. “And I should point out, I never worked for another newspaper. I enjoyed my job.”
Billy Morris also understood that Wells knew his facts when it came to political issues facing Augusta, the state and the nation, Wells said.
“He told me once after a heated argument, ‘You win nine out of 10 of these debates, you know that don’t you?’” Wells said, laughing. “And I replied, ‘I just overwhelm you with the facts.’”
When Kent became the editorial editor for the Chronicle in the late 1970s, he definitely shook things up.
For more than two decades, Kent waged blistering editorial battles against many local and state politicians.
“After writing scathing commentary about then-Columbia County Sheriff Tom Whitfield, Kent was falsely arrested and, on a separate occasion, assaulted by the sheriff’s son,” the Chronicle reported in 2001, after Kent announced he was leaving the newspaper. “Kent’s career at the Chronicle has been as influential to some as it was controversial to others. A die-hard conservative, he is known nationally for his views, which were described as candid and straightforward by conservatives, radical by liberals and even racist by some black leaders.”
While Kent always denied being racist, some local leaders questioned that claim, particularly former Georgia Sen. Majority Leader Charles Walker.
In fact, the Chronicle pointed out in 2001 that Walker labeled Kent as “the problem with Augusta.”
When Kent left the Chronicle in 2001, Billy Morris praised the editorial columnist for his work over the years.
“For more than a quarter of a century, Phil Kent has been the conscience of the community. His constant vigilance of local politics at times has struck fear into the heart of politicians,” Billy Morris reportedly stated. “He made them accountable for their acts like no one on the local scene has in recent years.”
However, many leaders in Augusta’s black community have frequently voiced their concerns over some of the Chronicle’s conservative coverage.
Even after Kent left the paper, Walker continued to point out what he believed to be unjust political coverage by the Chronicle.
Walker, who was found guilty of 127 felony counts of conspiracy, mail fraud and filing false tax returns and was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2005, voiced his displeasure with the Chronicle in his book, “From Peanuts to Power: The Road to Wealth, Success and Happiness.”
Specifically, Walker wrote that the media, including the Chronicle, was one of the main reasons he went to prison.
“The Augusta Chronicle was threatened by me,” Walker wrote. “I had started my own newspaper — the Augusta Focus — to counter the one-sided politics of the Chronicle and its sister paper the Augusta Herald. The Focus was a small weekly. If the other papers were buying ink by the barrel, I was buying it by the teaspoon. Still, they felt threatened.”
Walker said the Chronicle was threatened because of his political messages.
“I would put the spotlight on black issues, covering stories of interest to the black community and publishing relevant commentaries,” Walker wrote. “And although my paper was small, other papers would pick up on my stories. The Augusta Focus became very influential.”
Walker claimed the Chronicle didn’t like that fact.
As far as racial tensions in Augusta over the years, Wells acknowledged it was sometimes difficult to address some racial issues in the newspaper, but he insists that, as the longtime editorial cartoonist for the Chronicle, he always treated everyone the same.
“If you did something wrong, I didn’t care if you were black or white, I called you out on it,” Wells said. “But, looking back at the 1970s and 80s, that was a very tumultuous time.”
Through the years, Billy Morris and the Chronicle have also driven the discussion of several local projects in the Augusta area.
Everything from the 25-year-old partnership between the city and Augusta Riverfront LLC, a company owned by Billy Morris, which developed the original $43 million Augusta Riverfront Center along the Savannah River to the development of Augusta Convention Center on Reynolds Street in 2013.
Paul Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC and a longtime employee of Billy Morris, has long sung the praises of his boss.
As Augusta natives, Simon said he and Billy Morris have always only wanted to do what was best for Augusta-Richmond County.
“I was born and raised here in Augusta. My career was built here in Augusta,” Simon told the Metro Spirit in 2015. “Billy Morris was also born here. We love Augusta and we want the best for Augusta. We want to see Augusta to continue to grow.”
Simon said all of the projects that Billy Morris has proposed over the years have been to improve the Augusta area.
“Billy Morris is criticized a lot, but the company and Billy Morris have given more to this community than anybody else,” Simon said in 2015, adding that he has personally chaired campaigns for Augusta State University, Historic Augusta, the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame, The First Tee of Augusta and the former National Science Center that raised millions of dollars for those projects and entities. “We bought the former mall (along the Riverwalk) for $2.2 million, raised about $5 million and got the state to give $10 million for the exhibits in Fort Discovery. The company, Billy Morris, gave that property to the National Science Center. But he doesn’t get credit for that and it’s too bad.”
But the truth is, if the city and the community don’t support such projects, they can’t last, Simon said.
“The National Science Center was a wonderful thing for kids,” Simon said. “The Georgia Golf and Gardens was beautiful. But we lost all of it. And it’s a shame because if you go anywhere in Europe, there are gardens all over the place. And here we are the Garden City and now those gardens are gone.”
Several years ago, the company also encouraged the city to possibly build a new civic center at the former Regency Mall location in south Augusta, Simon said.
“The company even bought the hockey team,” Simon said, chuckling. “We weren’t interested in hockey. Good gracious. I didn’t know anything about it. But we bought the hockey team, ran it and lost money, all because we hoped that a new civic center would work. But we couldn’t get the traction we needed to make it happen.”
For decades, supporters of Billy Morris believe Augusta has only benefited from the generosity of Morris’ companies and the long legacy of The Augusta Chronicle.
“The company and Billy Morris have really given back to the community,” Simon said. “However, they don’t get the credit.”
Many longtime readers of the Chronicle are extremely anxious to see how the newspaper may change under the leadership of GateHouse Media.
“It will be interesting to see what this GateHouse does with paper,” Wells said, pointing over at a hard copy of the Chronicle sitting on his coffee table. “I still read it every day. I just hope that the newspaper doesn’t lose its local edge. I mean, Billy was born and raised here. He definitely knows Augusta. The Chronicle needs that local edge.”
Please note that this text-only version, provided for ease of printing and reading, includes more than 100 pages and may take up to 15 minutes to print. By clicking on one of these links, you may go directly to a particular text-only section:
History of Augusta Essay
African Americans in Augusta Essay
Historic Preservation in Augusta Essay
Religion in Augusta Essay
List of Sites
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The National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services; Historic Augusta, Inc.; and the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources proudly invite you to explore Augusta. This Discover our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary highlights 39 historic places listed in the National Register of Historic Places that bring Augusta’s history to life.
The Augusta travel itinerary offers several ways to discover the city’s historic places:
• Descriptions of each featured historic place on the List of Sites highlight their significance and include color photographs and information on how to visit.
• Essays with background on important themes in the city’s development offer context for understanding historic places featured in the itinerary. Visitors can read about the History of Augusta, African Americans in Augusta, Historic Preservation in Augusta, and Religion in Augusta.
• A map to help plan a visit.
• A Learn More section provides links to such information as cultural events and activities, other things to see and do, and dining and lodging possibilities. This section also includes a bibliography.
View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person. The Augusta itinerary, the 45th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior’s strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and federal, state, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The itineraries help people everywhere learn about and plan trips to visit the amazing diversity of this country’s historic places that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series. If you have any comments or questions, please just click “comments or questions” at the bottom of each page.
History of Augusta
Founded in 1736 on the western bank of the Savannah River, Augusta, Georgia became the second town of the 13th British colony. General James Edward Oglethorpe, the colony’s founder, ordered the settlement and chose its location at the head of navigation of the Savannah River below the shoals created by the fall line. Oglethorpe’s vision was to establish an interior trading post for purchasing furs and other commodities from Native Americans to compete with New Savannah Town, a small outpost on the South Carolina side of the river.
Augusta thrived as a trading post from the beginning, with several of the South Carolina traders moving their base of operations to the new settlement. By 1739 a fort was completed, and the official surveyor of the colony, Noble Jones, laid out the town. Its colonial plan was similar, but not as elaborate as the one used in Savannah. Augusta’s plan focused on one large square or plaza and was four streets deep and three streets wide. Fort Augusta was adjacent to the 40 town lots on the west side near the river. Augusta named two of its original streets for Georgia’s colonial governors: Reynolds Street for John Reynolds, and Ellis Street for Henry Ellis. These streets are still prominent features of the Downtown Augusta, Broad Street, and Pinched Gut Historic Districts.
As traders populated the town, they brought their wives and began to have children. The desire for a more civilized atmosphere dictated the need for a church. As a British colony, Georgia petitioned the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel for a minister after constructing a church building in 1749. The first minister, the Reverend Jonathan Copp, arrived in 1751 and began conducting services according to the rites of the Church of England. After Georgia’s division into parishes in 1756, the Augusta District fell into St. Paul’s Parish, and the Augusta church became known as St. Paul’s Church.
During the French and Indian wars, refugees from the surrounding countryside came to Augusta, taking shelter in the fort and church. The building suffered significant damage in that period and was replaced in the 1760s. Soldiers coming to Georgia during the war spread the word about fresh lands, and in the early 1770s new settlers arrived to claim land grants in the surrounding countryside. Many had formerly been tobacco planters in Virginia and the Carolinas. They transported their tobacco culture to Georgia, where tobacco soon became the main cash crop of the colony. In approximately 1797, one of the last important tobacco merchants in Augusta built the Ezekiel Harris House (also known as the Harris-Pearson-Walker House), which is representative of that nearly forgotten economic factor in Georgia’s history.
Augusta played a significant role in the American Revolution as one of the westernmost towns in the 13 British colonies. The first of the two battles fought here, the Siege of the White House, resulted in the hanging of 13 patriot soldiers by Tory forces under Colonel Thomas Browne. After the second, called the Siege of Augusta, patriot forces, under the command of General “Light Horse” Harry Lee, retook the town. The British erected Fort Cornwallis on the site of the former Fort Augusta and in the process destroyed St. Paul’s Church. After the Revolution, a new church, built between 1786 and 1789 and lasting until 1820, served all denominations, although much of the time it had a resident Episcopal minister. The present building, the fifth on the site, dates from 1918 after a terrible conflagration destroyed 30 city blocks in 1916.
During the Revolutionary War, the original town plan of Augusta expanded to the south, east, and west. At that time, the city named new streets for important Revolutionary War generals. Washington Street (now 6th Street) on the west was for General George Washington; McIntosh Street (now 7th Street) was for General Lachlan McIntosh; Jackson Street (8th Street) was for General James Jackson. All are now within the Augusta Downtown Historic District. Elbert Street (now 4th Street) to the east was for General Samuel Elbert; and Lincoln Street (now 3rd Street) was for General Benjamin Lincoln. Both of these now lie within the boundaries of the Pinched Gut Historic District. Greene Street on the south, named for General Nathaniel Greene, is a major artery that bisects both the Augusta Downtown and Pinched Gut Historic Districts.
After the Revolution Augusta became the temporary capital of the new state of Georgia between 1786 and 1795, and many of the leaders of the government moved to the town. One of the most notable was George Walton, a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, who built his home, Meadow Garden, on what was then the outskirts of town. Walton held many important offices, including Governor and Judge. Walton Way, named in his honor, is the main artery through the Summerville Historic District, a suburban village originally laid out by Walton in the 1790s. In 1799 Christopher Fitzsimmons, a prosperous Charleston shipbuilder, built another outlying plantation house on his productive Savannah River plantation, the Fitzsimmons-Hampton House on Sand Bar Ferry Road. Henry Turknett lived at College Hill, another 1790s house, on property once owned by George Walton, who hoped to have the University of Georgia built there. Turknett Springs, located behind the house, provided Augusta’s first municipal drinking water, piped down the hill in hollowed out logs beginning in the 1820s.
The town continued to grow in size and population governed by a group of Trustees of the Academy of Richmond County. In 1791 they added Telfair Street, named for Georgia Governor Edward Telfair. Telfair Street today is another major artery through the Augusta Downtown and Pinched Gut Historic Districts. President George Washington’s visit in 1791 was a highlight of this period. Legend has it that Augustans planted the large ginkgo tree in his honor at the proposed site of the Richmond County Courthouse, constructed in 1801 and now known as the Old Government House. The Trustees of the Academy built a new school building in 1802, the old Academy of Richmond County.
Augusta’s first suburb, part of the Augusta Downtown Historic District, was originally the village of Springfield, developed on lands confiscated from James Grierson, a Tory during the Revolutionary War. Captain Leonard Marbury laid out lots there on the west side of Augusta and built some houses. Augusta included Springfield within the city limits at the time of its incorporation in 1798. Because of their displacement from the Silver Bluff Plantation in South Carolina during the Revolution, a large population of free African Americans settled in Springfield by 1787. They established the Springfield Baptist Church there, one of the oldest independent black congregations in the United States.
After the seat of the state government moved to Louisville and subsequently to Milledgeville, Augusta continued to grow fulfilling the prediction of William Bartram, the naturalist, who said it would become the metropolis of Upper Georgia during his visit of 1774. Robert Mills, America’s first native-born architect, won the competition to design the First Presbyterian Church built between 1809 and 1812. Nicholas Ware built Ware’s Folly (Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art) in 1818 in the Federal style, reportedly for the astounding cost of $40,000.
As Georgia expanded westward and the states of Alabama and Mississippi attracted many of its prosperous planters, Augusta’s economy began to stagnate. The Charleston and Hamburg Railroad in South Carolina reached a point directly across the Savannah River from the heart of downtown Augusta in 1832. In 1833 the Georgia Railroad, chartered in Athens, Georgia, began building westward from Augusta toward a yet unnamed settlement that would eventually become Atlanta. Constructing the railroad attracted an Irish immigrant population to Augusta that has an important presence in the city today. Many were Roman Catholics, who joined the already well established Church of the Most Holy Trinity, founded in 1810 by French Catholics who settled in Augusta after the slave revolts on the island of San Domingo in the 1790s. For years the church’s name was Saint Patrick after its patron saint, in deference to its large Irish population.
The railroad did not ensure Augusta’s future, as the tug on Americans to move westward grew ever stronger, but other factors had a positive impact on the city. Spurred by the invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, local farmers grew upland cotton in the surrounding countryside making Augusta the center of a large inland cotton market. They shipped their cotton to the port of Savannah via cotton boats down the Savannah River, or overland to Charleston on the South Carolina Railroad. Henry Cumming advanced the idea of manufacturing cotton goods locally. He proposed building a canal for waterpower following the example of Lowell, Massachusetts. Constructed in 1845, the Augusta Canal attracted flourmills, cotton mills, iron works, and other manufacturing establishments along its banks. By the time of the Civil War, Augusta was one of the few industrial centers in the South. The Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District represents the economic salvation of Augusta from the 1840s until well into the 20th century.
Augusta prospered again on the eve of the Civil War as evidenced by several buildings and homes constructed during that period. Noted architect, Charles Blaney Cluskey, who lived in Augusta at the time, designed the Old Medical College of Georgia built on Telfair Street in 1835 to house the state’s first medical school. The Brahe House, a fine example of a typical house type in Augusta known as the Sand Hills Cottage, was the creation in 1850 of German immigrant and jeweler, Frederick Brahe. Later it became the first house in town to have electric lighting. Suburban Summerville Historic District became the summer residence of choice for wealthy Augustans, who believed it was healthier due to its higher elevation and lack of mosquitoes. Two fine houses there are the 1849 Reid-Jones-Carpenter House and the Gould-Weed House, circa 1860. Dennis Redmond, a noted horticultural editor, constructed Fruitlands in 1853 on his Washington Road plantation, which became famous under the ownership of the Berckmans family as a fine nursery and still more famous in the 20th century as the clubhouse for the Augusta National Golf Club.
The Confederate government established the Confederate States Powder Works on the Augusta Canal in 1862, at the present site of Sibley Mill. A United States Arsenal, erected in approximately the same location in 1819, moved to the village of Summerville in 1827, after the commandant determined it a healthier location. The original arsenal buildings remain largely intact as the centerpiece of Augusta State University, with the Commandant’s House, known as the Stephen Vincent Benét House, used as an administration building. During the Civil War, gunpowder made at the powder works was moved to the arsenal to pack munitions sent to soldiers in the field.
Augusta served as a major center of the Confederacy, providing cotton goods, shoes, guns, munitions, food, and many other commodities. In addition, the city was a religious center of the South hosting meetings for the formation of both the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America at St. Paul’s Church, and the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States at First Presbyterian Church. The meeting took place there at the invitation of its pastor, Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, who lived with his family in the parsonage, the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home. Next door to the future President’s home was the parsonage of First Christian Church, home of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph R. Lamar. Wilson and Lamar, both sons of prominent Augusta pastors, were best friends as children.
Following the Civil War, Augusta’s economy struggled but rebounded with the enlargement and expansion of the Augusta Canal in 1875. Several large new cotton mills were built along its banks. The old 18th century village of Harrisburg gained new life, as a large mill village grew around the Harris-Pearson-Walker House. Continuing expansion to the west, the City of Augusta completed its first major annexation in 1880 by taking in what is now the Harrisburg—West End Historic District.
Many of Augusta’s Irish immigrants lived in a section of town then known as Dublin. The surrounding streets developed as enclaves for various immigrant groups in the 19th century, including African Americans. By the turn of the 20th century, because of Jim Crow laws legalizing segregation, this area, the Laney—Walker North Historic District, became predominantly black. A few blocks to the south is the Bethlehem Historic District, created in the late 19th and early 20th centuries exclusively by and for African Americans. The Sand Hills Historic District, adjacent to Summerville, is another historically black neighborhood that developed parallel to a predominantly white business and residential area after the Civil War.
As the old city continued to expand, most religious denominations realized the need to establish a second congregation in the western end of the city, and often a third or fourth in the suburban areas. Consequently, the Church of the Most Sacred Heart established at Greene and McKinne (13th) streets in 1874 became the second Roman Catholic parish in Augusta. A magnificent new building was constructed between 1898 and 1900 beside the original church, which became a school. Greene Street Presbyterian Church, founded in 1875, was an attempt by the First Presbyterian congregation to expand its influence. Curtis Baptist Church, also founded in the 1870s, and Saint James Methodist Church, dating from the 1850s, were other examples of efforts to evangelize in the city. Most denominations also established a church presence in Laney—Walker, Bethlehem, Harrisburg, Summerville and Sand Hills in the late 19th or early 20th centuries.
Set up in 1874, the Augusta Cotton Exchange moved to an impressive permanent headquarters building constructed in 1887 in the Queen Anne style. With the expansion of the Augusta Canal, the city was once again a thriving center of a cotton economy. Cotton warehouses lined Reynolds Street between St. Paul’s Church on the east and 9th Street on the west. One can still find the last cotton warehouses, now converted to restaurants and shops, along 9th Street in the Augusta Downtown Historic District. Mills along the Augusta Canal manufactured cotton goods, including the antebellum Augusta Factory (razed in the 1960s), Enterprise Mill, Sutherland Mill, King Mill, and Sibley Mill.
A horse drawn street car was first put into operation in 1866, connecting the neighborhoods that now comprise the Pinched Gut, Augusta Downtown, Broad Street, Harrisburg—West End, and Summerville Historic Districts. In 1890, electrified streetcars provided more access between Augusta’s neighborhoods and its suburbs. This development also sparked Augusta’s tourist industry with the construction of the original Bon Air Hotel in Summerville in 1889-90. The Bon Air attracted wealthy northerners who wanted to escape harsh winters. Soon Summerville had a lively cottage industry of winter boarding houses.
The Partridge Inn emerged from one of these boarding houses, evolving into its present state over a period of thirty years. Pleased with the southern climate, some of the winter visitors built their own homes, or remodeled or enlarged existing cottages in Summerville. Golf came to the village when the hotel established the Bon Air Links as a recreational opportunity for its guests. This course, originally sand, became the Augusta Country Club in 1899. Forrest Hills Hotel and Golf Course, laid out to the west of Summerville in the 1920s, had a complete automobile suburb featuring curving brick streets and Georgian Revival estates on large lots.
Founded in the early 1930s, Augusta National Golf Club is on the Fruitlands property on Washington Road west of Augusta on the northern border of Summerville. Also in the '30s, the club established the Masters Golf Tournament, which has become golf’s premier event in the United States.
A military town since its beginning as a military outpost in the 1730s, Augusta served as a place of refuge in the French and Indian War and passed back and forth between American and British hands during the Revolution. The city hosted a United States Arsenal beginning in 1819. During the Civil War, it was a center of military preparedness, supplies, industrial output, and support of Confederate troops from the domestic front. The United States government established Camp McKenzie at Augusta during the Spanish American War and Camp Hancock in World War I.
In 1940 shortly before the United States entered World War II, the Federal Government founded Camp Gordon about 10 miles from downtown Augusta in south Richmond County in an area historically known as Pinetucky. After the war started, Augusta became a major military town again. Available space became additional housing, with many of the antebellum and Victorian homes converted to apartment buildings. The resort hotels became year-round commercial hotels. Soldiers in uniform were everywhere. The old arsenal buzzed with activity with high security around the clock. Augusta would never be quite the same.
After the war, subdivisions began spreading to the west, south, and east of town. Camp Gordon became a permanent installation, Fort Gordon, the home of the United States Army Signal Corps. In the 1950s, the Army Corps of Engineers finally dammed the Savannah River upstream from Augusta to curtail the periodic flooding that occurred and to generate electricity. The U.S. Government also built the Savannah River Plant in nearby Aiken and Barnwell Counties, South Carolina. These three governmental expansions of post World War II Augusta generated an economic boom reflected in the modern commercial buildings constructed in the Augusta Downtown Historic District. Yet this economic boost for the region eventually caused downtown Augusta to decline, particularly after two shopping malls, both with approximately 1,000,000 square feet, opened within one week of one another in 1978.
Today, Augusta’s downtown is on the rebound with shops and restaurants opening on Broad Street and near the river and many facades of historic buildings restored. An Artists Row helped stimulate new energy and became the impetus for a monthly street festival known as First Friday. A reclaimed levee built in the 1910s to hold back the worst floodwaters from the Savannah River is now a park called the Riverwalk. Between 5th and 10th streets, the park has outdoor historical exhibits, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, to interpret the city’s history. Regular festivals are held near the Riverwalk and on a new green space called the Augusta Common, which is in the 800 block of Broad Street. The Augusta Common features a statue of Georgia and Augusta founder James Edward Oglethorpe. A second statue of soul singer James Brown of Augusta overlooks the Common from Broad Street.
African Americans in Augusta
Augusta's racial makeup has long been largely African American. Its African American citizens have contributed greatly to the rich tapestry of the city's history. A number of listings in the National Register of Historic Places reflect the role of African Americans.
Georgia initially banned slavery during earliest colonial times, but eventually the Trustees allowed it, acquiescing to pressure from colonists who saw slavery providing economic benefit to their neighbors across the Savannah River in South Carolina. Remote Augusta worked gangs of enslaved Africans brought over from Carolina even before it was legal to do so. Production of cotton required intensive labor to grow and pick, as well as to prepare to sell and send to market. Cotton’s potential for making high profits accelerated the desire of southern planters to own more slaves in order to grow more cotton, and slavery grew ever more prevalent after invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Augusta area farmers joined in the frenzied rush to plant more cotton, which almost completely supplanted the previous cash crop, tobacco.
By 1787 a large group of African Americans, who had been slaves on the Galphin Plantation at Silver Bluff, arrived in Augusta and settled in the then adjacent village of Springfield. Mostly free, they formed Springfield Baptist Church there, which was an offshoot of the Silver Bluff Church that the Galphin slaves established before the Revolution. Displaced by British invasion of South Carolina, former Silver Bluff slaves formed Springfield in Augusta and another church in Savannah that are among the oldest independent African American congregations in the nation.
Cedar Grove Cemetery in the Pinched Gut Historic District has been the burial place of Augusta’s black population, both slave and free, since the 1820s. Burials began there after the St. Paul’s churchyard closed in 1817. At that time, Magnolia Cemetery was founded for whites and Cedar Grove soon thereafter for African Americans. By an act of the legislature, authorities removed the remains of African Americans originally buried at St. Paul’s and re-interred them at Cedar Grove in 1825.
Augusta had five black churches before the end of Civil War, in an era when formalized assembly of African Americans was frowned upon, if not illegal, in most parts of the South. In addition to Springfield, Thankful Baptist, Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal, Central Baptist, and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Churches all had their own buildings.
After emancipation Springfield was the center of educational and political activities for Augusta’s black citizens. The Augusta Baptist Institute was founded in 1867 in Augusta's Springfield Baptist Church, eventually moving to Atlanta to become Morehouse College. The Georgia Equal Rights Association was founded in Springfield in 1866. This association evolved into the Republican Party in the state.
African American churches initiated efforts to educate Freedmen after the Civil War, first at a former wagon factory turned shoe factory by the Confederate government on 9th and Ellis Streets. Other notable African American educational institutions established in Augusta after the Civil War include Reverend Charles T. Walker’s Walker Baptist Institute; Ware High School, Georgia’s first public high school for African Americans, built in 1880 by the Richmond County Board of Education and later the subject of a Supreme Court case that legalized the practice of segregated education; Lucy Laney’s Haines Normal and Industrial Institute; and Paine College, a joint effort of the black and white Methodist churches. Shiloh Baptist Association founded Shiloh Orphanage in 1902 to provide housing, care, and education for black children without families.
After the Civil War, African Americans, not yet legally segregated from whites, gradually gravitated to the neighborhoods south of downtown. This area, now known as the Laney—Walker North Historic District, was formerly an area settled by Irish immigrants known as Dublin. Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Central Baptist Church, and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church all had been in Laney—Walker since before emancipation. All three congregregations have moved away from the neighborhood, and only Trinity CME's building still stands. Afterwards a number of other churches came to the neighborhood. Tabernacle Baptist Church, which has a national reputation, moved to the district to its present building in 1915. Laney—Walker became Augusta's principal African American neighborhood and the location of important black owned businesses such as the Penny Savings Bank, and Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance. It was also home to noted black educator Miss Lucy Craft Laney. Another neighborhood developed outside the original city limits known as The Terri and Nellieville, parts of which became the Bethlehem Historic District.
Still another African American neighborhood, originally called Elizabethtown, developed north of the affluent suburb of Summerville. Today the neighborhood is the Sand Hills Historic District. The Cumming Grove Baptist Church and Rock of Ages Christian Methodist Episcopal Church were among the earliest congregations founded to serve its residents.
Amanda American Dickson’s acquisition of a large house on Telfair Street in 1886 is a notable exception to the trend toward segregation of housing and neighborhoods. Amanda Dickson was perhaps the wealthiest African American woman of her time, having inherited the entire estate of her white father, David Dickson of Hancock County, Georgia. She lies buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery under an imposing monument, a contrast to the modest grave markers on surrounding lots.
Preservation efforts in the African American community have centered on specific landmark buildings, including Springfield Baptist Church on 12th Street, The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History and Conference Center on Phillips Street, and the former Penny Savings Bank on James Brown Boulevard. In addition, Historic Augusta, Inc. is restoring the Union Baptist Church.
Historic Preservation in Augusta
Augustans have been involved in preserving parts of their historic city for over a century, and visitors today have the opportunity to see the tangible results of those efforts in many different ways. Reverence for the past is important in Augusta, and citizens' appreciation of what is worthy of preservation has evolved over time with national trends.
In 1900 shortly after its establishment in Georgia, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) made an effort to acquire Meadow Garden, the post-Revolutionary War home of George Walton, one of three Signers of the Declaration of Independence from the state. In 1901, the DAR succeeded in getting the house, which is located beside the Augusta Canal, making it into a museum that continues in operation today. With the Walton House, the DAR became the first organization in Georgia to acquire and preserve the home of a notable historically significant person for preservation as a house museum.
By the 1920's, the former Academy of Richmond County building became the new home of the Young Men’s Library Association--an early adaptive use in Augusta. Later the Augusta Museum occupied the second floor and eventually the entire academy building after the library association moved to Greene Street in 1960. Since the museum relocated to new quarters in 1994 the building has been vacant awaiting a new educational use, as stipulated by its owners, the Trustees of the Academy of Richmond County.
Next door to the academy, the Old Medical College Building also became vacant, when Richmond Academy moved to new quarters. The Sand Hills Garden Club converted the 1835 Greek Revival building into a garden center to be used by community organizations for parties, social events, and meetings. Other organizations had offices there, including the Augusta Genealogical Society. In 1989, the Medical College Foundation leased the building from the owners, the Trustees of the Academy of Richmond County, and completed a thorough rehabilitation. During the project, bones found buried in the basement provided proof that antebellum medical students learned medical procedures on stolen cadavers, when it was illegal for them to do so. The building is still an events center.
In 1937 Olivia Herbert, a winter resident, purchased and restored Ware’s Folly, an 1818 Federal style house. She gave it to the Augusta Art Association. Since that time, the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art occupies the house, using the building for classes and a gallery space featuring local and regional artistic talent.
Two private historic preservation efforts are notable in this period. In 1929, Dr. and Mrs. A. J. Kilpatrick carefully disassembled the 18th century Mansion House on Greene Street, numbered its pieces, and reassembled it on Comfort Road in the new Forest Hills development. In the early 1930s, Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts founded the Augusta National Golf Club on the Fruitland Nursery property, using the plantation home as the clubhouse. The building still stands. Today it is a familiar symbol of the internationally known Masters Golf Tournament.
After World War II, interest in preserving more of the area’s history led to the establishment of the Richmond County Historical Society in 1946. Two years later the fledging group bought “The White House” on Broad Street in Harrisburg, believing it to be the site of the First Siege of Augusta during the Revolutionary War. In 1964, the Georgia Historical Commission acquired and ultimately completely restored the building, operating it as a house museum. During restoration, someone discovered that the alleged “White House” was originally blue, so the Commission changed the name to the Mackey House, reflecting the owner during the Revolution. In 1975, Martha Norwood completed a definitive study, proving that the real “White House,” a.k.a. the Mackey House, was closer to the river, and that the house being interpreted as the Mackey House was actually built in 1797 by Ezekiel Harris, a tobacco merchant. Declaring it a fraud, the state quickly closed the house for tours. Later the building served as the Bicentennial headquarters. In 1982, the city took ownership and turned it over to Historic Augusta, Inc., a preservation organization. Historic Augusta reinterpreted the house to tell its true story. In 2004, the Augusta Museum of History assumed responsibility for the daily operation of the renamed Ezekiel Harris House.
In 1965, alarmed over the casual destruction of many historic properties in the downtown and following the example of the Historic Savannah Foundation, a group of Augustans founded Historic Augusta, Inc. The new organization’s members were concerned about construction of the elevated Gordon Highway in the 1950s through downtown, demolition of the 1820 Richmond County Courthouse and the 1890 Augusta City Hall, and a threat to the 1902 Beaux Arts Union Station. Two important initiatives included conducting a survey of historic properties and conceiving a plan to create a pilot project to demonstrate the value of historic preservation. The project centered on the Old Government House (1801) on Telfair Street, headquarters of the Junior League of Augusta beginning in 1952. After creation of the National Register of Historic Places as we know it today in 1966, Historic Augusta began actively initiating nominations to the National Register, first of local landmark buildings and later of historic districts.
The city adopted a historic zoning ordinance in 1970, superseded in 1992 by the present Historic Preservation Ordinance. As of May 2007, Richmond County had 44 listings in the National Register, 9 of them historic districts. The City has designated three local historic districts to protect them under the Preservation Ordinance, including Summerville, Downtown, and Pinched Gut (also known as Olde Town). Summerville and Pinched Gut (Olde Town) enjoy active and influential neighborhood associations that advocate preservation in these mostly residential districts.
Individuals, nonprofits, and corporations played significant roles in preserving historic buildings as well, especially after federal preservation tax incentives became available beginning in 1976. One of the earliest projects, known as LaFayette Center, focused on the former YMCA building on Broad Street and the adjacent row of 19th century townhouses. In the mid-1980s after sitting vacant for a decade, Sacred Heart Catholic Church underwent a thorough restoration becoming a cultural center. Historic Augusta acquired the Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in 1991 and opened it as a house museum in 2001. The rehabilitation and conversion of Enterprise Mill to offices and apartments in the 1990’s was another successful project using the federal tax credits. The mill also houses the Augusta Canal Interpretive Center. More than 150 apartments have been developed above downtown commercial buildings in the Augusta Downtown Historic District since the late 1980s. The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History and Conference Center opened in the early 1990s, preserving a historic building and informing the public about the legacy of one of Augusta’s important black educators.
The City of Augusta supports preservation efforts in a number of ways including its renovation of the Old Government House in 1988 and rehabilitation of the William B. Bell Auditorium in 1989. The city established Main Street Augusta from 1991 until 2006 to help revitalize its downtown, and the Augusta Canal Authority in 1989 to preserve the Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District and develop the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area. Augusta is a Certified Local Government and a Preserve America Community, both federal designations that demonstrate the city’s commitment to preserving its heritage for people today and future generations.
Religion in Augusta
Almost from the beginning, Augusta’s citizens made religious worship a high priority. The architecture of the historic buildings that remain and the rich religious history associated with them illustrate the importance of religion in the life of the community. Augusta’s historic churches are diverse in their denominational affiliations and in their architectural styles.
In 1749 even before colonial settlers had regular access to the services of a clergyman, they completed a small church. Because Georgia was a British colony, the congregants were of the Anglican faith. After the Revolution, the third of five successive buildings on the site of the first church ostensibly served all denominations even though an Episcopal priest was often in residence. Episcopalians gained control in 1819 and built the fourth St. Paul’s Church on the original site according to plans by architect John Lund. That Georgian style building burned in the Great Augusta Fire of 1916. The present building replaced it in 1918. Remaining true to Lund’s 1819 exterior design, architect Henry Ten Eyck Wendell enlarged the footprint and included a modern high style Georgian interior.
The oldest surviving church building in Augusta is now part of Springfield Baptist Church. Saint John United Methodist Church originally built Asbury Chapel on Greene Street in 1801 and used the building until 1844. When the Methodists constructed a new building, the Springfield Baptist congregation acquired the chapel and moved it to the corner of 12th and Reynolds. Springfield has existed on that site since 1787, making it among the oldest African American congregations in the United States.
In 1807 Charleston-born architect Robert Mills entered and won a design competition sponsored by the fledging Presbyterian congregation in Augusta. Although subsequently remodeled, the building he designed, constructed on Telfair Street between 1809 and 1812, still stands today as the historic sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, the father of President Woodrow Wilson, was one of its notable pastors. In 1861 the church was the birthplace of the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States.
Roman Catholics, banned in colonial Georgia, began coming to Augusta in the 1790s following slave revolts in the French colony of San Domingo. By 1810 they formed a congregation, known as the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, and obtained land on Telfair Street to erect a sanctuary. The present building, constructed between 1856 and 1863, is one of the two oldest Catholic Church buildings in the state. Later, many Catholic Irish immigrants came to Augusta to build the railroad and help dig the canal.
Kiokee Baptist Church, established in 1772 in what was originally St. Paul’s Parish, was the first of its denomination in Georgia. Kiokee is now located in Columbia County but remains the oldest Baptist congregation in the state. Although Trustees held a lot for a Baptist Meeting House on Ellis Street between 1777 and 1787, Baptists were slow to organize permanently in Augusta. They finally established a Baptist Praying Society in 1816 and constructed a building in 1820 on Greene Street according to plans by architect John Lund. The Southern Baptist Convention was born in this building in 1845, signaling one of many rifts that led to the Civil War. In 1902 First Baptist Church replaced the 1820 building with a Beaux Arts style edifice. The congregation moved to the west Augusta suburbs in 1975, but the 1902 building, its previous home, still stands and presently serves as a seminaryand a new Baptist congregation.
Other denominations established footholds in Augusta, even as the older congregations began to obtain second and third locations. First Christian Church dates from 1835 and had its first building on Reynolds Street, replacing it in 1875 with the present Romanesque Revival building on Greene Street, a gift of wealthy benefactress Emily Tubman. Lutherans arrived when German immigrants came in the 1850s. Their first church was Saint Matthews, built in 1860 on Walker Street, now the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. In the 1880s a younger generation wanted services in English. They built Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 553 Greene Street in 1889, now the Metropolitan Community Church. The two Lutheran congregations reunited in 1921 as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, constructing their present building in 1926.
Liberty Methodist Church near Hephzibah was one of the first Methodist congregations in Georgia, having a presence as early as the 1770s. In town, Saint John Methodist dates from 1798. Its African American members formed Trinity Christian Methodist Episcopal Church on 8th Street in 1840. White Methodists established Saint James Methodist Church further east on Greene Street in 1856. Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church became Augusta’s second African American Methodist group before emancipation. Following the Civil War, additional Methodist congregations grew up in suburban areas, including Saint Luke’s in Harrisburg in 1875, and Trinity-On-The-Hill Methodist in Summerville in 1926.
Baptists quickly began evangelizing after their late start in the town, establishing among others Thankful Baptist in the Pinched Gut Historic District in 1840; Cumming Grove Baptist in the Sand Hills Historic District in the late 1840s; and Tabernacle Baptist Church founded in 1885, with its present building completed in 1915 in the Laney—Walker North Historic District. These three African American congregations were soon joined by other white brethren at Curtis Baptist, which located downtown on Broad Street in 1876. Its current sanctuary dates from 1927. The Hill Baptist Church, founded in 1930, has a building from 1940 in the Summerville Historic District. Baptists outnumber all other denominations in Augusta today.
A small number of Jews had a presence in Augusta by the late 18th century, and later formed an association. In 1847, they built their first synagogue and replaced it in 1869 with the temple at 512 Telfair Street. Known as Congregation Children of Israel, the reformed congregation joined with an orthodox congregation later in the 19th century. Both moved to west Augusta suburbs after World War II, but the 1869 temple, now used as city offices, remains the oldest synagogue building in Georgia.
In 1850, the second Episcopalian parish built the Church of the Atonement on Telfair Street designed by architect Richard Upjohn (razed 1976). Founded in Summerville in 1869, the Church of the Good Shepherd is now in an 1882 High Victorian Gothic building rebuilt after a fire in 1896. Good Shepherd’s original building, a wooden church in the Carpenter Gothic style, was moved to Harrisburg to become Christ Episcopal Church in 1882. African Americans founded Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, located in a building on 12th Street since 1928.
The Presbyterians’ first attempt at founding a second church in Augusta in 1851 was not successful. The building, at 1102 Greene Street, later became a Civil War Sunday School for African Americans, but was acquired by Union Baptist Church in 1883, when a group of former members of Springfield Baptist improved and enlarged the wooden Carpenter Gothic building. In 1875, the Presbyterians started a new congregation known as Greene Street Presbyterian Church, whose present 1906 Romanesque Revival sanctuary has a commanding presence on the downtown skyline.
Roman Catholics expanded their flock by establishing Sacred Heart Church in 1875 on Ellis Street. The original building still stands and serves as the local headquarters of the American Red Cross. In 1898-1900, Sacred Heart built a magnificent new church at the northwest corner of Greene and 13th Streets, adjacent to the original building. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style, the building features 15 different brick designs and a cathedral-like plan. Since 1986 it has served as the Sacred Heart Cultural Center.
Taken together, Augusta’s historic churches and religious buildings represent an impressive collection of both modest and monumental ecclesiastical architecture for a city of Augusta's size. Fine examples of Gothic, Romanesque, Beaux Arts, Georgian, and Greek Revival styles can be found. These buildings witnessed important events in religious and national history, playing significant roles in religious freedom in America.
List of Sites
•Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/ Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District
• Enterprise Mill
• King Mill
• Sibley Mill and Confederate Powder Works Chimney
• Augusta Downtown Historic District
• Academy of Richmond County
• Augusta Cotton Exchange Building
• Brahe House
• Church of the Most Holy Trinity
• Engine Company Number One
• First Baptist Church of Augusta
• First Presbyterian Church of Augusta
• Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art
• Joseph Rucker Lamar Boyhood Home
• Lamar Building
• Old Government House
• Old Medical College of Georgia
• Sacred Heart Catholic Church
• Springfield Baptist Church
• St. Paul's Episcopal Church
• United States Post Office and Courthouse
• Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home
• Bethlehem Historic District
• Harrisburg-West End Historic District
• Harris-Pearson-Walker House
• Academy of Richmond County─1926 Campus
• Fruitlands/Augusta National Golf Club
• Meadow Garden
• Shiloh Orphanage
• Tubman High School
• Laney─Walker North Historic District
• The Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History and Conference Center
• Tabernacle Baptist Church
• Pinched Gut Historic District
• Sand Hills Historic District
• Summerville Historic District
• Appleby Library
• The Partridge Inn
• Stephen Vincent Benét House
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/ Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District
Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District includes a three-level canal constructed in 1845-46 and enlarged in 1874-77. The first level reaches 8.5 miles from head gate structures in Columbia County into downtown Augusta. The second and third levels take several paths through the Downtown and the Laney-Walker Districts prior to returning to the Savannah River, for a total length of approximately 13.5 miles.
Notable structures at the upper end of the canal’s first level are two head gates, the canal impoundment area, canal dam and attached fish ladder, stone quarry, and municipal raw water pumping station. The Enterprise, Blanche, Dartmouth, Sibley, and John P. King textile mills along the lower end of the first level date from the 1870s and 1880s. The Confederate States Powder Works Chimney is also in the area.
A source of power, water, and transportation, the Augusta Canal was one of the few successful industrial canals in the American South. Henry H. Cumming spearheaded its construction, envisioning that Augusta could one day become “the Lowell of the South.” Built by 1847, a saw and gristmill and the Augusta Factory were the first of many factories that would eventually line the canal.
At the time of the Civil War, Augusta was one of the South’s few manufacturing centers. The power afforded by the canal led Confederate Colonel George W. Rains to select Augusta as the location for the Confederate States Powder Works. The only permanent buildings ever constructed by the government of the Confederate States of America, the 28 powder works buildings stretched along the canal for two miles. Other war industries, established on or near the canal, made Augusta a critical supplier of ammunition and war material.
Unlike some other southern cities devastated by the Civil War and General Sherman’s march through Georgia and South Carolina, Augusta ended the war in “better condition than any other cities in this section of the South,” reported the Augusta Chronicle in December 1865. The population had doubled, and hard currency was available to finance recovery.
The canal’s Chief Engineer William Phillips suggested enlarging the canal as one of the improvements to mitigate recurring flooding. Boom years followed enlargement of the canal in 1875, as massive factories including the Enterprise, King, and Sibley textile mills; the Lombard Ironworks; and others opened or expanded. Farm families migrated to the city for factory jobs. Largely employing women and children, the factories led to the rise of several “mill villages” in their precincts. By the early 1900s, Augusta was a leading textile-manufacturing city in the South.
In the 1890s, the city replaced its old water pumping station with the impressive structure at mid-canal that is still in use today. As the electric age began to dawn, the city turned to the falling waterpower provided by the canal as the source of energy to drive the first electrical generation equipment. By 1890, the city boasted both electric streetcars and street lighting making it the first southern city to have these amenities. Gradually the factories converted from hydro-mechanical power to electrical power.
Periodic floods, which plagued the canal and Augusta for decades, continued to cause damage during the early 20th century. Following major floods in late 1920s and early '30s, the Federal Works Progress Administration deployed workers to make repairs and improvements, including raising the banks, building a new spillway, and straightening the canal.
By the mid-20th century, the canal entered a period of neglect. Textile factories began to close, and the center of Augusta’s industrial activity shifted south of the city. Although still the city’s drinking water source, the canal was no longer the driving force for development. At one point in the 1960s, city officials considered draining the canal and using the dry bed as the course for a superhighway.
Interest in reviving the canal for recreational use began to appear by the mid-1970s. A state park was proposed, and supporters of designation made efforts to have the canal and its 19th century mills declared a National Historic Landmark. While the state park never materialized, growing public interest in the canal’s historic and scenic potential led to several important developments. The canal and its industrial mills were listed in the National Register of Historic Places and later designated a National Historic Landmark as the Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District.
In 1989, the Georgia State Legislature created the Augusta Canal Authority, the body that has jurisdiction over the canal today. In 1993, the authority issued a comprehensive master plan, outlining the canal’s development potential. In 1996, the US Congress designated the Augusta Canal as a National Heritage Area.
In the 21st century, the Augusta Canal is once again a source of pride and potential for its community. The mighty Enterprise Mill, revived after years of neglect as an office and residential complex, now houses the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center. Its exhibits and artifacts depict canal construction and mill life and remind Augustans and visitors alike of the progress, problems, and promise of the Augusta Canal.
Begin your visit at either the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center in the Enterprise Mill at 1450 Greene St. or the Columbia County Regional Information Center in the Locker Keepers Cottage located at the head gates of the canal at the end of Evan-to-Locks Road. Daily boat tours of the canal leave from the Interpretive Center. Times vary by season. Visit the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area website or call 706-823-0440 for information on activities, a schedule for boat tours, and a list of fees. The Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. The canal achieved National Heritage Area status in 1996. Within the Heritage Area/district, the Augusta Water Works, Confederate Powder Works Chimney, Dartmouth Spinning Company, Enterprise Manufacturing Company, John P. King Manufacturing Company, and the Sibley Manufacturing Company have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record.
James L. Coleman, an Augusta farmer, had plans to build a flour mill on his plantation as early as 1845. With the initiation of the Augusta Canal project in 1845, he asked that its route be slightly changed in order to supply his land with water power. It was, and Coleman finished construction of a four-story granite mill in 1848 known as “Coleman’s Flour Mill” or “Coleman’s Granite Mill.” In 1873, the Granite Mill had an addition built on its west end. Upon completion of the canal enlargement in 1875, Augusta businessmen formed the Enterprise Manufacturing Company. The company hired Jones S. Davis to design a new mill. In 1877, paying nearly $200,000, Davis built a 3-story brick textile mill with a central stair tower situated at a right angle with the granite mill. In anticipation of future expansions, he provided for twice the necessary water power.
Three years after its completion, Enterprise’s shareholders voted to double the size of the mill. Thompson and Nagle of Rhode Island designed an addition to mimic the 1877 portion with the exception of ornamental details. To the rear of the combined buildings, they also added a tower to hold a 10,000 gallon water tank designed to feed a sprinkler system. The tower also housed the company bell.
The mill shut down in 1884. The directors rallied, and local lawyer and cotton broker James P. Verdery assumed the presidency. The mill withstood turbulent times in the early 1880s, and by the late 1880s, prosperity returned. The company constructed several more buildings including a weaving room (c. 1888), starch warehouse (c. 1890), the cloth warehouse (c. 1900) and a workers smoking building (c. 1920).
The Graniteville Company acquired Sibley Mill and in 1923 purchased a controlling interest in Enterprise Mill. In 1936, Enterprise and Sibley operations combined, and both mills became divisions of the Graniteville Company. Enterprise Mill stayed in operation as a textile mill until it officially closed its doors in 1983.
The mill sat vacant until 1997, when Clayton P. Boardman, III, a local businessman, purchased it and began extensive renovations. These included removing over 5,000 tons of non-historic debris, taking brick from the openings of and replacing 500 windows, restoring two stair towers, putting on new roofing materials, and extensive repointing of masonry. Enterprise Mill is now a thriving office, retail, and residential center, and the location of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center.
Enterprise Mill is located at 1450 Greene St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District, a National Historic Landmark. The Augusta Canal National Heritage Area Interpretive Center inside Enterprise Mill houses interactive exhibits about the canal’s conception and construction, its role in the Civil War and its aftermath, the New South industrial growth, and electrification of the city. The Interpretive Center is open Tuesday- Saturday, 9:30am to 5:30pm. Daily boat tours of the canal leave from the Interpretive Center. Times vary by season. Visit the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area website at or call 706-823-0440 for information on activities and a schedule for boat tours. Activities for a fee include the Canal Interpretive Center interactive exhibits and boat tours. Enterprise Manufacturing Company has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record.
Incorporated in 1881, the John P. King Manufacturing Company was named in honor of a prominent Augustan, who was a moving force behind construction of the Augusta Canal, a United States Senator, and President of Georgia Railroad Bank. Charles Estes, company president until 1901, hired civil engineer John D. Hill to design and supervise construction of the new mill along the Augusta Canal in 1882. A year later, the mill was in operation with nearly 30,000 spindles producing cotton sheeting, shirting, and drills. Under the direction of Estes, the company prospered and by 1900, had 60,288 spindles and 1,812 looms.
The mill had a massive central stair and water tank tower reminiscent of the villa towers of northern Italy. Ornamental brickwork covered the tower and a variety of windows and doors ranging from arched to circular dotted the façade. The office and supply building continued the ornamental brickwork, as did later additions. The most historic buildings on the site include the much-altered office building with sections dating to 1882, the original mill and adjacent picker building, an 1892 mill, an 1896 powerhouse, and four brick-storage buildings.
Among many influential Augustans involved with the operations of King Mill, Emily Thomas Tubman, a well-known philanthropist, held a controlling interest in the company. Her nephew and grandnephew sat on the board until the 1960s. Elected president when Estes retired, Landon A. Thomas, Jr., was a natural choice, having served as vice-president beginning in 1898. His son, Landon A. Thomas, III, became president in 1926 when his father retired. In the early 1960s, Harris and Cassius Clay, brothers and members of the Thomas family, sat as directors and turned the focus of the mill’s production to institutional healthcare products. Spartan Mills purchased King Mill in 1968 but closed its doors in 2001.
Formed in the 1980s, the Augusta Canal Authority is concerned with the preservation and stewardship of the Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District National Historic Landmark. Adhering to its mission, the Augusta Canal Authority recognized an immediate need when King Mill’s future was uncertain in 2001 and acted quickly to purchase the property and ensure that King Mill was under the direction of preservation-minded individuals. The authority leased the mill to Standard Textile, which put people back to work.
The John P. King Mill is located at 1701 Goodrich St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District, a National Historic Landmark. It is not open for tours. The mill has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record.
Sibley Mill and Confederate Powder Works Chimney
At the beginning of the Civil War gunpowder supplies for the Confederate armies were insufficient. In 1861 Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, charged Colonel George Washington Rains with solving this issue by creating a local supply of gunpowder. Rains chose the flat lands by the Augusta Canal as the most suitable site for making the much needed gunpowder. He named Major Charles Shaler Smith as architect to design the Confederate Powder Works.
Work on the plant commenced in 1862 with materials gathered from the southern states including Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. When completed, the powder works lined the banks of the Augusta Canal for two miles. The plant was organized for manufacturing efficiency. Raw materials entered at the first of 26 buildings and exited as gunpowder at the last. The most prominent of the buildings was the refinery, which resembled the British House of Parliament. Constructed directly in front of it was a tall smokestack in the shape of an obelisk, the only structure remaining today from the powder works.
The Confederate Powder Works, the only permanent edifice constructed by the Confederate States of America, was in operation until April 1865. During its lifetime, the facility produced approximately 7,000 pounds of gunpowder per day for a final total of 2,750,000 pounds. The Augusta Powder Works produced enough gunpowder to fully meet the needs of the Confederate armies and still retained a surplus of 70,000 pounds at the end of the war.
The Federal Government confiscated the powder works land and sold it between 1868 and 1871. By 1872, the buildings and structures remaining were deemed useless, and a project to widen the canal caused the demolition of most. At the request of Rains, the smokestack was left standing as a memorial to those who fought for the Confederacy.
As an early economic development project, a group of local business men formed the Sibley Manufacturing Company in 1880 and procured the site of the former Confederate Powder Works along the Augusta Canal. Brick from the demolished powder works was used in the construction of the Sibley Mill between 1880 and 1882. With the appearance of a medieval castle or fortress, the mill resembles the powder works it replaced. Designed to the specifications of Jones S. Davis by local architect Enoch William Brown, it is architecturally impressive and distinctive with its crenellated façade and corner towers, its massive size. and its Sibley Family Coat of Arms emblazoned on the towers.
Soon after the mill began operation, it became one of the largest and most successful cotton mills in the region, a model of good management and worker relations. Eventually, Sibley Mill became a part of the Graniteville Mills. Modernized in order to compete in an ever-increasing world market, the mill continued in operation until 2006, making denim used by major clothing manufacturers. Although no longer used for textile production, the mill's water-driven turbines still generate electricity which is sold to Georgia Power. Local businessman Clayton Boardman, who successfully rehabilitated the Enterprise Mill in the 1990s as living and office space, acquired the Sibley in 2007.
Sibley Mill and the Confederate Powder Works Chimney are located at 1717 Goodrich St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area/Historic Augusta Canal and Industrial District, a National Historic Landmark. The Powder Works Chimney is accessible anytime free of charge. Sibley Mill is not open for tours. Sibley Manufacturing Company and the Confederate Powder Works Chimney have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record.
Augusta Downtown Historic District
Augusta Downtown Historic District encompasses the historic commercial area centered on Broad Street; industrial properties along the Savannah River and the railroad; and governmental, religious, and residential resources along Greene and Telfair Streets. The city was laid out in 1736 in a gridiron plan with major streets set parallel to the river. Broad Street between 5th and 13th Streets is the historic commercial corridor with rows of continuous commercial blocks and a contemporary landscaped median. Greene Street is a tree-lined boulevard with a historic park-like center median. Government buildings, churches, and large houses of Augusta’s 19th century elite line the street. Telfair Street, the third principal avenue in the historic district, includes some commercial buildings but mostly features community landmark buildings, such as the Academy of Richmond County and the Old Medical College of Georgia. Ellis Street, a secondary thoroughfare, is lined with commercial buildings and provides service access to the buildings on Broad and Greene Streets.
The district contains a large intact collection of architecturally significant buildings in a variety of styles constructed from 1801-1967. Architectural styles illustrate the evolution of architecture in Georgia from its early settlement along the fall line in the 18th century through the mid-20th century. Historic buildings in the district include some of the state’s best examples of the Federal (Old Government House, Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art), Greek Revival (Old Medical College of Georgia), Gothic Revival (Academy of Richmond County), Romanesque Revival (First Presbyterian Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church), Italianate (Joseph Rucker Lamar Boyhood Home), Second Empire, Queen Anne (Augusta Cotton Exchange Building ), Beaux Arts (First Baptist Church), Classical Revival (Lamar Building), Craftsman, Art Deco, and International styles.
Throughout its history as the commercial heart of Georgia’s second oldest city, Broad Street has played various roles in the city’s development. Because Augusta is a river town, trade came naturally to its early settlers making it a trading center. Trade links with the Indians raised the frontier town above the status of a garrison. Later, with the influx of Virginians, tobacco was introduced and became the staple crop of the Augusta area from c. 1770 to 1800. After the invention of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1793, cotton outstripped tobacco as the principal cash crop until the early 20th century.
The coming of the railroad in the 1830s strengthened both the economic role of Augusta in the region and the commercial role of Broad Street in the city. Along with new industry and increased trade came additional retailing of goods and services. During the first half of the 20th century, established business traditions continued along Broad Street. Three new developments along Broad Street were the skyscraper (Lamar Building), the department store, and the movie theater. A revitalization effort is apparent along this main corridor with its new shops, loft apartments, restaurants, and art galleries opening.
Noteworthy landscape architecture is evident on Greene Street, one of downtown Augusta’s three main east-west streets. Greene Street is an excellent example of a 19th century urban park-like boulevard and is among the state’s longest landscaped avenues outside of Savannah. Named for Revolutionary War hero Nathaniel Greene, the street has two parallel roadways divided by a central median. Elm and oak trees now line the median originally shaded by oak, elm, and dogwood trees. It features open green spaces, azaleas, walks, benches, and commemorative monuments. Trees, grass, and sidewalks also border the perimeter of the street.
Downtown has always been important in politics and government because Augusta is the county seat of Richmond County, and the district includes buildings and structures directly related to the functions of the local county government and the Federal Government. The 1820 courthouse was demolished in 1957 to make way for the current Municipal Building which includes the county’s court functions. The Federal Government is represented by the c. 1916 United States Courthouse, on East Ford Street. The monumental size and scale of these buildings reflect the importance of government in Augusta throughout the 20th century.
Downtown Augusta is home to three historic schools, two of which have statewide importance. The Academy of Richmond County is among the first educational institutions established in Georgia. The Old Medical College of Georgia building represents the state’s first efforts to advance the understanding of human anatomy and physiology and train physicians in the practice of medicine. The John S. Davidson School illustrates the development of the public school system in Augusta and Richmond County.
The period of significance for the district begins in 1736 when Augusta’s gridiron plan was laid out and ends in 1967 to include the Miesian style Georgia Railroad Bank Building, a black steel and glass office tower erected following the boom years in which federal projects boosted the city’s population and building construction downtown.
Augusta Downtown Historic District is roughly bounded by13th St., Gordon Highway, Walton Way, and the Savannah River. The district contains many buildings open to the public and a number of private homes not open to the public. The Broad Street Stores, First Presbyterian Church, Greene Street Historic District, Murphey House (Richmond County Courthouse), Old Medical College (a National Historic Landmark), Phinizy Residence, Platt-Fleming-Walker-d’Antignac House, Sacred Heart Church, St. Paul’s Church, St. Paul’s Parish Cemetery Gate & Gravestones, Ware-Sibley-Clark House, Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home, and Zachary Daniels House have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
Old Academy of Richmond County
The old Academy of Richmond County is a hallmark for the Georgia public education system authorized by Georgia’s earliest legislation regarding public education. Established in 1783 as the first such institution of its kind in the State of Georgia, the academy initially held classes in a building on Bay Street beginning in 1785. The provisions of the original act establishing it provided for a Board of Trustees with broad powers in the town of Augusta. The board was to raise funds for building both a “seminary of learning” and a church, financing them through the sale of lots in the town. Lots were periodically laid out along with new streets, and then sold as the population grew.
While located on Bay Street, the academy hosted President George Washington in 1791 during his southern tour. The two frame buildings near the Savannah River gradually deteriorated, prompting the construction of a new building on Telfair Street, designed and built by Richard Clarke, which the academy occupied in 1802. The earliest portion of this building appears today much as it did in 1856-57, when William Henry Goodrich was in charge of remodeling it in the Tudor-Gothic Revival style. Alterations made in the mid-19th century include the battlements atop the parapet walls, the dripstone of molded brick above all of the windows, and the cast-iron clustered columns on the front façade portico.
The academy continued in successful operation until after the Battle of Chickamauga, when the Confederate authorities used it as an administrative building for a hospital. It reopened as a school in 1868, remaining on Telfair Street until 1926, then moving to a new building near Summerville. From 1928 until 1960, the Young Men’s Library Association used the ground floor of the Telfair Street building, while the Augusta Museum utilized the upper floor beginning in 1933. After the library moved out, the museum occupied the entire building until 1994 before relocating to a new facility on Reynolds Street. The building is still owned and maintained by the Trustees of the Academy of Richmond County, authorized by the original legislation of 1783.
The old Academy of Richmond County is located at 540 Telfair St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is not open for tours. The Academy has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
Augusta Cotton Exchange Building
Designed by Enoch William Brown, the Augusta Cotton Exchange Building was constructed in the mid-1880s at the height of both the production and trade of cotton in Augusta. The ornate cast-iron entrance elements underneath the projecting round corner turret complement the vigorous brick and stone details of this significant High Victorian building. The local foundry of Charles F. Lombard cast the iron columns for the entrance in 1886. Both Charles and his brother George R. Lombard had foundries and were well known and respected for the manufacture of ornamental iron.
The building housed offices for the brokers as well as the trading floor, where buyers and sellers closely watched the day-to-day prices of cotton and other commodities. Women were not allowed in the Exchange Building, and it quickly became the “Man’s get-away,” the site of after-hours cockfights and Saturday football gatherings.
Located on the banks of the Savannah River, Augusta has long been associated with the cotton industry. At its height, Augusta was the second largest inland cotton market in the world. During that time, a group of prominent merchants organized the Augusta Cotton Exchange, and by 1878, its facilities received and processed 200,000 bales of cotton. In 1885, the city had eight cotton manufacturers. The most rapid growth in Augusta’s cotton industry occurred in the 1880s, with a 580% increase in production. The cotton trade continued to flourish during the first half of the 20th century. Eventually Augusta’s economic dependence on cotton began to decline due to the infestation of the boll weevil, and by 1964 the city no longer operated an exchange.
In 1988, Mr. Bill Moore of Aiken, South Carolina, noticed the decaying deserted building, which he purchased and restored. He had the third floor and original roofline replaced, scraped the paint off of the interior heart pine wood, and repaired the windows. The most important artifact still remaining from the exchange is the 45 foot blackboard, which still has chalk figures written on it dating back to the early 1900s.
Previously used by the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau as a Welcome Center, the Augusta Cotton Exchange now serves as a branch of Georgia Bank and Trust of Augusta.
The Augusta Cotton Exchange Building is located at 32 8th St. (at the corner of 8th and Reynolds Sts.) within the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is open to the public from 9:00am to 4:00pm., Monday-Friday. An exhibit and the blackboard are located in the main lobby. Call ahead for tours to 706-432-3332. Free.
Built in 1850 by Frederick Adolphus Brahe, the Brahe House is an example of Sand Hills Cottage architecture in the Greek Revival style. Its construction in this style with a full English basement makes the house an unusual building in the Augusta Downtown Historic District. Most other houses of the period in this area were more traditional townhouses.
A complete set of building specifications drawn up in March of 1850 survives entitled “Bill of Specifications of a House of F. A. Brahe.” These specifications indicate that the house was to be a three-story clapboard cottage. The ground floor was to be of “good brick, to be 4 fire places in basement, two with good modern stile mantelpieces… 4 rooms with a passage throu the centre…paved with brick and a good floor to be tongued and grooved of boards not exceeding seven inches wide…The body of the house to be covered with good Cyprus shingles…all the windows to have good Venetian shutters.” An interior stairway was to lead to the second story which also was partitioned into 4 rooms, each with a fireplace, and a central hallway. This level was to include a front “portico.” The attic story was to contain two rooms and a passage with another interior stairway fashioned with “good turned newell post.” Dormer windows were specified, two in front and one in the rear of the house. The plans end with specifications for servants’ quarters in the rear, and “a pailed fence dividing yard from gardens with gate in centre…The whole to be finished by the first of September, Eighteen Hundred and Fifty.” Some time later, the Brahe House was the first in Augusta to be wired for electricity, using a direct current system that was added after the house was built.
Frederick Adolphus Brahe came to Augusta from Albany, New York, prospering here as a silversmith and at one time holding the position of Official Tender of the City Clock. His son, Henry A. Brahe, continued the family business by then known as Brahe’s Jewelers. The years following the Civil War were lean for the Brahes, as for many other Southerners, and they finally sold the business in the early 1900s.
The Brahe House is located at 456 Telfair St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is not open for tours.
Church of the Most Holy Trinity
Church of the Most Holy Trinity (St. Patrick’s Church) is significant as one of the first examples in Georgia of the Round-Arch or Romanesque Revival style that had its origins in Germany. A number of central European architects transmitted the style to America. John Rudolph Niernsee designed the church. He immigrated to the United States to become one of the most significant architects practicing in Baltimore during the mid-19th century. The painting, sculpture, and stained glass in the church are important examples of mid-19th century fine art and decorative arts.
In addition, Most Holy Trinity has one of the two oldest Catholic Church buildings in Georgia. The church also is known for its efforts to promote the welfare of citizens of Augusta during times such as the 1839 and 1854 Yellow Fever epidemics. During the epidemics, the church served as a temporary hospital. During the Civil War, it cared for ill federal prisoners of war en route to the Andersonville prison.
Begun in 1857 and consecrated in 1863, the stuccoed-brick church features a basilica plan with a vaulted nave and side aisles, an octagonal apse, and a narthex. Between 1894 and 1899, an octagonal bell tower and spire were added to the northwest tower. The Dorr family donated the 4,750 lb. bell, which hangs in the tower. The inscription on the bell reads, “Presented to St. Patrick’s Church, Augusta, Georgia, 1894. McShane Bell Foundry, Baltimore, Maryland.”
Decoration of the church integrates architecture with painting and sculpture. Most apparent is the rich color often highlighting architectural elements. J. and J. Devereaux painted the interior walls of the church. A mural scene of the lamentation is above the apse. The artists Lamkau and Kreuger painted three more murals.
The gallery above the narthex holds a 29–rank Jardine organ. It was built by the New York firm George Jardine & Son during the Civil War but not delivered until 1868 because of the Union blockade of southern ports. The organ is set in a gabled Romanesque-style wood case. In 1993, The American Organist reported, “the organ is the largest extant 19th–century organ … and one of the largest Jardine’s in the country.”
Original stained glass windows are above the altar illuminating the apse. In 1919, elaborate stained glass windows designed by Mayer & Company of Munich, Germany replaced the 12 opaque windows along the side aisles that were from the date of construction.
Church of the Most Holy Trinity is located at 720 Telfair St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is open Monday-Friday, 9:00am to 4:30pm except during services, when it is open to worshipers. Call 706-722-4944 for reservations. Free.
Engine Company Number One
Engine Company Number One illustrates the City of Augusta's recognition of the need to shift from a volunteer to a paid fire department to improve public protection. Noteworthy as the first firehouse in the city constructed as a public building, it is representative of the city’s late 19th-century public buildings and of the urban, “storefront-style” firehouses of the period.
Around the mid-19th century, the public became dissatisfied with the social-club attitudes and lack of efficiency of volunteer fire fighting companies. In 1853, the first American steam fire engine was built, and horses to pull the heavy steam engines became a standard part of the department. The change in firefighting equipment and the organization of paid fire departments brought a new era of professionalism and subsequent changes to firehouse design. Following national trends in firefighting, in 1886 the Augusta City Council disbanded all volunteer companies and absorbed them into a city fire department. The city built Engine Company Number One as the first public firehouse for this new city administered and paid system of fire protection.
Designed by Augusta architect Lewis F. Goodrich and constructed by G. Rounds in 1892, the rectangular, 2-story, masonry firehouse stands detached on a narrow city lot. Its architectural details are an eclectic Victorian combination including Italianate corbelled brickwork, segmental arched window and door openings, and a prominent Romanesque arch. An elaborate square wooden bell tower that gave architectural emphasis to the building is now gone, but the building’s façade retains the oversized first floor entranceway that identified it as a firehouse.
While the stylistic front facade portrays the building’s importance as a public firehouse, the remainder of the exterior is utilitarian. Two masonry outbuildings used as hay, feed, and coal storage are attached to the building’s rear. They were constructed prior to 1904 and may date from 1892 with the main building.
The firehouse interior reflected the art of firefighting in the 1890s. The first floor was one large space that accommodated the steam engine, hose wagon, horses and all other necessary equipment. The second floor consisted of a large dormitory space for the men, plus three smaller rooms for offices, meeting rooms and a bath. Interior features include beaded tongue-and-groove ceilings, unornamented plaster walls, plain cast iron columns for interior support, simple door and window moldings, upper wood floors, and lower concrete floors.
In 1954 Engine Company Number One moved to new quarters. A theater used the building, and it later became offices for the city’s electrical department. An engineering firm, Cranston, Robertson & Whitehurst, rehabilitated the building for offices in 1985.
Engine Company Number One is located at 452 Ellis St. within the boundaries of the Augusta Downtown Historic District. It is not open to the public.
First Baptist Church of Augusta