Thursday, September 16, 2004

The Sunny Side of the Street

Recently Broad Street, the main downtown thoroughfare in Augusta, has undergone some revitilization. There are nice eateries, craft stores, decent bars, loft apartments, and a weekly downtown celebration the first Friday of every month. But this growth has been restricted to the western portion of the street. To the east Broad St. is populated by strip clubs and empty storefronts. Although this is the locale of the haunted pillar, the only remnant of the lower market, formerly Augusta's main business district.

In 1829 a visiting preacher was said to have been mocked and scorned by Augusta's citizens. He swore a curse on the city, predicting that only one pillar of its market would stand and, as if that wasn't enough, even the pillar would be cursed. On February 8, 1878 a cyclone destroyed the entirety of the lower market and all that remained was one pillar, which was moved to its present location at Broad and 5th shortly afterwards. That's almost fifty years after the original curse, so either the preacher was patient or believed that revenge is a dish best served cold. Be that as it may, people that have touched the pillar are reported to have been variously struck by lightning, felled by heartattacks, and killed in car crashes within minutes. For some reason the pillar bears no mark or plaque to attract attention to it, perhaps to prevent curious Augustans from flocking to it, thus costing the city more citizens and further diminishing the tax base.

Anyway, if you step one street to the south of Broad you're on Ellis, a virtual no-man's land. Since I really can't resist a no-man's-land I've spent considerable time wandering this area. Aside from the occasional band practicing at the Capri Cinema, an old porno theater that now features hardcore groups, it's pretty quiet back there. I imagine this parking lot serviced the huge department stores, such as the massive Woolworth's and White's that front onto Broad. White's has a sign intimating that it's going to be turned into condos soon. Too bad the sign looks to be about five years old.

Also in front of this lot is the Miller Theater (a great looking movie theater that I'll get to later) so maybe theatergoers parked here before seeing a film. In any case, it's been awhile since these timers have been used to stamp any tickets.

I liked walking around Ellis St. in the late evening when the sun was setting, lighting up the old buildings and giving the whole area a sort of disheveled calm. The city seemed sort of like a prize fighter that had been beaten to a pulp and was just now thinking about retirement with a sense of relief rather than regret. A few blocks south is Greene St., a fairly busy street, but other than that there's little happening in any direction as you head away from Broad St. You might see someone catching some sleep in a doorway or one of those stray dogs with a bit of string around its neck roaming the sidewalk, but no one heading to the Sky City Discount Center.

Lots of these old buildings have rickety fire escapes. I've never tried climbing up one since I've got pretty poor health insurance, but they always looked inviting. This one is just down an alley and monitored by video surveillance for some reason. Maybe the pigeons are plotting something.

This fire escape is behind the former J. B. White's Department store. Not shown is the neat skyway running across the street from White's a couple stories up. Apparently this is one of the only parts of the building to actually be fully restored as it was being prepared for condos. Interesting choice, since the skyway appears to go into another empty building. These days you don't see many buildings decorated with those little square tiles people used to put in their bathtubs, but all that blue and white along the bottom of the building is just that. They probably had sheets of the things to make installation easy, but I prefer to picture some guy sticking each one on by hand.

A little further south is Telfair Street, a fairly historic street featuring some museums and famous homes, and the largest gingko tree in Georgia. Hey, that's the second largest gingko tree in the United States. The tree is outside the "Old Government House," which is just what its name implies. In fact, George Washington visited the house in 1791 and is reported to have planted the tree. I dunno why he'd plant a gingko, but there you go. Naturally the house is haunted. Also, at the corner of Telfair and 13th is Woodrow Wlson's childhood home. Despite it's history, Telfair is pretty barren much of the time. I'm pretty sure Johnson hasn't sold any of his used cars recently.

I should mention that there's not much historical information on Augusta that's readily available without diggin' through dusty tomes. Some of the information I've provided is from Haunted Augusta and Local Legends by Sean Joiner. Mr. Joiner provides some interesting facts along with the ghost stories. If any city is haunted it would have to be Augusta and I might mine a bit more from the book as I go. You can buy it at the Augusta Border's, otherwise try that internet thing I've heard so much about.

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