Monday, May 23, 2005

Hollywood, South Carolina



And with a new day comes...a change in film stock! The photos for this post were shot this winter with Kodak TX 400 film that expired in 1996. None of that refrigerator storage either. I've never paid attention to expiration dates anyway. While shooting a roll of toasted film would be very annoying, it wouldn't make me throw up for two days like some other things I can think of. Anyway, this post is all about the North Augusta that was and then, overnight, was not. It's also about the North Augusta that ALMOST was and the one that soon will be. Confused? Anyway, if the stars had aligned just a little bit differently many years ago the entire world might know all about North Augusta, SC. These first few photos mark a last return to the bath house on Buena Vista, by Crystal Lake. We've seen this place before in technicolor.



The story starts in the late 1800's with James U. Jackson, whose dream was to build a city on the bluffs across the river from Augusta and get rich doing it. In 1890, with the help of the Mealing family (of Getzen's Pond "fame"), Mr. Jackson began acquiring land. Eventually Jackson found himself with over 5,000 acres (about $100,000 worth), comprising an area that ran along the river's edge and up present-day Georgia Avenue. With some decent acreage under his belt, James U. hired a design firm out of New York and entrusted them with the layout of the new town. He also built a bridge across the river at 13th St., surely making enemies of the folks running the suddenly-obsolete ferry service, but ensuring that people could get in and out of his new town of North Augusta with supreme ease. By 1897, Jackson had bought Augusta's trolley system out from under them (via previous owner W.B. Dyer) and immediately ran a line across the new bridge to N.A. Service was soon extended to Aiken, and the longest inter-urban trolley system in the world was in full operation.

By the turn of the century things were looking pretty good for N.A. and James Jackson figured that all that remained was to build one of the largest luxury hotels in the nation on a hill above the town. And so it was that in April of 1902 construction of the Hampton Terrace Hotel was completed at a cost of $536,000. In those days, half-a-mil got you a five-story castle with 600 rooms and a full-sized eighteen-hole golf course that was literally right outside the front door. The building itself was longer than two football fields and contained enough glass to put windows into 70 standard residential homes. In fact, the Hampton Terrace was so big that people have said it essentially WAS North Augusta and, though the hotel was built in the spring of 1902, it took until December 1903 to get the place furnished and ready for business. You can see a picture of the Hampton Terrace Hotel in its full glory here. But don't look yet or you might ruin the surprise!



The Hampton Terrace was an immediate success. Wealthy folks who'd been flocking to Aiken to escape spending cold winters in their northern mansions were delighted that such a luxurious pad had gone up just down the road. James U. didn't need a winter retreat himself; he'd just finished his own mansion, Rosemary Hall, up on Carolina Avenue. In North Augusta, the hotel was the most profitable industry bar-none, out-earning both cotton production and the entirety of the town's banking operations. In fact, the hotel was often booked-solid far in advance and other lodges and hotels were built nearby to take up the overflow. One smaller joint was the Sesame Lodge, which didn't mind catering to sub-millionaires, tagging itself as a place where "less formal folk can feel more comfortable."



Through the first decade of the century the Hampton Terrace Hotel was really swinging, attracting the richest of the rich and the most famous of the famous. It was around this time that movie moguls, scouting the country for a good location to establish the nascent motion picture industry, wandered into North Augusta. It seemed perfect: the weather was warm, the sun shone a lot, there was this big hotel, and rich people were coming to visit anyway. To that point, the CSRA had not been a hotbed of movie making activity, although at least portions of some early features had been filmed nearby. These included silent movies such as The Littlest Rebel (1914), From the Valley of the Missing (1915), The New Governor (1915), and Charity (1916). (The New Governor, incidentally, was a notorious film. Originally titled The Nigger, the NAACP launched the first media protests in its history against the movie and D.W. Griffith's wildly racist Birth of a Nation, released the same year.) Yet, by the time The Great Moment (1918) and The Arizona Bandit (1920 & filmed entirely in N.A.) were in theaters, North Augusta's shot at becoming Hollywood was long gone. There are really two reasons why Paris Hilton and Ozzy Osbourne don't live in North Augusta. While the first was probably more important, the second was certainly more disastrous.



When the citizens of North Augusta heard that the town was on the verge of becoming Sin City, every man, woman, and child must've imagined their sleepy burg suddenly being transformed into a modern-day Sodom presided over by Satan himself. Um, actually, you know, they may have been right! Anyhow, there was an immediate call to let the moguls know that while their vacation money was one thing, North Augustans would appreciate it if the heaving bosoms and debauched dandies were filmed elsewhere, thank-you-very-much! And so the moguls left: Hello Hollywood, CA! That was effectively the end of that. But worse was to come. Above is yet ANOTHER shot of Hammond's Ferry. Soon to be subdivided.

In the winter of 1916, the Hampton Terrace Hotel closed briefly for improvements and modernizations. It's a good thing this is the last post of CSRA history, 'cause my memory is fading. I used to actually know what the improvements were. I THINK a major part of the process was the installation of electric lights or some-such. Anyway, the re-opening was going to be huge and the hotel was totally booked. Then, on New Year's Eve, just before the grand unveiling, the hotel burnt to the ground. And I mean, COMPLETELY. There was nothing left. A total loss. However, there actually IS a little left. If you go by the old site, you can still see some of the old brick stairs. Also, I've heard that one of the greens from the golf course can still be identified. Of course, I don't have pictures of these things. You'll have to make do with this doomed field, probably being plowed under as I type. What do you expect? I can't even remember what the CAUSE of the fire was! The new (?) electrical system? A cow tipping over a lantern? Wait, that was Chicago, wasn't it? Anyone? Help?! No, Google had nothing on the subject and there's only one (very rare) book that I've seen with the info.

Well, everyone expected James U. to immediately get on with the business of rebuilding. But, shockingly, he didn't. Not ever. As a consequence, many people mark New Year's Eve, 1916 as the night that North Augusta's dreams burnt down around her. In recent years, even the Palmetto Lodge (AKA Seven Gables Inn), a grand hunting lodge built for Hampton Terrace guests and a witness to the great fire, had found itself empty and forgotten. But, again, no, I have no pictures. I didn't even make an effort to visit the lodge, despite thinking about it on several occasions. Word was that it was not wise to try to get inside. In my defense, one of the owners was recently convicted of narco-trafficking and boasted of refusing to serve members of the NAACP and James Brown when the place was open! So, you'll just have to pretend this piece of grass, now probably crushed by a dozen bulldozers, represents the forlorn Palmetto Lodge. Or, um, maybe not. Geez, this final CSRA post is making me a little addle-brained, apparently. Anyway, yeah, N. Augusta is now in the throes of big change, including riverfront development (N.A.: "South Carolina's Riverfront") and even a supposed rehabilitation of the Palmetto, possibly by the city itself (if there's an extra $900,000 lying around). Hey, it might not be Hollywood, but at least Sandra Bullock won't steal your parking space. (IMPORTANT NOTE: As of 2008, the Palmetto House is back up and running under new, law-abiding ownership. Go pay a visit if you're hungry or looking for a nice, historic meeting hall!)



Thanks to P. Hughes over at the Henry Shultz/Hamburg site and Ramblin' D. Rhodes for bits of movie info. More on the NAACP's reaction to Birth of a Nation, in particular, has been written by Dr. Susan Zeiger. Also, Augusta Magazine, the North Augusta History Page, and the Aiken Chamber of Commerce helped out. Now, someone please remind me: How DID the hotel burn down?

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good to see another post, John.

The work on the Hammond's Ferry development is really getting underway, the fields you'd shown are indeed now all plowed up, and the bike trail is closed so that they can extend Crystal Lake Ave. straight across into the new development. But the little bath house shown is still there, for now. I'll try to see if I can't find out for you what exactly burned down the Hampton Terrace - the still-identifiable hole from the original golf course is behind the Winn-Dixie on Martintown Road, and the course streched from there all the way to the Public Safety building (where the cops are) on the other side of Goergia Ave near Beuna Vista Ave.
It was also said that one could see all the way to Aiken from the top floors of the Hampton Terrace, 15 (or so) miles away.
Later - Chris xt235

Anonymous said...

OK, so here's the deal:
They had just spent $20,000 upgrading the Hampton Terrace, adding 20 rooms and 3000 Mazda lights. The fire was started by a short-circuit on the 3rd floor in the west wing. There was talk of dynamiting the west wing to spare the east, but the Head Fireman said nix to that - too dangerous. They had little chance to fight the fire as the connections on the fire hydrants were non-standard and didn't fit the hoses the fire department had. The whole place burnt down in one night, and the reason given as to why it wasn't rebuilt was that financing would have been difficult and World War One had become a looming problem here in the States.

I also saw that the majority of the pottery plants on the floodplain of the Savannah here in North Augusta were working a 12-foot layer of Stoneware Clay, making alkaline-glazed pottery. It seems that the Baynahm family continued to operate a pottery business into the 80s, which would explain why the lakes left after mining the pottery look different now than they do on the 1950s-vintage topographical maps of the area.
If you can, check it out soon, as that area will soon become the Hampton's Ferry development, and the ponds are due to mostly be filled in, or at least cleaned up to modern neighborhood standards.
Anything other questions, just ask!
Later - Chris xt235

Anonymous said...

I live in North Augusta and about two years ago I had a field trip of our city. I found out that the reason the hotel burnt down was from an iron accident, the hotel was made of wood and it was very windy that day so there was nothing anyone could do. I think North Augusta has never been better to this day. I'm very happy that it is not Hollywood,SC. For sure N.A. is not the city of dust. We have very smart people here, fine schools, great football teams, and great bands. I think that N.A. is the best town ever with great history. I think that you should come and visit N.A. agian because it's great.

Jmhouse said...

Oh, I never meant City of Dust to be disparaging. Besides, if it refers to any city it's Augusta, GA, and even then it was mostly a reference to the dusty old back roads I found myself on when I was initially taking photographs. All the floors in the old abandoned houses and barns were covered with that fine, red dust. Certainly I didn't think N.A. was uninteresting or I wouldn't have written such long, rambling posts about the town nor taken so many pictures. Nah, there's a lot of fascinating stuff in N.A. and I'm glad you like living there so much. I'd like to come back one day, but I'm not sure when that might be. Thanks for stopping by!

george said...

i found this site looking up info on the hampton terrace inn...very interesting info...i have an old spoon with the hampton terrace inn on it...actually somehow my husband got a hold of it...before he and i got together...we were thinking of auctioning it off and were trying to find more info on it...so, thanks for the info...georgederaney@bellsouth.net

Anonymous said...

I am copying your blog into an item that I am selling on ebay, it is a spoon from the hotel. It will be listed under Black Americana. Thanks

Jmhouse said...

Wow, what a bizarre spoon. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. To anyone else, I recommend taking a look HERE.

Selenawannabe said...

They had refurnished the entire building, added 20 bedrooms, all rooms painted and changed the lamps to the Mazda type-taking away the carbon type. The dining room received new crockery and linens. The fire was started in the ceiling of the the 3rd floor in the West wing. It was closed at the time, so nobody left an iron on or kicked over a lantern (cow did that in Chicago). I don't think they HAD electric irons then...AND it was not windy that day. (I am looking at my book now on NA). I can scan some pictures of the hotel before and after the fire if someone wants me to. You can email me villakat2@yahoo.com and put Hampton terrace hotel in sub. box so I won't delete. I will be more than happy to scan some pictures from my book for you.

Jmhouse said...

Hey, thanks for the info. Is the book you're referring to "History of North Augusta"? That's a pretty rare book, I believe. I saw a copy for almost $200.00.

Thanks for stopping by.

John

Austin said...

Hey Jim,

I got a kick out of reading your article about North Augusta history (I live there, or here, or whatever). I'm kind of a history nut, so I enjoyed coming across your post.

Since your article is so well written, I'm going to throw a link to it on my wife's website. She gets some traffic for 'North Augusta history', and your post is much better and more relevant than ours, so I hope you don't mind.

I've got a copy of that "History of North Augusta" and a number of other books on the history of Augusta GA. If you ever need to look up something, please, give me a shout.

Jmhouse said...

Hi Austin,

No, I don't mind you linking to the post at all. It's a real compliment. What's the website url? I'd like to have a look at what sorts of historical bits your wife has posted.

Glad you liked the site and I'll let you know if I ever need anything from the History of NA.

Thanks Again!

John

Austin said...

Hey John,
The link is at: http://www.northofthesavannah.com/north-augusta-real-estate.php

but you can find some other historical posts here:

http://www.northofthesavannah.com/posts/category/historical/

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

As of 2008 the Palmetto House has new owners and has been restored. It now functions as a restaurant/meeting hall. You should make note of that in your article, since in the way it is written one could misconstrue the actual present owners with the (former) ones you allude to.

Jmhouse said...

Hi,

Thanks for the update on the Palmetto House. I'm very glad to hear it's been rehabilitated. I added a note to the original post alerting folks that the restaurant has re-opened and is under new ownership.

Thanks again!

John

Jessica said...

Hi,
I came across this looking for a news link. Very interesting stuff. Unfortunately, Seven Gables or Palmetto House, as it was recently called, burned down last night! [9/4/08]

Jmhouse said...

Whoa. After finally being restored the place burns down. That's really too bad. Thanks for the info though.

Anonymous said...

About two years ago the Palmetto Lodge, or Seven Gables, burnt down too. Someone had just bought it too, and it was to become an elegant restuarant. But there was a gas leak and it literally exploded. North Augusta has bad luck, I would know, I live here.

Anonymous said...

The Seven Gables was bought by a friend of mine. She was working hard to get it set up and was doing most of the renovations herself. It wasn't a gas leak that caused it to burn down but it was the wiring with some of the fans. It sparked and caught the whole place ablaze.

jmhouse said...

I suppose it's sadly ironic that both the Seven Gables and the Hampton Terrace Hotel burned down due to problems with electrical wiring. I didn't know that when I originally wrote this post, but commenters quickly pointed out that the Hampton burned when a wire in a wall short-circuited early on the morning of 12/31/16.

It's really a shame that the Seven Gables is gone. I think it had a lot of potential with new owners and management.

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous! JM