Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Long and Sad Tale of the Goodale Inn

Back in the 1830’s, just a few years after the dawn of photography, when people were making images on pewter and glass (actually, I think I’d like to make some images on pewter and glass right now), one of the two major pioneers in the field, William H. Fox Talbot, said that photography documents “the injuries of time,” particularly when a contemporary photo is set side-by-side with an earlier shot. The guy had a strong point.

Looking back over City of Dust, I guess most of my photography is explicitly concerned with the “injuries of time.” And even though I rarely have a “before” picture for comparison, the injuries are still pretty obvious. In the case of Augusta, Georgia's Goodale Inn, I don’t need a photogravure of the house made thirty years after its construction in 1799 to witness the ravages of time. I can simply compare a photo I took this past fall with a shot from a visit less than a decade ago. So, let’s take another trip to the Goodale Inn, probably the oldest four-sided brick building in Georgia and possibly one of the oldest largely unaltered structures in the state, period. Although, as you will see, alterations are taking place whether anyone wants them to or not.

Located way out at 745 Sand Bar Ferry Rd., the Goodale Inn was once the first structure travelers saw when entering Augusta from South Carolina, the state line being somewhere in the Savannah River just to the east, the crossing still known as Goodale's Landing. Imagine how many people have gone past the Goodale Inn on horseback and by carriage, including aging Revolutionary War veterans and Civil War soldiers. However, the house may never actually have been an inn.

The building is on land that was owned by Thomas Goodale as part of the 500-acre Goodale Plantation. Goodale also operated the Sand Bar Ferry, bringing travelers across the river. The Goodale Inn might have been built by Charles Goodale, or maybe it was built by Christopher Fitzsimmons, who is reported to have bought the land around 1799-1800. There is some mystery in that chronology, actually. Later, the property was given by Fitzsimmons to Governor Wade Hampton III’s father as part of his daughter Ann’s dowry. The place has quite a history and if you want to read more and see a few photos depicting a less battered Goodale, you can find my original post HERE. Of course, a building this old has to be haunted and the resident ghost is supposedly that of a little girl who turns on lights and slams doors, amongst other things. Particularly in the attic. Well, it is true that the attic light was often on when I’d drive past at night.

Inside the Goodale are ten rooms and five fireplaces to keep warm. Some bricks have now been pulled out of those fireplaces by “treasure hunters” (read: vandals) who believed there might be Confederate gold or something sealed up in the chimneys. Rumors of a previous owner digging up "Indian mounds" in the backyard while searching for said gold may or may not be exaggerated. Now, if you look closely at the photo that starts this post, you will see that one of the metal treads at the top of the steps is missing. Hopefully this has just been removed by the owners and not actually stolen and recycled for 0.50/lb. You will also see a rectangular wooden frame on the lower part of the front porch. This used to hold a banner that read, “Save the Goodale.” But now even that is gone. All of this is actually small potatoes to the major injury that has befallen the Goodale, shown in the photo just above. Yup, the entire western wall has collapsed leaving one side of the building open to the elements and very vulnerable.

Now, before you say, “This is outrageous! The owner of the Goodale Inn should be ashamed for letting this historic structure crumble! Where can I find him so that I might give him a piece of my mind?”, let’s step back for a moment. When I visited the Goodale in 2004 it was long-vacant and long for sale. Following a couple foreclosures, the property was finally auctioned off in 2009 to an Alabama investor with hopes of restoration. This investor paid less than $20,000, which is a fair step down from the original asking price of $250,000. If you think that buying a house built in 1799 for $20,000 might somehow indicate that there are problems, I suspect you’re right. That's the little girl's attic in the photo above, taken in 2004.

It was August of 2011 when the wall collapsed. Since then I’ve been in touch with people that have worked on the house who've said that some of the river rock used for the foundation has turned into a fine powder that now sits in little piles along the bottom of the basement walls. The heart of pine floors are held together with wooden pegs. Cool, but not easy to upgrade. In short, this is no simple fixer-upper. To me, it seems that those that own the Goodale Inn and are working for its restoration have their hearts in the right place. Remember, literally no one else wanted the place. Not the city, not the county, not the state. NO ONE. As for the slow progress on the restoration, I’ve heard that money doesn’t grow on trees. Those are some heart of pine beams above. Below is the Goodale Inn circa 2004. Note the presence of the chimney.

But there is some hope yet. A recent structural survey, financed by a $5,000 “intervention grant” from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, found that most of the house is still basically sound. At least it doesn’t need to be torn down. Also, ownership of the house will apparently be transferred to a new non-profit, the Historic Home Preservation Society, allowing better access to grant money that’s available for restoration projects. So we shall see. If anyone reading this has some extra funds lying around and would like to help the Goodale Inn, I’m sure you can contact the owners through their Facebook page, Save the Goodale. The ghost of a shy little girl would most certainly thank you.

Information and inspiration for this post came from a recent article in the Augusta Chronicle on the positive outcome of the structural survey. More about the collapse of the wall is HERE. As usual, Historic Augusta has some good background, too. If you want to read about the ghost of the little girl, you can go to THIS article in the Chronicle or head to the South Carolina Paranormal Society’s CASE FILE on the Goodale Inn. I got the great old shot above from the Save the Goodale Facebook page where it was uncredited. Try to guess the date (note car at right). It appears to pre-date the period in the 1970's when the Goodale was a "free school" prior to a restaurant being put in the basement. I hear the restaurant served a delicious peanut butter pie on pewter dishes, which brings us all the way back to where we started.

Next time we’ll head into south Augusta to see the historic Dr. Scipio S. Johnson House at 1420 Twiggs St. It ain’t looking good.


Louyse Morais said...

I love your blog!

jmhouse said...

Thanks, Louyse!

Julie said...

Interesting place!

Landmark windows said...

Good luck with applying for the grant money. Looks like a worthy cause. Glad to hear that the home is structurally sound, so it looks promising, but I'm sure time will be running out soon as abuse from the weather can't so easily be put on hold. Good luck!

Shawn Harrell said...

i pass that house going/leaving work all the time and find myself admiring it. i would love to have a place like that out in the woods.

jmhouse said...

I used to pass by that house on my way to and from work everyday myself. I'm at least glad to know it hasn't been bulldozed yet.

Thanks for the comment, Shawn! JM

Anonymous said...

Didn't the McMulmurrys own it at one time? they had a construction company

jmhouse said...

Anonymous, I'm not familiar with the McMulmurry Family. If they did own it, I'd love it if a relation got in touch and provided some history. Well...maybe some day!

Thanks for your comment! JM

Donna Herron said...

Well, where does the Gooddsle stand now. Torn down. Nobody flipping sad.

jmhouse said...

Yeah, reading the newspaper articles about the Goodale's demolition was pretty brutal. There's no way to feel good about the fate of what was, until recently, one Georgia's oldest unaltered buildings. Everybody lost in this debacle.

Thanks for your comment, Donna Herron. JM