Saturday, October 02, 2004

The Rooming House

At the corner of Greene St. and 4th is this old laundromat/rooming house. Around the side are obscure painted signs indicating that everything from TV's to newspapers to fishing bait might have at one time been sold on the lower level. However, the top is a series of apartments configured in such a way as to make a person think this had once been a rooming house.

Normally sealed up tight as a drum, one day somebody thoughtfully kicked out the plywood covering the lower level entry. It took a few weeks for it to be sealed up again, but that was enough time to give it a looking over. As you walked through the doorway, this was the first thing you saw. Clearly, a dangerous wooden structure (rather than the preferred concrete or metal), but the stairs were very beckoning. I rarely explore alone, 'cause there's safety in numbers. But, also, it's useful to have someone around to run out and call 911 when their partner falls through the floor. That's a joke. Sorta.

On the first floor were a number of apartments such as this one, most pretty much fully furnished. The rooms themselves seem to have been pretty nice, with real fireplaces and those windows would have provided great views of Greene St. The furnishings aren't exactly top-o'-the-line though and the rooms were all pitch dark. It was impossible to tell what was actually in the rooms until we saw the pictures, taken using a flash. There was an entrance to another entire section of the building on this floor, which would've probably more than doubled the size of this level, but we couldn't go through it as the floorboards were far too rotted out.

Next it was upstairs to the third floor. The stairs and walkways were some of the most interesting features of this building. Also, they were the most dangerous. You tread very gingerly on old wooden stairs, and even then you're never sure how solid the boards might be. After careful testing things seemed okay, so we continued.

Above is a photo from the second floor landing. Yeah, that's fire damage, making things even more interesting. Also, this is where the pigeons were hanging out. There was lots of cooing and fluttering and, of course, lots of pigeon crap. Breathing the dust of pigeon droppings isn't so healthy, but by this point we were committed and, actually, there didn't seem to be much dust in the air. This was probably due to the size and variety of the holes in the walls and ceiling.

This is the view from the top of the stairs on the third floor. Again, these are really great stairs, eh? It must've been a pretty neat place to live once upon a time and I wish I knew SOMETHING about the building. But I don't. There was some train-hopper graffiti up on the third floor, so it's possible someone had lived here for a bit not too long ago. But this time there was no one home but the pigeons, who'd been busy roosting all over the place. From this angle, standing on questionable lumber, it's a long way down.

It's hard to tell if this attic kitchen was communal or if the stove in the photo above was simply installed in someone's bedroom, which is an interesting concept. Again, most of the furnishings were still in place, so people must've just walked away from a lot of their stuff. I don't know whether this would have been before or after the fire.

Another attic room offering a lovely view of the tree tops along Greene St. I wouldn't have minded staying here at all...about 40 years ago.

Dust, crutches, fallen plasterboard, and toppled chairs. It's the end of the line for this place, and probably, by this time, the people that lived here, as well. Shortly after our trip someone came around and put new plywood over all the windows and doors. What the ultimate fate of the house will be I don't know. Despite its previous glory(?), it's pretty much a total loss at this point. If the owner never physically tears it down it's probably just a matter of time until it falls to the ground all by itself.

MARCH 2014 UPDATE: While doing some research for an exhibit and presentation at the 2012 Augusta Photography Festival I learned that this building at 401 Greene St. has long been known as Kahrs Grocery. On a 1904 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map the lot is designated as containing a store which also encompassed 403 Greene St. The upstairs must have been apartments even back then. A photo of the place apparently exists from the 1870’s and the building is believed to have been built by German immigrants before the Civil War, probably in the late-1850’s. That's much older than I had originally thought and REALLY COOL!

As of spring 2014, the Kahrs Grocery building persists, wounded but not yet beaten entirely.

JULY 2014 UPDATE: I've now got a little more to add about the Kahrs Grocery story. The wholesale and retail grocery business was known as N. Kahrs & Co., established by Nicholas Kahrs in the 1850's. In 1881, Kahrs went into partnership with Fred Gehrken and Christian Richers, also German emigrants, and the following year he turned the entire enterprise over to them. But Kahrs was back in business by 1883, this time on Broad Street, most likely purchasing an alleyway and then adding some walls and a roof.

Kahrs, incidentally, was elected Police Commissioner of Augusta in 1885, at which time the Augusta Chronicle approvingly noted his success in business, adding that he was a "conservative, sagacious and popular citizen." He resigned in 1888, citing insufficient time to fulfill his duties. He did have ten children, after all. Nicholas Kahrs died in 1905, the Chronicle stating that "Mr. Kahrs was well known and his funeral will probably be largely attended."

Many thanks to Nick Kahrs, Nicholas Kahr's great, great grandson, for providing all this new information, as well as sending along the fantastic photo below, taken in the 1860's. Compare it to the photo at the top of this post to see about 140 years pass before your eyes. I believe the original resides with the Augusta Museum of History.


Anonymous said...

The building is at 4th and Greene

jmhouse said...

You might be right. I was kinda going off memory when I wrote the post. I was close though!

Thanks for the comment!


Unknown said...

This building was N. Kahrs & Co. and you're right it was a store on the bottom floor and 4 apartments on the top floors. The Kahrs family came from Germany in the 1850;s and built it. Nicholas Kahrs who owned the store was also the Police Commissioner of Augusta. The families that lived in the apartments were the Kahrs and friends of theirs that came from Germany and worked in the store. Nicholas and his wife had ten children.

jmhouse said...

Thanks for adding that information, Nick. It's great to have a relative contributing. This place has been obscured in mystery to me for a very long time, so any detail about the building and the Kahrs family, as well, is much appreciated!

You know, I had no idea that Nicholas Kahrs was the police commissioner of Augusta. I assume that means N. Kahrs & Co. was also home to the city's commissioner of police in the mid-to-late 1800's. Very cool.

Thanks again! JM