Effort launched to save Upstates's 138-year-old Wilkins House by moving it

Greenville NewsJanuary 29, 2014 

William Wilkins House (1870's) Greenville, S.C.

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA. SO

— The grand old homes that once lined Augusta Road are gone, except for one.

When plans called for the Wilkins House to be razed for redevelopment, its fate, too, seemed sealed.

Now an interested patron has emerged, potentially saving the 138-year-old home with help from local preservationists.

Neil Wilson of RealityLink said he is doing his due diligence to determine if it’s economically viable to move the home to another site.

“I do expect a firm decision on my part very soon,” Wilson said.

Wilson has made appearances before city officials with developer Dan Simmons, who requested to rezone the property for an assisted living center. Final approval was given by Greenville City Council, though not without a fight.

Because of significant additions, the house was never placed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it vulnerable to demolition.

“It’s a very cut-and-dry process,” Simmons said. “You apply for a demolition permit. There’s a 30-day waiting period, and then you tear it down.”

Then Simmons attended a Planning Commission meeting, where he heard from preservationists who spoke of the home’s historical significance. A petition to “Save the Wilkins Mansion” had also circulated, garnering more than 630 signatures.

Simmons said he was surprised but encouraged by the response, which is why he is working with the county historic preservation commission and other groups to “put our shoulder behind saving this thing.”

Constructed in 1876, the house at 1004 Augusta St. was built for William T. Wilkins, a merchant who made his fortune in New York before coming to Greenville, according to local historian Judith Bainbridge.

He had the mansion built by local contractor Jacob Cagle as a testament to his wealth, Bainbridge said.

Kelly Odom, who sits on the preservation commission, said plans also are in motion to restore the Wilkins House to its original state, down to the little balcony that was once off the third-story tower.

“It’s a God-send,” said Odom, who grew up thinking of the house as a community landmark, always in the background. Back then it was home to Jones Mortuary.

Mike Bedenbaugh, executive director of the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, said a local task force is looking at ways to move and preserve the structure.

Bedenbaugh described it as one of the most significant, endangered brick mansions in the state. “All effort is being made to develop a way to ensure it survives,” he said.

Once relocated, a preservation easement may be placed on the home, allowing the community to make tax-deductible contributions to help with restoration, Simmons said.

“We hope it will work out,” he said.

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