Threat to demolish old home in Batesburg-Leesville creates stir

The 128-year-old Mitchell-Hendrix home in Batesburg-Leesville is in danger of demolition.
The 128-year-old Mitchell-Hendrix home in Batesburg-Leesville is in danger of demolition. Provided photo

Protests are rising over the possibility that a home that’s a local landmark in Batesburg-Leesville could be razed soon to make way for new development.

Historic preservationists are seeking a last-minute savior to prevent demolition of the 128-year-old Mitchell-Hendrix home this fall.

Local historian Louise Riley describes the classic Southern mansion as “a community treasure” in danger of disappearing.

“We haven’t been able to find anybody yet who might rescue it,” she said.

The house is named for families who were business and civic leaders in the Lexington County town in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Local streets also are named after them.

The house is a two-story wooden structure built in the neo-classical style, according to the National Register of Historic Places. The front entrance features a portico supported by four columns.

“Losing it would be such a tragedy,” said Mildred Rankin, who attended parties there as a teenager in the 1950s.

The home sitting next to a commercial area in the Lexington County town is slated to be replaced by a fast-food restaurant.

Developer Frank Cason is sympathetic to the idea of saving the home, offering it free to anyone who will move it elsewhere.

He initially looked at doing that, but the tab of “a few hundred thousand dollars” is too expensive, he said.

“As much as it pains me, we might have to tear it down,” Cason said.

Some community leaders see both sides.

“I hate to see history destroyed,” local Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Mike Taylor said. “But at the same time, it’s great to see Batesburg-Leesville progressing and growing.”

Riley calls the threat to the home shortsighted.

“I believe in progress, but at the expense of losing a home that was such a pride to the community that it was placed on a local post card that is sent to friends all over the country?” she said.

The home is among 82 dwellings and stores in the town of 5,500 residents on the National Register of Historic Places.

But that designation doesn’t prevent demolition, according to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

“The National Register is an honorific designation that provides incentives to preserve properties but does not control the actions of private owners,” its guidelines say.

The clamor is prompting town officials to start considering what steps, if any, are possible to help protect locally significant older buildings.

“This is the first time we had to face this,” Mayor Rita Crapps said. “It may become a recurring issue as we continue to develop and grow.”

Groups tour the town to see older buildings, Riley said.

“Our community should consider saving old homes and businesses for the virtually untapped tourist industry,” she said. “Other small towns have been revitalized by the tourist trade. Why can’t we do the same?”

Tim Flach: 803-771-8483