Historic Smith House Paves the Way for Preservation in Brunswick, Georgia
Brunswick, Georgia, is about an hour’s drive south of Savannah, a polestar for preservationists and the historic preservation movement. Unfortunately, proximity doesn’t mean nearby cities – like Brunswick – have the same consideration and care for historical homes and buildings. That is, until recently.
Taylor Davis graduated from University of Georgia’s Master of Historic Preservation program in 2009. He and his wife wanted to settle in south east Georgia and decided on Brunswick. With the recession in full swing, historic preservation jobs were hard to come by. He realized that in order to work in the profession that he loved and trained for, he’d have to open his own business. Low Country Preservation, focusing primarily on wood window restoration, came to life.
Historic Brunswick postcard – photo from www.discoverbrunswick.com
Low Country Preservation is based out of Davis’ home, located in the Old Town neighborhood, part of the National Register of Historic Places. He saw firsthand how beautiful historic homes with potential to be rehabbed were torn down without debate. Serving on the city of Brunswick’s historic preservation review board, he kept hearing residents asking for forgiveness for tearing down historic structures rather than asking for permission and assistance to restore them. Knowing how successful preservation groups have been in Savannah, he and a small group of dedicated professionals founded the Historic Brunswick Foundation, a not for profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving the historic buildings in Brunswick. Davis serves as chairperson of the executive board. Its flagship project, the Smith House, built in 1868, kickstarted the organization, as well as a greater movement in Brunswick to recognize and save historic homes in the Old Town neighborhood.
The Smith House before restoration began – photo from the Historic Brunswick Foundation
The Smith House was kismet for Davis and the Historic Brunswick Foundation. A neighbor happened to tell Davis about the dilapidated, overgrown property. Davis knew he wanted to save it. After weeks of (good-natured) pestering, he convinced the house’s owner to donate the property only one week before its scheduled demolition. As they say, the rest is history. Its story and the ongoing work on the house raised public awareness and rallied the community around the need to preserve old historic homes like the Smith House. Since acquiring the house, The Historic Brunswick Foundation has saved several other properties in Old Town, and they are expanding to other parts of Brunswick. Not only does it take on the work of restoring historic homes, but it also provides assistance and professional advice to local home and business owners.
University of Georgia students repair the house’s front porch using WoodEpox® – photo from the Historic Brunswick Foundation
Work continues on the Smith House. Every May, Davis invites his former professor Dr. Mark Reinberger to bring University of Georgia students to the Smith House for field experience and to learn hands-on techniques in preservation work. The organization’s preferred wood restoration products are Abatron’s LiquidWood® and WoodEpox®. Davis first learned about Abatron as a student himself, while working at an internship restoring historic homes on nearby Jekyll Island. A fellow University of Georgia alum who was leading the restoration work swore by the product. He has used it ever since. “It’s a miracle. I use it almost on a daily basis,” explains Davis.
On site materials – photo from the Historic Brunswick Foundation
The students use Abatron’s wood restoration products to repair decorative and structural wood features. Last year, students repaired the extensively damaged porch. This month, a new group of students will arrive to help fix the exterior of the house. Part of their assignment will also be to determine the fate of a circa 1900 annex to the house.
Students apply LiquidWood to repair rotted wood on the porch support beams – photo from the Historic Brunswick Foundation
The Smith House is a work in progress, but the work that has been completed is not only preserving historic Brunswick, but also training a future generation of preservationists in Georgia. We look forward to seeing and sharing what this year’s group of students will accomplish.