Abandoned Sites · GA · Georgia on my mind · Sense of Place · Why I love the South

Tabby Construction: Building the early Lowcountry

Equal parts oyster shell, sand, water and lime, examples of the concrete material known as tabby can still be seen throughout the Lowcountry. In particular this blog will focus on St. Simon’s Island, GA and the surrounding area. From the first time I noticed this unique material, I was fascinated. Functional and vernacular, the abundance of oysters in this area created a striking sight as I traversed a wooded area in Tolomato Island, GA that was home to the ruins of a former sugar plantation and rum distillery known as ‘The Thicket.’

Tabby ruins of slave quarters at 'The Thicket' a sugar plantation/rum distillery, Tolomato Island, GA.
Tabby ruins of slave quarters at ‘The Thicket’ a sugar plantation/rum distillery, Tolomato Island, GA.

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Abandoned Sites · Savannah History · Sense of Place

The Roberds Dairy: A glimpse into Savannah’s agricultural past

On a recent winter morning, I took a trip with some friends to explore the site of an abandoned dairy. I had no idea anything like this even existed in Savannah,  being such a humid and urban place it’s hard to imagine cows grazing on a marsh. But apparently they did, and there is proof in the structural remains of what was once a thriving farm industry. In this era of mass consumerism where everything is available at one large store, it is easy to forget that in the not so distant past all grocery needs were from local sources.

As for how large it was and the area the farm served I was unable to find any information but then again, my research has been limited to the internet. What I have been able to find out though is that this was an operating dairy until 1986. Maybe one of these days I will have some time to get to the Georgia Historical Society and see what I can find. For the time being, I wanted to at least share some photos and talk a little about the experience as a whole.

Down a winding bumpy road we ended up in this field on the marsh. This property backs up to Bonaventure Cemetery.
Down a winding bumpy road we ended up in a field on the marsh. This property backs up to Bonaventure Cemetery.

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Abandoned Sites · Community Relations · Savannah History · Sense of Place

Adaptive Rehabilitation in Downtown Savannah: The Warren A. Candler Hospital

View of the south elevation of the 1876 hospital building as of 01 January 2013.
View of the south elevation of the 1819/1877 hospital building as of 01 January 2013.

With so many vacant and unused properties throughout downtown Savannah, it is nice to the transformation from vacant to vibrant in what is arguably one of the most captivating buildings in the city. The Warren A. Candler Hospital, or the Old Candler Hospital as it is commonly referred to, was the first hospital in Georgia. There has been a medical facility on this site since 1819, but the hospital had its earliest beginnings in 1804. The following timeline will provide a brief history of the hospital based on available information through my research. Some of these dates may be approximations but here is an overview:

1804: Established as a mariners’ hospital and poor house located at 23 St. Gall on Joachin Street, a private home in Yamacraw.

1808: Incorporated as The Savannah Poor House and Hospital Society.

1819: Hospital built at current site on Gaston Street for $30,000.

1835: The hospital is reincorporated as a private institution.

1863: During the War Between the States the hospital cares for Confederate soldiers.

1864: A stockade for Union prisoners is erected around the Candler Oak tree.

1864-1866: When Sherman arrives in Savannah in December 1864 the facility is taken over as a Union hospital.

1866: $4,000 is appropriated to reopen the institution after the war.

1871-1888: Location of Savannah Medical College.

1872: Renamed as Savannah Hospital with the main objective of treating illness.

1876-1877: Building is renovated to its present Italianate style appearance with the addition of two three-story wings, one on either side of the central block. A cupola was also added to the roof at this time.

1879: Savannah Hospital hires its first female night nurse.

1902: The city’s first nursing school is founded by Mary Ann Roberts and is located in the hospital.

1931: The Georgia Hospital Board of the Methodist Episcopal Church South acquires the property and renames it in honor of Bishop Warren A. Candler.

1936: Pediatric Department opens.

1941-1942: A three-story brick building at the east end of the main hospital building adds 40 more beds to the institution by way of a $100,000 Federal grant to expand the facility.

1955: A 77-bed International style four-story wing is added to the north side of the main building.

1960: Candler merges with the Telfair Hospital for Females (1886), the longest operating women’s hospital in the United States. It became Candler’s obstetrical unit.

1968: A Contemporary style three-story concrete frame building is erected as the Minis-Gilmer Diagnostic and Treatment Center.

1980: Candler Hospital moves to its present midtown location at Reynolds and DeRenne Streets.

2012-present: After a period of vacancy spanning three decades, Savannah Law School purchases the property and begins a multiphase rehabilitation project to open the school at the former hospital.

At its current state, the first two stories of the 1955 building have been completely restored and are functioning as part of the law school, with the third and fourth floors restored but not yet in use. The next phase of the project involves restoration, rehabilitation and selective demolition in the original buiding. Next Friday, I am taking a tour of the site to see the building right before the next part of the project begins. I will post any relevant photos and information. Until then, here are some other photos I took of the exterior on New Year’s Day.

Candler2 Candler3 Candler4 Candler5







Abandoned Sites · oh no they didn't

The Weak and the Wounded: Film Explores and Embraces Asylum’s Dark Past

Photo: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41A0EXA27QL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

With the Halloween season in full swing, I find myself spending late evening hours watching creepy movies in the dark. One of my absolute favorites is the psychological horror film “Session 9,” a cult favorite filmed in 2000 at the now demolished 500 acre Danvers State Hospital site near Boston. When it still stood, the Danvers site was part of the Massachusetts Film Office’s Fee-Free Location Program, where qualified filmmakers could use state owned sites at no cost.

East aerial view of the ginormous Kirkbride Building (c.1874), as well as a few others prior to their demolition. Photo: http://www.opacity.us

 “Session 9” may provide one of the best visual records of the hospital buildings and landscape before the massive Gothic Revival Kirkbride building and grounds was no more. Although a listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not prevent the demolition of a historic building-as was stated in the film-the site was eligible for rehabilitation tax credits that may have been available to help fund a reuse project. There is entirely too much controversy surrounding what went down with the demolition and subsequent construction of Avalon Danvers to get into in this blog but a Google search on the topic definitely makes for interesting reading.

An interesting side note: Danvers has been shrouded with eeriness for centuries before the state hospital came to be. The actual site of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 took place in this same location, not in the present-day Salem as it is commonly attributed. At the time, Danvers was known as Salem Village and that is where the first accusations of supernatural-induced hysteria began. The main Kirkbride building of Danvers Hospital was situated on the exact site that was once the home of John Hathorne, one of the judges of the witch trials.

In any case, what remains today of  Danvers State Hospital is the centermost part of the main hospital building. Everything else was demolished and new construction has taken over. In my thesis research about this site, I came across writings by many individuals who expressed the view that there is no sense of history to this site after entering through the 19th century remains of the Kirkbride building. Never having been there myself-at least not yet- I can’t say for sure how good or bad of a job Avalon Communities did with this site but I do believe that the destruction of such a building is a loss on so many levels. Not only is it physically gone forever but there is one less piece of understanding who we are via how we got here that is missing. I think that’s a big reason why I love watching “Session 9” so much. At  least there is a way to see Danvers State Hospital in some detail while it was still there.

The tiniest little surviving bit of the Kirkbride building sits among generic looking new construction. Photo: http://www.kirkbridebuilings.com
Abandoned Sites

A Shipwreck Graveyard in Southern Maryland

Shipwreck debris in Mallows Bay

Photo Credit http://www.fossilguy.com/sites/potomac/mallow.htm

What is often considered a best-kept secret of the Washington, DC area is an intrigue to archaeologists, conservators and adventurous explorers alike. Mallows Bay, on the Potomac River in Southern Maryland, is home to nearly 150 long since abandoned remnants of ships. The mile long cove may contain the highest concentration of sunken ships in the world. Ranging from a late 18th century longboat to a steel ferry of the late 20th century, the nautical ruins protrude from the shallow waters. These vessels, the majority from a failed wooden steamship program of the World War I era, pose several interesting conservation and archaeological issues. Secluded from view and knowledge of even most locals, the Department of Natural Resources had considered ways to open the site as a shipwreck preserve. Naturally this raises the question of whether opening the site would compromise the authenticity and physical integrity of the site in addition to the hazardous albeit necessary measures to maintain, protect and conserve this maritime rarity.

The ghost fleet of Mallows Bay is an intriguing case study illustrating the challenges associated with aquatic conservation and underwater archaeology. This site holds significance in many realms. First, since there are so few shipwreck graveyards in the world, let alone one with 150 ships, the rare nature of the fleet makes it worth preserving. From a historical standpoint, the majority of the ships in Mallows Bay are from a failed military shipbuilding effort of WWI. Woodrow Wilson commissioned the building of several hundred wooden steamships in a call to arms against Germany.  Faulty construction and slow progress contributed to the downfall of this program by the time WWI ended. Postwar obsolescence made these ships undesirable and efforts to reuse them or even break them down for scraps were unsuccessful. Even an attempt to set the fleet ablaze missed the boat (sorry, I really just couldn’t resist the pun on this one, but that’s the only one, I promise!) But the bottom line is the charred remains of these vessels were brought to Mallows Bay and have been there ever since the 1920s.

An effort in the 1990s led to a cataloguing of the nautical relics, where a total of 88 wooden steamships from the WWI era were identified. Findings also include schooners, workboats and log canoes from the 19th century. This shipwreck graveyard has created its own environment, an artificial reef, and removal of the remains would disrupt the entire ecosystem of Mallows Bay.

Currently I have not found any recent plans for the site, but my search continues. I will provide updates to any discoveries. It’s hard to say what should happen next with the site. Waterlogged wood won’t last forever. Is leaving it ‘as is’ as it has been for decades the right thing to do, or would opening the site as an accessible shipwreck preserve be the way to go, spreading the knowledge about such a rare site? Tell me what you think!!

For further reading check out this website from the Department of Natural Resources, from which much of this article’s information was gathered. http://www.dnr.state.md.us/naturalresource/winter2001/ghostship.html

Accomac, the only ferry in the ghost fleet.

Photo Credit: http://www.fossilguy.com/sites/potomac/mallow.htm

Abandoned Sites

Nature reclaims Glenn Dale Hospital in Maryland

Glenn Dale Hospital, located in Glenn Dale, MD, currently sits vacant, awaiting a buyer willing to rehabilitate the hospital campus that closed its doors in 1982. The latest reports say there are two bids for the property, ‘as is.’ The only real protection on the property is a restrictive covenant mandating that the buildings be used as a continued care retirement community while the open land becomes public park space. Glenn Dale has suffered the ravages of time and vandalism for over twenty-five years. I often wonder if this could be prevented had a new use had been found earlier. Maybe the state of the buildings here would be in better condition. The cost to restore them will be a multimillion dollar undertaking. Hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint threaten the safety of trespassers who do not seem at all phased by this issue. The city of Glenn Dale deserves to have this site in use and benefiting its citizens without the perceived barriers and bureaucracy that has caused the crumbling former tuberculosis campus to become a taxpayer responsibility and a haven for vandalism. It’s about time something happens with this site and it better be soon if the buildings are to be revived and once again serving a useful purpose.