Historic home gets temporary reprieve from wrecking ball

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 6, 2005

A part of Greenville’s rich historical heritage was on the verge of going beneath the wrecking ball a year ago until a last-minute reprieve saved the century-and-a-half-year-old structure.

The two-story Neuman-Wright-Dees house has stood on a hill on Greenville’s Oliver Street for 150 years, enduring the ravages of weather and time.

Even an explosion some eight decades ago – when the boiler on the cotton gin across the street exploded – didn’t damage the house, which narrowly escaped having the flying boiler land on it (the explosion did

destroy a section of a single-story house that once stood on an adjoining lot).

Preservationists consider the Neuman-Wright-Dees house possibly the oldest house still standing in Greenville, the type of home early settlers built when they moved up from the log cabin.

Still standing – for now

However, the historic home may not be standing for much longer. A buyer is urgently needed who can restore the aging property to its former glory.

&uot;It was purchased by someone who was planning to restore the home, but unfortunately, they passed away before any work could be done. Now it is owned by a realtor in Camden who is looking for someone who wants to invest the money and time into restoring it,&uot; says Nancy Idland, director of Greenville Main Street.

A cottonseed house on the same property suffered a fireworks explosion in the 1940s, causing extensive structural damage.

After years of neglect, both structures are on the verge of collapse. The city building department, considering the house a public safety hazard, marked the two structures for demolition unless they were restored.

Sounding the alarm

Preservationists sounded a general alarm.

&uot;They said it was a crisis. These two properties…were in imminent danger of being lost,&uot; says Tom Kaufmann, designer of the Alabama Historical Commission’s Main Street Program, which helps revitalize historic downtown business districts across the state.

Kaufmann stepped in to help mobilize the &uot;troops&uot; needed to stave off the historic house’s destruction.

&uot;Our good friend Tom worked with us to gather volunteers who would go in and make the necessary emergency repairs to block the demolition, such as boarding up windows, shoring up the front and second-floor porches where they had rotted through and so forth,&uot; says Idland.

A temporary fix

Those emergency repairs blocked the demolition, but only temporarily.

&uot;We’ve told them as long as they are exhausting every effort to get it restored that we’ll be patient, and that’s where we are on it,&uot; says Eddie Anderson, head of Greenville’s city building department.

At the request of Kaufmann and others, a structural engineering firm, Weatherford and Associates of Montgomery, donated their time and expertise for a detailed inspection and assessment in June 2003 of both houses.

Looking for a buyer

Local historical enthusiasts hope that buyer is found soon.

&uot;We certainly are in support of preservation of our historic old homes and we stand behind Main Street’s efforts to save the Neuman-Wright-Dees house,&uot; says Barbara Middleton, president of the Butler County Historical and Genealogical Society (BCHGS).

An article on the history of the house, along with a listing of Greenville’s historic districts and structures, were featured in the historical society’s October 2004 quarterly. Copies of the quarterly are available at the society’s research room, located in the Greenville-Butler County Public Library.

&uot;It would be a shame to lose another one of our historic homes. It is just a question of finding the right owner. It needs an owner who will invest a lot,&uot; says Idland.