Neuman-Wright-Dees House on list of #039;Places in Peril#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2005

One of Greenville’s most significant historic houses is now considered one of the state’s &uot;places in peril.&uot;

That’s the latest word from the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and the Alabama Preservation Alliance (APA) concerning the Neuman-Wright-Dees House. The two-story antebellum house, which dates back as far as the 1830s- 1840s, joined 11 other sites around the state put on the 2005 &uot;Places in Peril&uot; list.

The organizations compile the list annually in the effort to preserve some of the state’s most endangered sites.

The house, located at the intersection of Oliver and Milner Streets, sits on a hill overlooking downtown Greenville.

Once one of the city’s &uot;showcase&uot; homes, it is included in the National Register’s King Street Historic District. Today the house sits neglected, windows boarded up, waiting for a new owner to return it to its former beauty.

‘An architectural gem’

The house is one of only a handful of houses built in Greenville in a style brought to South Carolina from the island of Barbados. State and local preservationists consider it a true architectural gem. The house features original heart pine flooring and woodwork throughout.

&uot;Honestly, I’ve been all over the state and I have never seen another house, with its special architectural details, exactly like it. It has such potential to be one of the grand places to live in Greenville,&uot; said Tom Kaufmann of the Alabama Historical Commission and State Main Street Program.

The house, built on a raised foundation features a basement kitchen, dining room, sewing room and pantry. Its full-width front porch and balcony display the popular wheat-sheaf balustrade of the era. A turn-of-the-century Victorian cottage sits adjacent to the home and is included in the property sale.

James Dee’s daughters, Susan Curet and Mary Jan Falkenberry, owned the home until early 2004.

The house was purchased, but was once again put up for sale after the new owner passed away before being able to make any improvements.

Saved from the wrecking ball

A Montgomery structural engineering firm’s assessment of both the Neuman-Wright-Dees house and the adjoining structure in June 2003 deemed the buildings structurally sound enough to merit saving.

Local preservationists sounded the alarm last year when the city building department declared the structure a public safety hazard and slated it for demolition.

Kaufmann and Keri Coumanis of the AHA organized an evaluation of the structure, gathered volunteers and saw that necessary emergency repairs were made. Windows were boarded up and the rotting first and second story porches received a shoring up.

Their efforts gave the house a temporary reprieve.

Time is running out

According to Kaufmann, it may very well take a grassroots campaign to save the historic old home.

&uot;We [AHC and APA] put together these lists in an effort to raise public awareness of places under threat, but we have no power to actually save the structure…at this critical juncture, it’s going to take folks in the community promoting this house in some way,&uot; said Kaufmann.

&uot;I would love to see someone jump on board with this house and do something wonderful with it. Yes, it takes time, money and effort – but it is possible to make things happen,&uot; said Nancy Idland, director of Greenville Main Street.

Idland says good things are already happening in that section of downtown.

&uot;The Petty Building [on the corner of Commerce and Bolling Sts.] has been sold and is being renovated – and that is a positive sign for the general

area,&uot; Idland said.

Seeing the potential

The key to saving the Neuman-Wright-Dees House, says Kaufmann, is &uot;getting the public to see the potential – to see it as we preservationists see it. The house must be presented in an attractive way.&uot;

The preservationist said a number of good ideas have already been discussed concerning possible uses for the house other than as a private residence.

&uot;A tea room and community center were mentioned, among other ideas. Honestly, this is the kind of house people in other parts of the country would go crazy to have,&uot; said Kaufmann.

Local preservationist Annabel Markle, for one, doesn’t want to see the city lose yet another historic site.

&uot;It is sad such a fine old house has become so endangered – Greenville has lost too many of its historic structures already,&uot; said Markle.

&uot;It’s a pity the city or state historical organizations do not have resources to preserve the house. I’m sure its location has been a factor in not being able to find a benefactor or someone who wants it for their own occupation,&uot; she added.

Kaufmann believes someone willing to &uot;take a risk&uot; could create the beginnings of a renaissance for the area.

&uot;If someone would take on the challenge of renovating the Neuman-Wright-Dees house, that could start something great for Greenville. You could see that whole hill come back to life in a wonderful way,&uot; Kaufmann said.

For more information on the home, contact Nancy Idland at 382-3041.