The Georgia Trust

Camak House Returns to Grandeur

Camak House before (above)
and after (below)

Built in 1834 by noted Georgian James Camak in Athens, Ga., the Camak House has served as the office building for Winburn, Lewis & Barrow since 1993. The law firm purchased the Camak House from the Revolving Fund of The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation the previous year, and its careful and thorough restoration resurrected the house from a state of neglect and returned it to its former state of glory.

James Camak came to Athens as a professor of mathematics at The University of Georgia, having previously served as the editor of the literary publication The Southern Cultivator. Camak proved instrumental in founding one of Clarke County’s initial agricultural societies in 1845, and he went on to become the first president of the Georgia Railroad and Banking Co., which was founded inside the Camak House.

Following Camak’s death in 1847, the house remained with his descendants for the next 100 years until the Masonic Temple of Athens purchased it to use for meetings and offices. During this period, the interior of the house was noticeably altered, especially on the second floor, which was reconfigured as office space. The Masons sold the Camak House to the Athens Coca-Cola Bottling Company in 1979, by which time the house had been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. After the bottling company was acquired by Coca-Cola Enterprises, the house was stabilized, but used exclusively as storage space.

As time passed, the Camak House received scant attention, and only its superior craftsmanship prevented severe damage from overtaking the structure. When the Revolving Fund acquired the 6,000-sq.-ft. house, much of its original adornments, including moldings, mantels, an ironwork porch and locks, were still in good condition.

The Camak House exhibits many of the traits common to Federal style homes, including a fanlit entrance, central hall plan and brick construction. However, one unique architectural feature of the structure is that, unlike so many homes built in its era, the Camak House was designed with a kitchen attached to it. Whereas most kitchens were detached out of fear that a fire in the kitchen would quickly spread to the rest of the house, the Camak House’s brick construction eased this concern.

During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt sent architects around the country as part of his Works Progress Administration. As they toured the U.S., these architects made sketches of the most striking structures that they saw. The Camak House was the subject of many of these, and these sketches allowed those working to revitalize the house a rare degree of historical insight and direction that brought the house back to the level of grandeur that it had once enjoyed.

Do you know of an endangered historic property in your town? The Georgia Trust may be able to help.
Contact Kate Ryan at 404-885-7817.

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