The Georgia Trust

A PERFECT FIT: NEW OWNERS DRAWN TO REVOLVING FUND HOUSE AND LANDSCAPE

The Rice-George House features the remnants of a 19th-century landscape. (above: view of the house before the vegetation was taken off the front; below: view of yard).

Jim Garner and Susan Hitchcock both share a love of all things historic: Ms. Hitchcock holds a master’s degree in historic preservation, with an emphasis on landscape history, and Mr. Garner has a lifetime interest in old houses and holds a master’s degree in horticulture. After living in Midtown Atlanta for many years, the two decided to leave the hectic pace of the city and live one of their dreams together by buying an old house and restoring it.

Mr. Garner and Ms. Hitchcock researched properties as far away as Virginia, but couldn’t find the right combination of location, price and style. When they came upon the ad in The Rambler for the Rice-George House (c. 1815) in Eatonton, Ms. Hitchcock recalls she was very interested in the house, but wasn’t sure where the town was located.

However, Mr. Garner had a soft spot for Eatonton—it was his home for the first three years of his life. During his call to the Trust, Mr. Garner learned the property had another feature he and Ms. Hitchcock had never dreamed of finding—the remnants of a 19th-century landscape with ancient boxwoods and other plantings. “That was definitely a selling point for us,” he said.

When they first visited the property, they found an even greater surprise.

“I was overjoyed to see that the boxwood garden, although overgrown, was healthy.” Ms. Hitchcock said. “I’ve spent most of my career researching other people’s landscapes and now I can research and cultivate my own.”

The house itself proved even better than they had expected as well.

“I was prepared for the worst,” Ms. Hitchcock said. “When we got there, we were impressed with the overall condition of the house. Although it would require major repairs, it appeared to be a good candidate for restoration.”

After touring the property with several preservation-minded experts, including architectural historian Tommy Jones and Georgia Trust board member and architect Lane Green, they decided to buy the house. By purchasing a Revolving Fund property, the new owner agrees to follow certain guidelines for rehabilitation and donate the façade easement to The Georgia Trust.

To Mr. Garner and Ms. Hitchcock, these conditions were another selling point.

“I believe in historic preservation and I believe these kinds of things are necessary to ensure these properties are preserved,” Mr. Garner said. “The question becomes, ‘do I believe in what The Georgia Trust is doing and is it a well thought-out way of preserving these properties?’ And the answer is yes. If the time comes when I need to sell the house, I believe that somewhere there will be someone who believes the way I do and will see the value in preserving this house.”

To prepare for their new home and town, Mr. Garner has begun researching the history of Eatonton and its buildings, and has found that theirs is one of the oldest houses in the town. “I feel fortunate to have found something this significant and rare in Georgia,” he said.

Once the basic work of stabilization and installing a few modern upgrades is complete, the couple looks forward to spending time rehabilitating the gardens.

“I don’t have any illusions about how difficult this is going to be,” Mr. Garner said. “But we hope to combine being responsible stewards with creating something special that we, and others, will be able to enjoy for years to come.”

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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