Sandlapper Society

Palmetto Trust

To the Rescue

by Aïda Rogers
photos by Becky Hyatt Rickenbaker


Want to help save South Carolina’s architectural heritage? Call The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation.


It’s not hard to get Mike Bedenbaugh fired up about historic preservation. A self-described “architecture geek,” Bedenbaugh grew up crawling beneath old houses in his native Prosperity, examining their special features, learning about building styles. Now he’s doing that statewide. As executive director of The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, he’s on the forefront of making sure significant structures – humble and grand, commercial and residential – aren’t destroyed. Equally important, he and his organization work to put those buildings to practical use. “They were homes before, they can be homes again;” he declares. “Putting people living and breathing in them creates a home or business that is also living and breathing. That is what helps resuscitate our communities.”

Organized in 1990 to keep from losing historic properties outside Charleston and Columbia— essentially rural and upstate South Carolina— The Palmetto Trust has saved 21 properties so far. Eight of those were saved since Bedenbaugh took over in 2008. Their projects are as diverse as the state they serve. They revived the 1850s Rose Hotel in York, rehabbing it from an “industrial eyesore” to a pleasing 16-unit apartment building with space for two businesses. Its restoration has had a $1.4-million impact on the local economy, Bedenbaugh reports. In Darlington, the once-vacant 1890 McLellan Building now accommodates seven apartments and two businesses. A walkway was built in the center, allowing people to get to the town’s square, where parking is scarce. The $1.3 million project has created five jobs so far. “Instead of having it torn down, we’ll be able to use it for another 50 to 100 years,” says Howard Garland, Darlington’s city manager.

Current projects involve four recently discovered slave cabins in Anderson, several Gullah cottages on Daufuskie Island, and the historic property at the state mental hospital in Columbia – all 400,000 square feet of it. Bedenbaugh works with local governments, developers, and historical societies to keep these and other structures from the wrecking ball. While he acknowledges that many important buildings are gone, he tries to instill optimism in the citizens he meets. “It’s important to remember the lessons of what happened when buildings are lost, but it cannot be used to diminish what’s left,” he maintains. “It’s not only about the glass being half-full or half-empty; it’s about seeing that the glass can be filled up again.”

Interesting architecture, he believes, can inspire a wilting community to revive. The restoration of Newberry’s 1880s French Gothic opera house has drawn more than nationally acclaimed performers; it’s brought businesses, people, and “some of the finest dining in the state,” Bedenbaugh proclaims. It’s become a model for other towns working to reinvent themselves. Few are the towns that don’t capitalize on their historic districts, which almost guarantee stable real estate prices.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of architectural review boards signals that more people are recognizing the value of historic preservation. The slave cabins in Anderson might be a memory now, if the town’s architectural review board hadn’t consulted The Palmetto Trust, Bedenbaugh says. The group is negotiating with Anderson’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate; Bedenbaugh predicts those cabins will become housing.

One victory he’s cheering is the rescue of the Lindler House in Ballentine. Walmart was going to bulldoze it, but The Palmetto Trust saved it, thanks to partnerships it formed with Lindler family members, Walmart, the Richland County Conservation Commission and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The home— which had been built around an 18th-century log cabin— was moved 100 feet away and is ready for sale. Like its other Palmetto Trust properties, it’s protected by an easement that allows the trust to oversee its restoration and guarantee public access. Letting people visit and learn how historic structures were built is part of the group’s mission.

The Palmetto Trust doesn’t receive any government money and operates on grants, property sales and donations. Its new campaign, “Five for the Future,” asks people to donate $5 per week or month to their cause. “It’s about tithing for preservation,” Bedenbaugh explains. “For the price of a hamburger, you can help ensure that this organization will be here to help communities all over the state. We’re ready to have South Carolinians rally around our purpose, so that we can help them rally around theirs.” 

Learn more about the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation at palmettotrust.org or email oldhouse@palmettotrust.org. 

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Pictured at top right: Lindler House
Above: Mike Bedenbaugh examines the log cabin interior of the Lindler House

 

 

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