Douglass family pleased with effort to preserve historic house

pramati@macon.comMay 15, 2014 

Though Camellia Simmons had never been inside the large, late-Victorian house at 873 Pine St. until Thursday, the place holds a great deal of meaning for her.

It was built by her grandfather, famed Macon businessman Charles Douglass.

Though Simmons never met her grandfather, who died in 1940, she’s well aware of his legacy as one of Macon’s first successful black businessmen. The community banding together to preserve his house and moving it to another part of town means a great deal to her.

“It’s awesome,” she said. “That’s the word I’d use. It’s a piece of history that will never, ever be forgotten. I feel very strongly about it. ... I think it’s valiant that they are coming together to save this piece of property.”

Simmons was at the house Thursday with other dignitaries, including Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert and state Rep. James Beverly, D-Macon, to formally announce that Beverly is working with the city, Mercer University and Historic Macon to move the house from its current location to 5094 Mercer University Drive as either a permanent or temporary site.

If the house is sufficiently restored, Reichert pledged to move the city’s newly created Department of Small Business Administration there.

The move is necessary because local businessman Lou Patel, who is building a Dunkin’ Donuts on the site of the former Tremont Temple Baptist Church, said he needs the extra space for his new business.

Beverly said Patel has an option on the Douglass house and will donate it to Beverly’s Community Enhancement Authority, along with the money he would have spent to demolish the house to instead help move it.

Beverly said he doesn’t have a final total of how much it will cost to move and restore the house, but it has to be moved within 30 days after the deal is signed.

The idea to save the house came about during a community forum attended by Reichert in March. During the forum, moderator George Muhammad, the former chairman of the Douglass Theatre, said it’s important that historic properties such as the Douglass house be preserved. Reichert then challenged the community to save it, pledging to move the local SBA office into the house and pay rent if the house is upgraded.

Beverly noted that he had no idea while he was working on the project that a member of his re-election campaign team, Peter Simmons, is Camellia Simmons’ son and Douglass’ great-grandson.

The fact that the home is to be used for a government department designed specifically to help women- and minority-owned businesses is a perfect fit, the Simmons family said.

“(Douglass) was definitely for doing things enhancing opportunities, not only for minorities but for everybody,” Camellia Simmons said.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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