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AUGUSTA
Summerville Historic District

 

Bellevue Cottage

Bellevue Cottage
Rebecca Rogers

The hilltop neighborhood of Summerville was a distinct community separate from Augusta by the late 18th century.  This small village on the sand hills west of town was situated astride the Indian Trading Road connecting Augusta with the Creek Indian Nation to the west.  Part of that road is roughly followed by parts of today’s Broad Street, Battle Row, upper McDowell Street, and Wrightsboro Road.  Prominent Augusta citizens like George Walton, John Milledge, and Thomas Cumming acquired large tracts of land on the hill in the 1780s. Their names remain even now as the names of major Summerville streets.

Since its earliest days, Summerville has been the home, if only a seasonal one, for many of Augusta’s most influential citizens. Augusta’s proximity to the river and surrounding low-lying marshland made it uncomfortable during the hot Georgia summers.  People from downtown built summer homes on “The Hill” to get away from the oppressive heat below believing that the sand hills intercepted the westerly breezes and provided some cooling relief. As Augusta merchants became more prosperous, they began to construct summer homes on “The Hill” spending their entire hot season in them, thus the origin of the name “Summerville.”

Sterns-Edison Marshall House

House in Summerville
Rebecca Rogers

Early on, local people recognized that the air up on “The Hill” was not only cooler in summer but seemingly healthier as well.  While malarial fever was a common ailment in the downtown area, “The Hill” was free of this problem.  In 1820 a major outbreak of fever in the city nearly wiped out the entire garrison stationed at the U.S. Arsenal near the river in Harrisburg.  At the recommendation of the commanding officer, the U.S. Government purchased about 72 acres from Freeman Walker’s “Bellevue” plantation on “The Hill,” and relocated the arsenal to this more healthful environment by 1827.  The arsenal is now the campus of Augusta State University.  The belief that “The Hill” was a healthful place is reflected in some of the place names that survive like “Monte Sano”—Mount Health in Spanish.

By the 1850s Summerville had become a four-season community.  More permanent buildings and year round homes sprang up as the town prospered.  In 1861 the village of Summerville was officially incorporated with the village boundaries defined as a circle of one mile radius. Its center at the intersection of Walton Way and Milledge Road – “Gould’s Corner” – was named for the handsome Italianate Villa at 828 Milledge Road, home of prominent merchant Artemas Gould. High Gate, a Sand Hills Cottage remodeled as another fine Italianate-style home in 1860, is located nearby at 820 Milledge Road.  In 1861 Dennis Redmond, publisher and editor of The Southern Cultivator and founder of nearby Fruitland Nursery, built his Gothic Revival summer residence at 956 Hickman Road.

Partridge Inn

The Partridge Inn
The Partridge Inn

In the 1890s Summerville became a fashionable winter resort and golf capital with the construction of several large hotels and later the nearby Augusta National Golf Club. The village transformed itself from a small summer resort for the local population to a winter playground for wealthy northern industrialists and politicians. Two resort hotels, The Partridge Inn and the Bon Air Hotel, hosted captains of industry and Presidents of the United States, who came south to escape the cold winter weather of the North. Some of the winter visitors built winter residences on "The Hill," while others decided to stay permanently.

The City of Augusta annexed Summerville in 1912, so that it lost its status as a separate village.  Four years later, a fire swept through downtown Augusta destroying much of the business district and the residential neighborhoods around lower Broad Street.  This event prompted a building boom in Summerville, as many of the burned-out residents of Augusta chose to rebuild their homes up on “The Hill.”  Following the tastes of the day, the new homes covered a wide range of revival styles of architecture – Greek, Gothic, Italianate, Spanish, and Colonial to name a few.  Some were grand homes that competed with the mansions built by wealthy visitors. Others were modest bungalows in the then-popular Craftsman style.  All contribute to the significance and beauty of the Summerville Historic District.

Twin Gables

Twin Gables
Rebecca Rogers

A selection of interesting homes from a variety of periods includes the John Milledge House (Overton), c. 1799 and enlarged in the 20th century, at 635 Gary; the c. 1889 Queen Anne style Bryan Cumming House at 2231 Cumming Road; the Governor Charles Jones Jenkins House (Green Court) built c. 1823 at 2243 Cumming Road; and Salubrity Hall, a Tudor built in 1928 at 2259 Cumming Road.  The Spanish Colonial at 704 Milledge Road was commissioned by George Sterns, president of Riverside Mill, and later became the home of novelist of African adventures, Edison Marshal. 19th-century statesman John Forsyth’s house, c. 1818, is at 728 Milledge Road and Twin Gables, c. 1913, a Dutch Colonial Revival, sits at 920 Milledge Road. The imposing Lamar–Wallace House, 1006 Johns Road, was the former home of Joseph R. Lamar, who was Woodrow Wilson’s boyhood friend, State Supreme Court Justice, and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Montrose is at 2249 Walton Way and the Church of the Good Shepherd at 2230. The Stephen Vincent Benét House is at 2500 Walton Way on the campus of Augusta State University.

Plan your visit
Summerville Historic District is roughly bounded by Milledge Rd., Wrightsboro Rd. Highland and Heard Aves., Cumming Rd., and Henry St.  Most buildings in the district are private homes not open to the public.  See the descriptions and information on how to plan a visit to buildings that are open to the public including the Appleby Library; The Partridge Inn; and, Stephen Vincent Benét House, a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos, and for the Stephen Vincent Benét House. The Chafee House, Harper House, High Gate, Mayor White House (a.k.a. Appleby Library), Reid-Jones-Carpenter House, the U.S. Arsenal (including Stephen Vincent Benét House), and the Women’s Club have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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