Sunday, May 23, 2010

23 May 1990: The Hull-Snelling House Is Demolished

On this day 20 years ago, the Hull-Snelling House at 198 Hull Street was razed by the Christian College of Georgia. Also destroyed that day was a magnolia tree on the property that measured 58 inches in circumference and was thought to be 116 years old. The space became a parking lot for the Holiday Inn across the street.

The house was built in approximately 1842 by Asbury Hull, a prominent member of the early Athens community. Asbury Hull graduated from the University in 1814, served as the Secretary-Treasurer of the University of Georgia for most of his professional life (1819-1866), was a trustee of the First Methodist Church of Athens, spent 1825-1835 as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives and was elected Speaker three times. He was Cashier of the Athens branch of the Bank of the State of Georgia from 1838-1853, was elected by both Unionist and Secessionist factions as a representative to the 1860 Georgia convention in Milledgeville, and was the first president of the Southern Mutual Insurance Company. He died in 1866.

His son, William Hope Hull also lived in the house before the Civil War. He graduated in 1838 from UGA, established a lucrative law practice, and served as Solicitor General for the Western Judicial Circuit. Along with Joseph Henry Lumpkin and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, William Hope Hull founded the UGA Law School. As a good friend of Howell Cobb, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General of the United States in the Buchanan Administration, though sided with the South in the war. After the war, he moved his law practice to Augusta, where his clients included the Georgia Railroad Company. He died suddenly on a trip to New York in 1877.

The house later was the home of Dr. Charles M. Snelling, who came to the University as a mathematics professor in 1888, and later served as Dean of Franklin College, President of Franklin College, and Dean of the University under Chancellor David C. Barrow. Upon Barrow's retirement in 1926, Snelling became Chancellor, and served in that position until his retirement in 1932.

During his time at the University, he helped start a co-operative dining room on campus to assist students of limited means to gain an education, created the Extension Division, raised admission requirements, and recommended that faculty be given group insurance benefits. While Snelling lived in the house, one of his guests was then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who had come to Athens to speak at the 1926 Commencement ceremonies. He died in 1939.

Though the house had been the home to many significant Athenians in the first part of its life, over the years it had also served as a fraternity house, restaurant, and at the time of its demolition, the Athens Community Council on Aging. The building was deemed too heavy and fragile to move, with handmade local brick creating one-foot-thick walls covered by stucco outside and plaster inside, original Italian marble mantlepieces, handmade antebellum glass windows, giant doors and doorways, and virgin long-leaf pine wood. The wide front door was made from a single slab of wood. None of these features were saved.

The Athens Historic Preservation Commission nominated the house for protection as part of an "historic mini-district" with other houses along the street in October of 1989, but the council vote to approve the designation was a tie vote and then-Mayor Dwain Chambers broke the tie by voting against preservation. Though local organizations searched to find a buyer, they were only given a month, and few were willing to match Holiday Inn's offer of $400,000 when estimates to restore the house ran from $350,000 to $500,000.

The episode galvanized the preservation community, and their efforts ensured Fire House No. 1 was not demolished but incorporated into the design of the new Classic Center. Since 1990, many other historic properties, including the Wray-Nicholson House also on Hull Street, have been saved and preserved to keep Athens the "Classic City."

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