To Be Demolished!
The Graves House of Bluffton, South Carolina, has stood over 104 years as one of the most recognizable and unique structures in town. Located at 85 Calhoun Street, in the very heart of Bluffton’s fabled Historic Preservation District, the 1,934 square foot home is the center of a controversy over the development of downtown Bluffton at the expense of one of the very symbols of Bluffton’s proud local heritage.
After the death of Mary Graves, the property was sold to Michael J. Hahn and D. Bryan McClure Jr. for $170,000 on June 6th, 2011 with the clear understanding that the Graves House was a contributing structure in Bluffton’s Historic Preservation District, that it could not be torn down and must be restored. (See Why a Contributing Structure under Articles tab above.) Mr. Hahn and Mr. McClure had been allowed to subdivide the Graves property before they purchased it. By selling the back 1/3 of the lot they would have been perfectly positioned to do a cost effective restoration. They promised the Graves family a restoration. However, within one year, Mr. Hahn and Mr. McClure accepted an offer from the Bluffton United Methodist Church to purchase the property if permission from the city of Bluffton to demolish the house could be achieved. The petition to demolish was submitted to the Bluffton Historic Preservation Commission by Court Atkins Architects, Inc., architects for the Bluffton United Methodist Church.
The Bluffton Historic Preservation Commission’s primary purpose is to preserve and protect the historic properties in Bluffton’s Historic Preservation District. The Graves family understood that and had been assured that the BHPC would never consider allowing the demolition of the Graves House. However, during the May 2, 2012 meeting of the BHPC, facts and figures were presented in such a one sided, inflammatory, and fear-mongering manner that the BHPC was persuaded to allow the demolition of the Graves House, even after the town’s own Staff Report found against demolition. (See Katie Woodruff under Articles tab above.) No professional restoration contractors had been obtained to offer alternatives to demolition. Most astonishing of all, the president of the Bluffton Historic Preservation Society, who has a seat on the BHPC, voted to demolish! Very shortly after the controversial decision the Graves property was sold to the Bluffton United Methodist Church for a total of $350,000 on May 7th, 2012. (The church could have bought the Graves House from the Graves family for approximately half what they ended up paying for the land.) The BUMC is itself a contributing structure in the Bluffton Historic Preservation District and is situated directly across the street from the Graves House. Seven Oaks, the restored historic property now owned by the Episcopal Church, sits directly across the street from the Graves House.
The story of the Graves House’s destruction stands as one of the most egregious examples of a local authority (in this case the BHPC) with only a very few votes and in a matter of minutes, making it possible for a 104 year old contributing historic structure, after being sold as a protected historic property, to be condemned and “flipped” for the land beneath it. The BHPC decision made it possible for Mr. Hahn and Mr. McClure to make outrageous profits at the expense of the life of the Graves House. The Bluffton United Methodist Church in effect paid $700,000 an acre just for the land! (The Graves House sits on a half acre.) The Methodist Church’s participation in the destruction of the Graves House has been a highly unethical and immoral act, one that is most unbecomming for a church. The loss for the Graves family is particularly painful, and the town itself has lost an absolutely unique history and structure. Had the Graves House been properly restored–as originally promised–it would have contributed mightily to the interest and attraction of Bluffton’s Historic District.