Two years after founding the British colony of Georgia at the mouth of the Savannah River in 1735, James Oglethorpe directed troops to sail upstream and construct a blockhouse at the head of navigation on the river. He named the new settlement to honor Princess Augusta who was married at the time to Frederick, Prince of Wales. By 1739 a road was being hacked out of the 125 miles of wilderness between Savannah and Augusta, insuring its success as an inland trading post.
Fort Augusta flourished in its early days as a trading center for settlers amid peaceful relations with the neighboring Creek, Yuchi and Savano Indian tribes. After the American Revolution, during which time the British briefly held the town, Augusta began to develop its own industries, first in tobacco and then clay-brick making and then, most famously, cotton. By the eve of the Civil War in 1860 Augusta was the second largest town in Georgia with a population of over 12,000.
Blessed with good rail and water transportation and securely tucked inland, Augusta was selected as the site for the Confederate Powderworks, a munitions factory that would be the only permanent structures built by the Confederate States of America government. Almost three million pounds of top-grade gunpowder would be manufactured here to enable the Confederacy to fight for four years. Although a tempting military target, General William Sherman bypassed Augusta on his march from Atlanta to Savannah as his army was not equipped to lay siege to the town. So Augusta was unscathed by the Civil War but the Powder Works were dismantled afterwards, save for its150-foot brick chimney that still stands as a memorial to its service.
Because it had been spared during the Civil War Augusta got a jumpstart on neighboring Southern towns during Reconstruction. By the 1880s Augusta was the second largest inland cotton market in the world. Banks and railroads were headquartered here as well, Georgia Pacific lumber company was founded in Augusta in 1927 and the United States Army established Camp Gordon in Richmond County that helped keep local cash registers humming.
Not that Augusta was free from setbacks. The town was visited regularly by floodwaters from the Savannah River that eventually forced the construction of a levee. It mitigated the flooding but also took the river out of sight and out of service as a commercial asset. Fires were a regular danger culminating in a conflagration on the night of March 22, 1916. No one died in the Great Fire of 1916 but damages were estimated at $10 million, including the loss of 20,000 bales of cotton. Some 600 commercial building and houses were destroyed, leaving 3,000 people without a place to live.
Nearly a century later the Great Fire of 1916 remains the defining element of the downtown Augusta streetscape. Many of its landmarks arose from those ashes and we will see them on our exploration of the town’s main business artery, Broad Street, that is said to be the second widest “main street” in all of America...
Augusta Museum of History
560 Reynolds Street at southeast corner of 6th Street
The Augusta Museum of History was founded in 1937 with the mandate to save and show the heritage of the Central Savannah River region. For most of its first 60 years artifacts and exhibits were displayed in the Academy of Richmond County building that was constructed in 1802 on the 500 block of Telfair Street. In 1996 the museum moved into this modern brick home where permanent collections include stories of soul singer James Brown, radio station WBBQ, Augusta’s rich transportation past and the town’s medical heritage.
WALK BEHIND THE MUSEUM PAST THE PARKING LOT TO BROAD STREET. GO TO THE MEDIAN IN THE MIDDLE OF BROAD STREET TO YOUR RIGHT.
Chamber of Commerce Building
600 Broad Street in median
As part of modernist architect I.M. Pei’s vision for a rejuvenated downtown Augusta in the 1970s this arcaded brick plaza office building served as the linchpin for the sunken parking pits and landscaped medians along Broad Street.The Chamber of Commerce moved to more spacious digs in 2010.
WALK TO THE SOUTH SIDE OF BROAD STREET (OPPOSITE THE SIDE THE MUSEUM IS ON).
608-612 Broad Street
This Federal-style structure is the last of a commercial grouping constructed by John Fox on land he purchased in 1799. The selling floor at ground level has been updated and features cast iron engaged columns. Behind an iron balcony the residential second floor retains its antebellum appearance.
FACING THE FOX BUILDING, TURN RIGHT AND HEAD WEST ON BROAD STREET, TOWARDS 7TH STREET.
670 Broad Street at southeast corner of 7th Street
John R. Schneider took this Romanesque-styled building from the 1890s and dressed it in white Georgia marble. The Schneider Building later became the Commerce Building.
The Citizens & Southern Bank
709 Broad Street at northwest corner of 7th Street
The Citizens & Southern Bank is a voracious neighbor indeed. Mills B. Lane first moved his bank, founded in 1896, here in 1912, acquiring the National Bank of Augusta. He tore that building down, settling into a Neoclassical vault fronted by a pair of fluted Doric columns. The Citizens & Southern Bank eventually acquired the Planters Loan & Savings Bank next door and the Georgia Railroad Bank Building next door to that and marched its colonnade right down to the corner.
708 Broad Street
Part of the King Building was partitioned off in 1938 to create the Miller Theater with over 1,500 seats in an orchestra-with-balcony configuration. Prominent Jacksonville, Florida architect Roy A. Benjamin provided the sleek Art Moderne design highlighted by bands of glass blocks and a circular neon marquee. The Miller went dark in 1983 after a distinguished run that in 1957 included the world premier of the Hollywood production of The Three Faces of Eve. Joanne Woodward, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress in the lead role, is a native of Thomasville, Georgia and book authors Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley were local psychiatrists detailing a real case. The Miller is hopefully awaiting a restoration.
The City Club
724 Broad Street
Look up above the modernized street level of The City Club to see a mid-19th century French Second Empire brick facade with ornate window hoods and a mansard roof.
Broad Street between 7th and 8th streets
Dedicated on October 31, 1878, this 72-foot marble shaft cost $17,000. It was carved in Italy from Carrera marble. Atop the center shaft is a Confederate private based on Berry Greenwood Benson, a Georgia scout and sharpshooter who lived until New Year’s Day, 1923, and never surrendered his rifle. Life-size figures of Lee, Jackson, Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, secession leader in Georgia, and General William Henry Talbot Walker of Richmond County, who was killed in Atlanta in 1864, are prominent. The design was by Van Gunden & Young of Philadelphia.
725 Broad Street
The Augusta Chronicle is one of the oldest newspapers in the United States, tracing its roots back to the first issues of the Augusta Gazette that appeared on the streets every week in 1785. For more than 160 years the newspaper operations bounced around town until 1949 when the Chronicle merged operations with the Augusta Herald and moved into the Herald’s building, an Italian Renaissance confection constructed in 1917. The Chronicle gobbled up its host in 1955 and it has been the News Building ever since.
739 Broad Street
This an early work of Geoffrey Lloyd Preacher, an important Georgia architect who got his start in Augusta. Preacher was in his early thirties when he created the town’s first skyscraper that opened on December 13, 1914. The design for the steel-framed structure follows the tradition of the day to construct high-rise buildings in the form of a classical three-part column with a defined base (the limestone-dressed lower floors), an unadorned shaft (the buff-brick central stories) and a capital (the ornate terra cotta upper floors). Augusta’s new sky king began life as the Chronicle Building, headquarters for the Augusta Chronicle. Preacher’s plans called for a matching eastern half of the tower but the 1916 Augusta Fire helped scuttle those ambitions, leaving a plain upper facade. Jacob Phinizy, scion of an old southern family, purchased the property in 1921 and began calling it the Marion Building.
749 Broad Street
Jake Wells was the player-manger of the Richmond (VA) Colts baseball team in the 1890s. During the off-season in 1898 Wells was shopping in Norfolk for equipment in a store in that town’s former Opera House. Intrigued by its history, before he left Wells was out of the baseball business and in the vaudeville business. He renovated the theater and by January 1899 was welcoming the day’s top performers to Richmond. With his brother Otto, Wells would eventually operate 42 theaters in nine states - the largest theater circuit outside New York City. The ornate Wells Theatre opened here on February 18, 1918 in space that was once the Chamber of Commerce headquarters before the 1916 Fire. Jake Wells was at the height of his success at the time but his empire would soon crumble, partly due to a quarantine put in place to stem to epidemic of Spanish Flu that year. He sold his Augusta stage before 1918 was out and by 1926 the brothers had disposed off all their theater interests. Jake Wells left town for Hendersonville, North Carolina where he committed suicide the following year. After winning two minor league baseball pennants with the Norfolk Tars Otto Wells died of a heart attack at the age of 66 in 1940. Following the Wells ownership period the vaudeville house operated as the Imperial Theatre, shifting to movie presentations full-time in the 1930s. The theater shuttered in 1981 but escaped the wrecking ball and re-emerged as a performing arts venue.
753 Broad Street
In 1913 the Empire Life Insurance Company of Atlanta bought a chunk of land on the north side of Broad Street to build its new headquarters. William L. Stoddard, a New York architect who designed the tallest skyscraper in many mid-size Southern cities, and local designer G. Lloyd Preacher won the commission for the new tower. By 1916 the 16-story tower was still under construction when fire swept across 32 blocks of downtown Augusta. The concrete and steel structure was rebuilt and opened in 1918 as the Lamar Building, named after Augusta lawyer Joseph Rucker Lamar who ended his career as a United State Supreme Court Justice. When celebrated modernist architect I.M. Pei came to town to work on several Augusta projects he added the angular glass penthouse to the Lamar Building in 1976.
Richmond Hotel/Richmond Summit
744 Broad Street
The Richmond Hotel was the handiwork of Geoffrey Lloyd Preacher, completed in his busy days following the Great Fire of 1916. Preacher would go on to become a premier designer of high-rise luxury hotels in a career that culminated in the Art Deco-style Atlanta City Hall. Here he tapped the Renaissance Revival style for the brown brick and stone Richmond Hotel that became the type of hotel where visiting celerities and power-brokers would sign the gust register. On October 22, 1959 Dwight D. Eisenhower held the 173rd press conference of his presidency inside the Richmond. Its days as a guest house long over, the Richmond carries on towards its second century of life as apartments.
Union Savings Bank
771 Broad Street at northeast corner of 8th Street
The Great Fire of 1916 left the Union Savings Bank, then merely six years old, in ruins. The wreckage was hauled away and another confidence-inspiring vault raised in its place by 1920. The Beaux Arts building roughly approximates its predecessor at the entrance with a pediment and rectangular pilasters but the roof has been altered from a Colonial appearance to its current classical form. Depositors from that time would still recognize the bank today, thanks to award-winning preservation efforts. It was not the first makeover Union Savings Bank had engineered here - their first residence here had once belonged to the Young Men’s Library Association before it was converted to bank use.
Sun Trust Building
801 Broad Street at northwest corner of 8th Street
Daniel Burns Dyer first built on this important intersection in the 1890s with an office building, the first in Augusta wired for electricity, to house his Augusta Railway Company. It was in the Dyer Building that the catastrophic fire of March 22, 1916 first flamed up. In 1918 a five-story, classically-flavored Masonic lodge was constructed here; it was razed in 1967 to make way for this eleven-story headquarters for the First National Bank and Trust Company, now owned by Sun Trust.
813 Broad Street
Busy designer G. Lloyd Preacher opened his architectural playbook for this luxurious theater in 1916 that opened eight months after the Great Fire. It carried the name of revered 19th century Polish actress, Helena Modjeska, who toured the world performing Shakespearean and tragic roles. She died in California in 1909 at the age of 68. In addition to the Augusta theater, another in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was named for her as were parks, mountains and canyons in California. Preacher’s Beaux Arts theater design called for patrons to enter through a grand recessed arch, which they did until 1977. The space has been reborn as an upscale lounge.
Augusta Savings Bank
827 Broad Street
The Augusta Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1827, of no less than two dollars. Two weeks notice was required for withdrawal. This classical bank depository, which is more or less still there in its original form, was constructed in 1909 when this was a mid-block location hemmed in by neighboring buildings, not an open green.
north side of Broad Street between 8th and 9th streets
This passive greenspace has a gathering lawn, landscaping, brick pavers and two statues of note. In the center of the Common is the founder of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe. In the median of Broad Street across from the Common is a bronze rendering of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. This statue and one of Otis Redding in Macon are the only two statues to entertainers in Georgia. Brown, who was a shoeshine boy on the streets of Augusta, began his climb onto the Mount Rushmore of live performers by winning a talent show at the Lenox theatre in town.
JB Whites Building
936-946 Broad Street
As a lad working as a sales ticket runner in New York City in the 1860s Irish immigrant James Brice White was plucked out of his store and offered a sales job by Lucian and Vernon Richards, who then owned Augusta’s go-to dry goods emporium. The ambitious White left the Richards’ employ for his own store at 724 Broad Street and by the turn of the 20th century he owned much of the south side of Broad Street across from the Confederate Monument. He was soon to be afflicted with debilitating Bright’s Disease and sold his business interests, becoming Augusta’s wealthiest citizen in the process. James B. White died in Italy in 1917 while traveling to seek help with his disease; he never married and left some $400,000 to charities in his adopted hometown of Augusta. His mercantile business retained the founder’s name when it set up shop here as Augusta’s primary retail destination until it closed in 1978.
945 Broad Street at northwest corner of Macartan Street
This is historic hotel ground in Augusta. This is where the Marquis de Lafayette stayed in the Planters Hotel on his grand tour of America in 1825. The original guest house burned in 1836 and was replaced with an expansive second Planters Hotel which entertained such Civil War figures as Jefferson Davis and generals Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Phil Sheridan. After the Great Fire of 1916 the Planters was replaced with this Georgian Revival structure for the Augusta YMCA, looking more like a grand hotel than the Planters ever did on its best days. The Young Men’s Christian Association was founded in England in 1844 to promote the development of healthy bodies and minds and by 1858 Augusta had a branch of its own up and going. It departed this location in 1983.
TURN LEFT ON 10TH STREET AND CROSS ELLIS STREET TO GO TO THE CORNER OF GREENE STREET.
1001 Greene Street at northwest corner of 10th Street
With thousands of residents burned out of their houses after the Great Fire of 1916 there was a flurry of apartment building in Augusta. This souvenir from that time is a design by G. Lloyd Preacher that was hailed as the first modern apartment house in town. The primary investor was baseball immortal Ty Cobb. In a span of 13 years Cobb won 12 American League batting titles with the Detroit Tigers (the 1910 batting race is disputed). The only year he did not finish as the American league’s top batter during that time was in 1916 so he was probably not in a good mood looking for off-season investments. Born in Narrows, Georgia, Cobb married Charlotte Lombard from a prominent Augustan family and moved to town in 1913.
TURN LEFT ON GREENE STREET.
Bell Telephone and Telegraph Exchange Building
937 Greene Street
In 1879, just three years after Alexander Graham Bell introduced the telephone, Augusta had a telephone exchange, the first in Georgia. Seventy-eight subscribers were wired up to make phone calls. The exchange would exist for 60 years before customers were able to place calls themselves with new rotary phones. This crisp cream-colored building was erected by Southern Bell Telephone in 1939 to facilitate the new operator-less service.
913 Greene Street
The Augusta Orphan Asylum was established by act of the General Assembly on January 22, 1852, endowed by Isaac S. Tuttle and his stepson, George M. Newton. Newton was a prominent Augusta physician who was white, married to Fanny Taylor, who was black, an unusual antebellum coupling. Newton built this three-story Greek Revival townhouse fronted by two-story square pillars before his death in 1859. The house was sold at that time and despite more than 150 years as rental property and the destruction of surrounding homes, the Newtons would still recognize their house were they to return today. The Tuttle-Newton Home operated as an orphanage until 1946 but still ministers to needs of children today.
902 Greene Street at southwest corner of 9th Street
The federal government established its presence in Augusta in 1890 by constructing a magnificent Victorian pile that served first as a United States Post Office and courthouse. When the Feds departed it was converted into the Augusta Town Hall in 1917. The local government moved out in 1958 and the landmark was demolished. In its place rose the first building constructed in Augusta to serve solely as a library, although books had been lent around town in some form or other for over 200 years. The low-slung book depository was designed by local architects H. Lowrey Stulb and William D. Eve and is faced in gray marble.
Greene Street Houses
south side of Greene Street, #814-838
This quartet of Victorian downtown residences were constructed between 1880 and 1900. The easternmost is the earliest, the Warren House at #814 that is a raised Sand Hills cottage. By the time the Fleming House at #838 was constructed in 1899 the excesses of the Victorian age were being pared down for more classical designs as exemplified by the Ionic front portico.
Old First Baptist Church
808 Greene Street at southwestern corner of 8th Street
First Baptist Church was birthed from the Kiokee Baptist Church, one of the oldest congregations in the South. The first meetinghouse was raised on this corner in 1821 and was the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845, which was destined to become the largest Protestant church in the world. That historic building was torn down in 1899 and architect Willis Franklin Denny was summoned from Atlanta to design a bigger church. Denny delivered a massive Beaux Arts composition with a Corinthian portico and domed copper roof. Some of its trademark arched window glass was crafted by Tiffany and Company. The congregation left in 1975 for West Augusta, partly due to the burden of maintenance costs. The property is owned by the Southern Baptist Birthplace Foundation and has been rented to several churches in the past 35 years but none was successful here and the future of the 1902 landmark remains iffy.
St. John’s United Methodist Church
730 Greene Street
St. John’s traces its roots back to 1798 and the efforts of a circuit-riding preacher named Stith Mead. In 1800 Mead paid $500 for the lot where the church stands today. The first meetinghouse was erected the following year and called the Asbury Chapel for the founder of Methodism in America, Francis Asbury, who visited the site. Built by William Henry Goodrich, the current brick church dates to 1844; it was expanded in the 1890s. For the congregation’s bicentennial in 1998 the church was dialed back to its 19th-century appearance. Before the church was constructed in the 1840s the original St. John’s meetinghouse was rolled away on logs to be used as the sanctuary for Springfield Baptist Church. Still in use today, it is the oldest church building in Augusta and the site where Morehouse College was founded.
Greene Street median between 7th and 8th streets
Anna Russell Cole of Nashville, Tennessee provided the funds for this memorial in her hometown to a quartet of 19th century Georgia poets - Abram Joseph Ryan, the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy,” Sidney Lanier, Paul Hamilton Hayne, and James Ryder Randall. The classically influenced monument is crafted from Vermont granite. Lanier, of Lake Lanier and Lanier County fame, is also honored by statues at Duke University and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 8TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT, HEADING BACK TOWARDS BROAD STREET.
west side of 8th Street between Greene and Ellis streets
Italianate architecture dominated American downtown streets in the middle of the 19th century, identified by ornate window hoods, eave brackets and wide cornices. Castle Hall begins a trio of Italianate commercial buildings that are finding new life as residential lofts.
CONTINUE ACROSS BROAD STREET ONE BLOCK TO REYNOLDS STREET. AT THE END, IN FRONT OF YOU, IS...
Augusta Cotton Exchange Building
32 8th Street at northeast corner of Reynolds Street
At one time Augusta was the world’s second largest inland cotton market and in the 1880s this is where the action was. Brokerage offices were housed here as well as the trading floor where commodity prices were set and wrangled over. At the time eight cotton manufacturers were flourishing in Augusta. The picturesque Queen Anne design with a corner turret and prominent gables came from the pen of architect Enoch William Brown. The iron columns for the corner entry under the turret were cast in the local foundry of Charles F. Lombard. Since women were banned from the Exchange Building the trading floor often doubled as a men’s retreat where cockfights were staged and football games broadcast on the radio. The city eventually closed down its exchange after almost 80 years in 1964. The decaying treasure was restored in 1988 by Bill Moore of Aiken, South Carolina and is currently doing duty as a bank branch. Inside on exhibit you can see the original 45-foot blackboard used in the exchange to record cotton prices.
TURN RIGHT ON REYNOLDS STREET AND WALK TWO BLOCKS.
Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church
605 Reynolds Street at northwest corner of
This is the fourth church on this site for the congregation that was established at Fort Augusta in 1750. At the time St. Paul was the most remote outpost of the Church of England on the North American continent. Fire took down St. Paul’s during the Revolutionary War and this Doric-columned church with a bell tower topped by a small dome is a 1919 replica of its century-old predecessor that burned in the Great Fire of 1916. Henry Wendell performed design duties. Poke around the churchyard to find a celtic cross that marks the location of Fort Augusta.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.