MAIN STREET RESCUE: Historic foundation steps in to save deteriorating properties

Published 7:52 pm Thursday, July 10, 2014

AN AMERICAN VIEW: One’s red, one’s white and behind them is the blue of Bath Creek. These two buildings on Bath’s Main Street will go up for sale when the Historic Bath Foundation completes renovations.

AN AMERICAN VIEW: One’s red, one’s white and behind them is the blue of Bath Creek. These two buildings on Bath’s Main Street will go up for sale when the Historic Bath Foundation completes renovations.


BATH — They have a history — these two buildings on Main Street in Bath. Built in the mid-20th century, they give off an older aura, one that lends part of the quaint charm to North Carolina’s oldest town.

Once occupied by a 19th-century steam mill that powered a cotton gin and lumber mills in town, the land on which the circa 1950 buildings sit makes a gentle slope from Main Street to Bath Creek. The steam engine still remains, tucked behind a copse of bamboo near the waterline.

Adjacent is a park-like swath of green that narrows to the town dock jutting out into the creek. The two-story building once held a pool hall on the ground floor and a dance hall on the second floor. The one-story building was an office. Both have been empty for a few years, until the Historic Bath Foundation swooped in to do what it’s never done before: buy a property, do structural renovations then put it on the market.

According to Historic Bath Foundation Vice President Gene Roberts, it was intervention on the part of the North Carolina Preservation Office that has spurred those events. Restoration specialist John Wood appealed to various Bath organizations to do something about the buildings before they were lost, Roberts said.

“Basically, the foundation agreed with his point that if those were in danger of falling down and if they were removed and not restored, then Bath’s Main Street would look more like a collection of homes, rather than a village with store buildings,” Roberts said. “There are only five of the old store buildings left in Bath, so if we had lost those two, 40 percent would have been gone.”

The foundation has funded many local restoration projects in Bath — the ongoing renovation of old Bath High School, $10,000 for the restoration of St. Thomas Church’s Glebe House, $20,000 for the restoration of the grounds and gardens of Bonner House, and more — but a project on this scale was one they hadn’t encountered before.

“These properties — more than $90,000 has been given to the foundation in the last two months, which has made it possible to do this,” Roberts said.

“This” is saving a structure already in decline. While nothing was structurally wrong with the one-story building, the two-story building was in danger of losing its front altogether — its foundation had sunk eight inches on that side. The foundation asked neighbor David Johnston, a retired architect, to oversee the structural and exterior renovations, which included jacking up the front side of the building and installing 8 inch by 8 inch wood support beams beneath. Three layers of paint — primer and two overcoats — went onto the clapboard siding and repairs made to all the windows. One remaining will be replaced altogether.

Inside the two-story building, 75-year-old knotty pine paneling throughout lends the space warmth. Consisting essentially of two large rooms — one upstairs, one downstairs — anyone would with an eye for design could turn it into a residential or commercial showplace.

“We did no interior work,” Roberts said. “We don’t know at this moment whether the most likely buyer would use the two story as a home or whether they might want it as a business.”

There was some hope the foundation would keep the property and turn the buildings into a much-desired commodity — a Bath museum — but Roberts said the buildings literally didn’t fit with that plan.

“One of the aims of the Historic Bath Foundation is to start a museum in Bath, but we think that if we did it in those buildings, it would be less space. We wouldn’t really have room for growth,” Roberts said.

Once landscaping is complete and a few more repairs made, the property will be up for sale.

“We haven’t put them on the market yet, but we’ve already gotten inquiries,” Roberts said.