By David Meade
The Pelzer Heritage Commission and the Pelzer Mills Property LLC board met with the Executive Director of The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation last Friday, for a presentation and information about having properties placed on the State and National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Michael Bedenbaugh, Executive Director of The Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, said the uniqueness of architecture on houses and buildings are key to having properties placed on the historic registers. Knowledge and legitimacy of the story behind the property also helps, he said.
He also said that Pelzer has a lot more than many other mill towns that have been left with debris fields and torn down buildings after the mills left.
At the start of the presentation, Pelzer Heritage Commission Vice President and Pelzer Mills Property Board Member Larry Coker named some of the historic buildings in Pelzer:
Most notable are the Pelzer Auditorium, Pelzer School, Pelzer Gym, Captain Smyth’s home, old Hospital/Rescue Squad building, and Presbyterian church.
Bedenbaugh told the group that the Palmetto Trust organization works to create methods and ways to preserve things in the state.
This is done through advocacy, by providing infomation and resources on what can be done and by identifying endangered places.
When a property is placed on the register, there is a pool of money available that can be used through easements and covenants to restore buildings, he said.
Bedenbaugh said that Pelzer is similar to other mill towns that experience the devastating effect of wood and brick pickers tearing down the old mills.
He mentioned the community of Pacolet as an example of a mill town that had been torn apart. He said that in Pacolet, “almost everything is gone.”
“You have more than a lot of people have,” Bedenbaugh said.
Unique architectural elements are a big part of being listed on the National Historic Register and according to Bedenbaugh, Pelzer has several. “You have a fabulous pool and gym,” he said.
According to Bedenbaugh, the National Register is administerd through the National Parks Service, providing Federal funds which are paid to the SC Department of Archives and History which administers the program for the National Park Service.
The Palmetto Trust works with the SC Dept. of Archives and History and the National Register in helping preserve historic properties.
He said that the National Register is just a list of historic properties and being on the list doesn’t offer any protection for the property or “tell you what to do with it, unless there is Federal money being used for a project that may could affect it.”
Bedenbaugh said that being on the register does identify assets for a community to police and that the local municipality or local government can help with that.
“The National Register will educate the community,” he said.
He explained that buildings and properties that offer uniqueness to Pelzer, such as the gym are the type properties that are on the registers. “There is no place else in South Carolina that looks like that,” he said.
Bedenbaugh said that being on the National Register does empower the story behind a property and can help with redevelopment. He said that being on the registers also allows work within the community to progress slowly while at the same time protecting old buildings from being torn down.
He said the program can help show how to save things and can provide a mechanism to allow investment.
An overlay district can help maintain a certain look and easements can help by requiring whoever buys a historic property on the list to maintain certain standards.
He said that easements, which are set by the local government, provide well being and stability for persons willing to invest in a historic property.
Bedenbaugh also encouraged the group members to work with others who have historic properties they would like to save, to consolidate planning.
This can be done by creating a historic district which provides a tool to help with cooperation, he said.
When asked about nearby towns, Bedenbaugh suggested the groups main focus should be to strengthen Pelzer, then unite with other towns as they begin the same process.
“The ultimate goal is how to protect what you have left,” he said.
He said that a mill town is an “unnatural entity” created by the mill owners and that the villages were left in a vacuum when the mills closed.
Often the mill towns experience problems created by absentee owners who allow properties to fall into disrepair and little or no codes or standards, he said.
“I see preservation as a centerpiece,” Bedenbaugh said. “In how to plan for your future.”
He said the key in Pelzer is to “clean up and protect the mill village you have.”
He also explained that the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation can help by providing a preliminary information study through SC Archives and History and from that put together a full nomination form with a list of properties.
He also explained that the National Register allows two types of status, a stand alone building or a district. Both have identical tax credits and rights, he said.
Bedenbaugh said that the study would “determine how best to lay out the district.”
There was also some discussion about connecting the communities with trails and access to the blue trail on the Saluda River.