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Women in Preservation: Taking Preservation to the Next Level - Virginia Tucker Peebles

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

SOURCES: Historic Columbus Foundation: Champion of Columbus' Historic Resources (1966-2006) by Dr. John S. Lupold.

 

Virginia Tucker Peebles assumed the role of acting executive director for Historic Columbus in the fall of 1992, which became permanent in February of 1993. By the early 1990s, HCF was a major player in Columbus and deeply involved in any issue relating to history, architecture, planning, beautification, community development, and zoning especially in the downtown area. In some cases, the Foundation initiated major projects; in other cases, the organization responded to changes that threatened the historic fabric or grid. Her initial HCF involvement began, of course, as a volunteer. Virginia married Richard Christopher Peebles and together they were blessed with three children – Richard Christopher Peebles, Jr., John Tucker Peebles, and René Peebles Nelson. After working two years for Delta, she began raising her family, but remained an incurable volunteer. For example, where her children attended school, she presided over every PTA. Like Janice Biggers, she also served as the Junior League’s Project Finding chair and headed the Junior League committee for the Rankin House. When her three-year-old daughter, René, told someone that she lived at the Rankin House, Virginia did question her level of civic service. Even so, for HCF she conducted heritage tours and undertook numerous tasks before joining Janice Biggers’ staff for three years in the early 1980s. In 1989, she accepted a full-time staff position again in order to help Patti Howard with membership, and then she moved into the director’s position.



When Virginia officially began her role in 1993, there were big efforts underway. The Seventh Street Redevelopment Project was a restoration and revitalization project in the heart of the Columbus Historic District (the original city). Properties and vacant lots on Second and Third Avenues adjacent to Seventh Street were also involved. The project had multiple purposes: save and move several historically significant structures from the Uptown area that were under demolition notice onto vacant lots in the project area and renovate other structures in this neglected, problem area. These steps resulted in a neighborhood of owner-occupied housing that became a model preservation effort that instilled community pride and encouraged tourism. Dr. Garry Pound led this drive to save these endangered properties and revitalize the area. This project was a great public/private partnership with Historic Columbus and the Historic District Preservation Society leading the charge. The cooperation of the following groups made it possible: Housing Authority of Columbus; the Columbus Consolidated Government – Department of Community and Economic Development and Department of Engineering – Columbus Police Department, the Columbus Fire Department, Columbus Water Works, Uptown Columbus, Inc., Georgia Power Co., Southern Bell, TCI Cablevision, First Baptist Church, St. Luke United Methodist Church, and the Bradley-Turner Foundation. The Seventh Street Redevelopment Project documented expenditures were over $850,000 and that does not include the significant private investment in the restoration of the homes in the area.



Over $230,000 was required for moving the four houses in the 1993 Parade of Homes. Historic Columbus pledged $100,000 of its General Fund to facilitate the relocation and stabilization of these properties. In addition, proceeds from the successful 1993 Riverfest Weekend and grant funds from The Bradley-Turner Foundation were utilized. First Baptist Church donated the Rothschild House to Mamie and Garry Pound, who restored the house for their home and later the Rothschild-Pound House Bed and Breakfast. St. Luke United Methodist Church donated 307 and 311 11th Street and 1112 Third Avenue to Historic Columbus, as well as funds for the house moves. The Rothschild families were also generous donors. On October 16, 1993, HCF executed the 1993 relocation of four houses into the Seventh Street Redevelopment Area, specifically to 644 & 645 Second Avenue, and 201 & 215 Seventh Street. One day, four houses rolled down Third Avenue in what was dubbed the “Parade of Homes.” That sounds simple, but preparations consumed a year.


Chris and Virginia Peebles


The next major challenge for Historic Columbus and Virginia came in 1996 when TSYS announced its plan to make 53 acres, including the former Muscogee Mills and City Mills (two properties listed in the National Historic Landmark District), into its new campus. This property would become the site for a new headquarters for the credit card processing corporation. Historic Columbus had two options: join the outcry against the company by national and state preservationists or attempt to mitigate the project’s impact on the Columbus Historic Riverfront Industrial District. Virginia Peebles led HCF through the second option. The compromise would include removing City Mills from the impacted area, saving the Mott House, creating a riverside historic park from the old Carnegie Library’s architectural elements, and building a brick-parking garage that replicated the look of the old mills to create a visual barrier between the new offices and the Broadway streetscape. Historic Columbus’ initiative also saved four significant houses. Tom Gates moved the Greek Revival McGehee-Woodall-Nilan house one block to the south on Second Avenue. The three other high style structures, including a brick two-story, were moved in another “Parade of Homes” on March 21, 1998. They would roll from the TSYS project area to the 600 block of Front Avenue. As a result of the mitigation, HCF was able to mute some of the national criticism and save some of the historic fabric and facades while an expanded TSYS operation remained in Columbus, a crucial facet of the city’s economy.



While organizing the 1998 Parade of Homes, Virginia and Historic Columbus would also embark on their largest fundraising effort to date for yet another project. What began as an idea to connect the past of Coca-Cola (Dr. Pemberton’s House) with the future (the Coca-Cola Space Science Center), it would soon develop into the demolition of an apartment building and the creation of a park to celebrate our industrial history. Heritage Park was completed in 1999 and funded by Historic Columbus, along with numerous private foundations and individual donor families. Over $2.2 million was raised by Virginia Peebles and Mat Swift. At its completion, Heritage Park was deeded to the Columbus Consolidated Government in 2000. (* please click here to read about the current Heritage Park and Chattahoochee Promenade Revitalization Project - Women in Preservation and the Enduring Legacy of Sarah Turner Butler (historiccolumbus.com)




In 2001, Historic Columbus also participated in the restoration of the Alma Thomas house before and after a fire occurred during the rehabilitation work. HCF’s investment totaled $20,000 in rehabilitation assistance. The Alma Thomas house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. The house was built, c.1889, by Amelia Cantey and John Harris Thomas. They were a locally prominent, upper-middle class, African American couple. The house was built in an exclusively White neighborhood, Rose Hill. Prominent African American artist Alma Thomas was born in the house in 1891 and lived there until 1907 when her family moved to Washington, D. C.


Virginia Peebles and then HCF Chairman of the Board Ed Sprouse


Since 1969, the number of historic districts within the city has gradually increased. In 1983, one of the city’s first planned suburbs, Waverly Terrace, gained National Register certification because of the efforts of Presley Tutherow, a neighborhood resident. In 1986, HCF designated High Uptown as a local district. It was finally listed on the National Register in 2004. In 1994, Virginia would shepherd her first neighborhood through the historic district process. Weracoba-St. Elmo became a National Register Historic District thanks to the work of Richard Coss, Dr. John Lupold, and the Friends of Weracoba. With the creation of the Weracoba-St. Elmo Historic District, the focus grew stronger in Wynnton to protect more of our historic neighborhoods. During 2000 and 2001, Virginia led HCF’s fight to extend the protection of historic designation to five Wynnton neighborhoods. HCF board member John M. Sheftall also actively encouraged and guided the process. HCF underwrote the cost of nominating three districts—Wynnton Village, Peacock Woods-Dimon Circle, and Wildwood Circle-Hillcrest. The residents of the Overlook and Dinglewood organized the Overlook Community Preservation Association, in part because of the threatened widening of Buena Vista Road. They then hired Tracey Dean to prepare National Register nominations for both Overlook and Dinglewood. The five neighborhoods were listed on the National Register in 2001. In order to locally protect the neighborhoods, they needed to come under the review umbrella of the Board of Historic and Architectural Review. After many meetings and City Council presentations, HCF was able to provide all five neighborhoods with local protection under BHAR.



Virginia and the HCF staff then spent considerable time helping to organize what became the MidTown Project, an outgrowth of the successful historic districts. Almost immediately transportation issues began impacting the recently designated neighborhoods. This brought groups together to talk about a bigger vision and a need for a plan. Once again under Mrs. Peebles' leadership, HCF remained on the cutting edge of the newest trends within the preservation movement. Local residents—Edward C. Burdeshaw, Teresa P. Tomlinson, John M. Sheftall, and Anne R. King—drove the process while HCF staff member Elizabeth Barker added professional expertise and connected the group with the Georgia and National Trusts. HCF provided $10,000 as seed money and hosted the process that hired Tunnell-Spangler-Walsh & Associates to conduct the initial revitalization project. This led to the launch of the MidTown Project and ultimately MidTown, Inc.


Virginia Peebles, Ken Thomas, and John Sheftall


In May of 2005, Virginia Peebles decided to retire. During her twelve years, HCF expanded its geographical scope as well as the breadth of its mission and its membership. HCF became a major player in saving the Liberty Theater and Ma Rainey’s house, while assisting in the creation of the Liberty Heritage Historic District. Virginia fended off threats to existing historic properties and led the efforts to create both the Midtown districts and the ensuing MidTown, Inc. organization. She fostered an expansion of HCF’s influence into a city-wide organization with a real presence on community and civic boards, representing HCF on the committee that selected the present city manager, illustrating the acceptance of HCF as an entity with city-wide impact. Thankfully for Historic Columbus, Virginia did not completely retire. She has continued to this day being a driving force for preservation, neighborhood revitalization, and making our community a better place. She was named the 2005 Sarah Turner Butler Heritage Award Recipient and has served as a Director Emeritus for over fifteen years. We are all more grateful than she knows!



A FEW WORDS FROM VIRGINIA "Janice Biggers is THE reason I have been involved with Historic Columbus for over 45 years. I am forever grateful to her for being my teacher, mentor, and friend. I started with HCF as a Junior League volunteer conducting Heritage Tours, and that sealed my fate. I was “hooked” on historic preservation. I then worked for Janice a couple of years in the early 80’s. Later, I volunteered as Heritage Ball Chairman, Rankin House Chairman, and Heritage Tour Chair. Patti Howard lured me back to work with her in 1991 until her untimely death in 1992, when I became Director. None of these initiatives would have been possible without wonderful staff over the years, particularly Elizabeth Barker Walden, who was my right hand for six years. Other talented staff over the years has included: Jane Etheridge, Sue Howard, Fran Hall, Debbie Lipscomb, Frances Quick, Carolyn Smith, Candice Wayman, Weesie Laney, Amy Ourso, Susan Casey, and Donald Nichols. I was also given an incredible support system – excellent boards of directors, countless volunteers, exceptional presidents – Jimmy Yancey, Dexter Jordan, Frank Etheridge, Elizabeth Ogie, Steve Gunby, George Flowers, John Sheftall, and Philip Adams; and mainstay Board Chairman, Ed Sprouse. Perhaps my most memorable year would be 1998. Historic Columbus supervised the Parade of Homes (four houses moved to front Avenue from High Uptown), raised funds for and completed Heritage Park, helped to save The Mott House, and participated in The Columbus Challenge."

 

VIRGINIA T. PEEBLES HISTORIC PRESERVATION GRANT Upon her retirement, Historic Columbus, through its General Fund, established The Virginia T. Peebles Historic Preservation Grant Program to aid in the protection of irreplaceable historic resources. The purpose of the grant is to facilitate, stimulate, and incubate projects to renovate, stabilize, or plan for the protection of architecturally significant non-residential structures. The grants range between $3,000 and $6,000. They are awarded to non-profit organizations to assist with bricks and mortar preservation needs. Recent awards have been to the Stewart Community Home (2019) for $6,000 – historic window restoration – The Wynn House (2020) for $3,000 – kitchen repair – Historic District Preservation Society (2019 and 2020) for $12,000 in total for neighborhood projects. In 2022, $3,000 was awarded through to the Girl Scouts for architectural plans to expand their historic Little House in Lakebottom Park. Since 2005, the grant has served as the spark for 16 projects with over $45,000 in funding.



HISTORIC COLUMBUS FAÇADE LOANS AND REHAB LOANS Historic Columbus’ Façade Loan Program was established in 1997 by the Board of Directors and championed for many years by Director Emeritus Brown Nicholson. These loans can help paint a house, install a new roof, repair windows, stabilize a foundation, or with HCF’s larger Rehab Loan – provide a complete restoration and give new life back to a property in danger of demolition. These funds are now available for all historic homes and commercial buildings over 50 years old. This is one of our main tools making a difference for families in older homes. Since 1997, HCF has loaned homeowners over $2.5 million dollars to make improvements to their historic homes.



HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD ADVOCACY Continuing Virginia’s work to advocate for stronger neighborhoods, just as with Midtown, Inc., HCF’s Director of Planning and Programs Justin Krieg began administering the City Village Master Plan in 2014. When that grew into a larger vision for the entire Second Avenue corridor (from High Uptown and the TSYS Campus to JR Allen Parkway), Historic Columbus was on board to help out. For the next five years, he served as the administrator of what has now become known as the Mill District. In 2021, The Mill District announced their new CEO, Lauren Chambers. Justin remains on The Mill District Board to continue the partnership of our organizations. HCF’s work within City Village and Bradley Circle has only amped up over the past year, thanks in large part to the tireless work of past president Jack Jenkins. Historic Columbus has also received over $350,000 in restricted donations for projects specifically in Bradley Circle. Our investments in and around Bradley Circle have also helped to make possible numerous other private investments in the area. At least eight non-Historic Columbus owned properties have either been renovated or are in a current state of renovation since our initial investment. The most recent advocacy effort has been in the Midtown neighborhood of Carver Heights, located behind the Columbus Public Library. Historic Columbus has been working with residents of Carver Heights and Dr. Amanda Rees to put together a National Register Historic District Nomination. HCF is funding the development of the nomination. It is our hope that it will be submitted by the end of the year. As the city’s first post-war African American suburb, this community offered new homes that could be purchased through federal mortgages for Black enlisted and veteran soldiers who returned and retired in the city. Carver Heights will be Columbus’ first African American National Register Historic District.



Editor's Note: I am so fortunate to be able to do my job in a place that I truly love and for an organization that has helped raised me from birth. Without Janice, Weezie, Patti, and Virginia, I wouldn’t be here. I am extremely thankful for these incredible women. NEXT WEEK: We are going to explore some wonderful history and images of our historic Linwood Cemetery. I hope you will join us!

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