Race is on to save historic home in Rock Hill

adouglas@heraldonline.comJanuary 16, 2014 

The nonprofit group Historic Rock Hill is facing a tight, four-week deadline to find land for and to move a historic West Main Street home before city leaders demolish it to make way for a new water tower.

Historic Rock Hill bought the house from the city late last month for $1 to save the home from demolition. The group needs to move the house by Feb. 15. The nonprofit group is responsible for moving costs which could be up to $15,000.

The two-story house – called the Mills-Hallman House – was built around 1875 and originally used as a boarding home for renters. In 1994, the Rock Hill City Council granted it a historic designation.

Now, city officials say the home’s land – at 302 W. Main St., just west of the downtown area – is needed to build a 750,000-gallon water tank. An existing 500,000-gallon water tank in the area will be removed.

Rock Hill leaders gained approval from the city’s Board of Historic Review last month to remove the Mills-Hallman House’s historic designation and its inclusion in a historic district, which permits tearing down the home. The home is considered historic because of its age and architectural design, not because of any significant historic events that happened there, city officials have said.

Still, Annemarie Beebe, executive director of Historic Rock Hill, said the house has historic value and she’s determined to save it. Her group has found a mover but it is racing against the city’s demolition clock to find a place to move the home.

The Mills-Hallman House was built in the Eastlake style – a design movement named for Charles Eastlake who initiated its concepts in the latter years of the Victorian period. It still has most of its original trim, including window and door decorations.

Rock Hill historic preservation enthusiast Rusty Robinson believes local contractor and businessman A.D. Holler built the house. Robinson has been studying old houses for 30 years and surveyed the Mills-Hallman House recently.

He believes the house may have been the first one built in Rock Hill during the Reconstruction Era, just after the Civil War. At the time, Rock Hill was mostly “intact,” unlike many other Southern cities “decimated” by Union forces during the war, Robinson said.

Although Union Gen. William T. Sherman never came through Rock Hill, the city still felt the economic fallout of the war. The Mills-Hallman House is an important part of Rock Hill and South Carolina history, Robinson said, because it’s an indication of some wealth in the area.

The house’s location signifies what would have been the town’s “first suburbs,” he said. Around the downtown area and old train depot, industrial businesses were beginning to crop up. Present-day downtown Rock Hill was the “hub” of the town when the Mills-Hallman House was built.

Documents provided by Historic Rock Hill show that renters in the home, dating back to the early 1900s, included a local police officer, a traveling salesman, many mill workers and local grocery store owner John A. Mills. The house is also significant because of its connection with the Friedheim family, one of the house’s earliest owners.

Many aspects of the house indicate that the person who built it had “enough money to make the house fashionable” by buying mass-produced materials, Robinson said. But, some details – such as the interior doors – show that parts of the house were handmade, a cheaper option at the time.

The only other known remaining structure in Rock Hill built in the same time period of the Mills-Hallman House is the “annex” at the rear of the White Home, he said. Other homes may have been built around the same time, but all others besides the Mills-Hallman House seem to have been torn down.

In 2005, Historic Rock Hill bought and began restorations on the White Home, located at East White Street and Elizabeth Lane. The group offers tours of the home and educational activities.

Historic Rock Hill plans to restore the Mills-Hallman House, Beebe said, but not use it as a museum like the White Home. Instead, she thinks the house could be restored and sold as a private home or for a business.

Before preservation work can begin, Historic Rock Hill needs land to relocate the Mills-Hallman House.

It will be a strain on the group’s finances to pay for the move, Beebe said, but she believes it is Historic Rock Hill’s mission to save the historic home. Ideally, she said, she hopes someone in Rock Hill will offer land along West Main Street or the surrounding area to relocate the house.

Beebe thinks the historic home would be a nice addition to the immediate area. Many of the nearby properties are slated for redevelopment under the city of Rock Hill’s “Knowledge Park” plans, which include an economic development strategy for the old Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co. site.

City officials plan to install a historic marker at 302 W. Main St. after the home is relocated. It’s expected that Rock Hill will grant a historic designation to the house’s new property.

Beyond some cosmetic flaws, the Mills-Hallman House is “solid” and in good condition, Beebe said.

“It’s going to make somebody a really nice home.”

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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