York Mayor Eddie Lee has been chosen for a statewide historic preservation award for his efforts to gather public support and save the York County Courthouse.
The historic preservation award, given annually by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation, the S.C. Department of Archives and History and the governor’s office, was announced Thursday during a meeting of the Yorkville Historical Society.
“It’s tough to get an elected official nominated, because they have to stick their neck out politically,” said Palmetto Trust president Steve McCrae, who announced the award. “Mayor Lee has done that, and we should be grateful for his political courage.”
The award honors exceptional accomplishments in the preservation, rehabilitation and interpretation of architectural and cultural heritage, said McCrae.
Gary Gross, vice president of the historical society, nominated Lee, who is also an associate professor of history at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
“He played a key role behind the scenes in keeping everything focused and bringing together all kinds of people from all over, bringing people together for the purpose of saving the courthouse,” Gross said.
Lee called the courthouse decision “a success for the entire community.”
“I was glad to play a role in it,” Lee said. “It was a major victory for the historic preservation of York County.”
McCrae said the award will be presented to Lee June 5 at the Statehouse in Columbia.
The York County Council early last year began to debate the future of the courthouse, which has been under renovation since 2013, because of their concerns about escalating costs, environmental issues and other unanticipated problems.
Some council members called the courthouse a money pit and questioned whether the renovation should continue or if the historic courthouse should be closed.
When the future of the century-old courthouse that anchors downtown York was threatened, Lee swung into action, organizing city leaders and many others in a move to save the building, Gross said.
Lee “was instrumental in forming a coalition of the city’s leaders that encompassed representatives from business, government, historic groups and educators,” Gross wrote in his nomination.
Gross noted that during several months of controversial discussions at the County Council meetings, “speakers from all walks of life presented their emotional and persuasive arguments to restore, protect, save, enhance their York County Courthouse.”
He said Lee, who worked mostly in the background, also added a team of renovation experts and won the support of the Palmetto Trust. The council last year voted to finish the courthouse renovation.
“The coordinated efforts of many eventually were successful in reversing the initial mindset of demolish/abandon to the possibilities of renovation and restoring a landmark to its original elegance,” Gross wrote in his nomination. Lee “presented himself as a persistent, knowledgeable leader for historic York.”
Jennifer Becknell • 803-329-4077