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[UPDATE] Historic Valdosta Landmark To Be Restored

By: Gabrielle Sarann Email
By: Gabrielle Sarann Email

Valdosta, Georgia - May 13, 2011

By the end of the month, reconstruction will begin on the iconic Roberts House.

In a vote of 11 to 4, the Valdosta Heritage Foundation's Board of Directors decided to restore the home to its original grandeur.

The cost to stabilize the home is $150,000, which the foundation has received from its insurance company.

"The structure epitomizes Valdosta's heritage," says Emily Foster, the historic preservation planner for the city of Valdosta. "You know, this is a very important structure. And the Heritage Foundation has worked many years to restore it and they got very close to it when the fire occurred."

The Valdosta Heritage Foundation will need to raise the bulk of the million dollars needed to restore the Roberts House.

Ideas on how to come up with those funds are being discussed.

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[UPDATE] 4/13 at 6:30 p.m. --

Next month, the fate of Valdosta's oldest home will be sealed.

Members of the Historic Preservation Committee will decide whether to rebuild the Roberts House on Wells Street.

On January 26, the 150-year-old home was nearly destroyed by a fire
officials say was caused by an electrical failure.

Engineers say it will cost at least $400,000 to frame and seal the
house, which won't include work on the interior.

"There was a 50-50 chance that the structure could be rebuilt," says
Emily Foster, with the City of Valdosta. "That basically the decision to
rebuild or demolish the house could be justified either way."

The city is asking residents to share their input about the Roberts
House Thursday, April 28 in the City Hall Annex multi-purpose room at 6 p.m.

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[UPDATE] 1/31 at 5:20 p.m. by Gabrielle Sarann --

A meeting tonight will cover possible restoration efforts of the oldest home in Lowndes County.

The Valdosta Heritage Committee will decide whether to rebuild the 165-year-old Roberts House.

The meeting, which is open to the public, will be held at the City Hall Annex Multi-Purpose room at 6 p.m.

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[UPDATE] 1/27 4:11 p.m. by Gabrielle Sarann--

Officials are piecing together how Valdosta's oldest home went up in flames and whether to restore it to its original grandeur.

An insurance adjuster has labeled the Historic Roberts House "a total loss", after it was nearly destroyed by a fire Wednesday morning.

After sifting through debris, investigators say an electrical failure is to blame.

They say a squirrel or rat likely crawled into the walls and chewed the wiring.

Community members say they're saddened the Roberts House is barely standing.

"For myself and for the foundation members, we all felt like we owned this house," said Emily Foster, the special projects historical preservation planner for the city of Valdosta. She added, "This was a part of us and so it's devastating. It's like losing a loved one."

The Heritage Foundation will decide whether to restore the Roberts House at a board meeting on Monday.

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At 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, fire fighters raced to Wells Street in Valdosta to find the Roberts House engulfed in fire.

"I thought it was fog and then realized 'No, the house is on fire!'," said Delia Hamm, who looks after the house and lives next door.

Delia Hamm was in her den when suddenly she heard the alarm next door at 206 Wells Street.

She ran outside to see smoke and flames traveling up the house.

"Until it got into the upstairs, and then it was an orange glow," said Hamm. She added, " And all the windows began to pop as the roof began to cave in."

Hamm dialed 9-1-1 and within minutes fire and police arrived to the historic Roberts House being devoured by flames.

"Once we got on scene, we did discover heavy flames, heavy smoke from the oldest house in Lowndes County," said Valdosta Fire Chief JD Rice.

Built in 1845, historians say the home was named after a prominent Valdosta mayor: John Taylor Roberts.

"He's the man that actually gave the house its current look," said Emily Foster, the special projects historical preservation planner for the city of Valdosta. She added, "He modeled the house in 1893 and gave it its full Victorian architecture. Before that it was a plantation plan house."

After salvaging whatever antiques they could, investigators began digging for answers.

With early suspicions directed at an electrical short.

"We do think that it started in the central portion of the house toward the rear," said Rice. "So we're going to concentrate our efforts on that area of the structure first."

Again, no injuries have been reported.

Fire investigators are looking into work done on the house as late as Friday to see if answers lie there.

But the fire could have been much worse.

And the city is thankful no one was inside.

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Valdosta Fire Department Release:

Valdosta Fire Department Responds to Roberts House Fire

Firefighters from Valdosta Fire Station #1 noticed the flames and smoke coming from a home in the Fairview Historic District and were already in route when the official call was relayed through 9-1-1 at around 8 a.m. on Jan. 26. Upon arrival at 206 Wells Street, flames were coming from every window and the firefighters called for additional trucks, according to VFD Chief J.D. Rice. Approximately 40 firefighters assisted in bringing the fire under control within an hour of arrival.

Neighbors, members of the Valdosta Historic Foundation, and others watched in dismay as the oldest home in the city was engulfed in flames. The admired home was originally built in 1845, remodeled in the 1890s, and then recently renovated again by the Historic Preservation Commission and the Valdosta Heritage Foundation.

Once the fire was under control, firefighters made every effort to salvage as much of the furniture as possible. One of the items retrieved from the smoldering home was a framed proclamation signed by former Valdosta Mayor James H. Rainwater in May 2001 for National Historic Preservation Week.

Catherine Redles, who is the granddaughter of former Valdosta Mayor J. T. Roberts (1906-1916), actually lived in the house from 1931-1957. Redles said the event that played before her eyes was incredibly hard to witness.

“This is a sad day in the life of our city,” said Valdosta Mayor John J. Fretti, who was also on scene when he got the news. “The Roberts House is more than just a historic home in our community; it is a tangible source of pride and a reminder of the importance of preserving and celebrating our heritage.”

The cause of the fire is under investigation. For more information, contact the VFD at (229) 333-1835 for more information.


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