Fate of historic Pickens house up in the air

By Ron Barnett

Staff Reporter

PICKENS — For a whole generation of Pickens residents, the old white-frame two-story home at 118 Main St. was the local “Haunted House” — a place operated by the Jaycees to raise money from kids who enjoyed getting scared out of their wits at Halloween time.

To a pack of groundhogs that have been living underneath it for decades, it’s home sweet home.

But to members of the Pickens County Historical Society and many townspeople, the Bradley-Boggs House is a structure of great cultural significance and one of the few remaining relics of the past in a city that calls itself “Historic Pickens.”

So it’s no wonder that a furor arose when Charles Monks and his wife, Julia, who now own the place, told the city they wanted to tear it down and build a microbrewery there.

“The loss of this house to the community would be irrevocable and tragic,” said Wayne Kelley, senior vice president of the aforementioned historical society.

The Monkses have found themselves in the position of becoming the village villains in their adopted hometown if they demolish the place.

“What I want to do is build something that I’m proud of, my family is proud of, and I know the city of Pickens will be,” Charles Monks told the Pickens County Courier.

The problem is, the antebellum structure, originally built at the old town of Pickens Courthouse 13 miles away, is pretty much rotten. And at this point, it has been gutted of all the ornate woodwork that once graced its mantles.

It’s basically a shell — and a shell that is on its last legs. It had holes knocked in the walls from its haunted house days. The brickwork is disintegrating in places.

“She had a good life,” Monks said. “She was used and abused, and she’s been vacant.”

His original idea was to renovate the old home to house his microbrewery, which he believes would add to Pickens’ attractiveness to tourists, sitting right next to the city’s amphitheater. He was stunned to find out his experts said it would cost $1.5 million.

So he said he sees no choice but to tear down the house that once belonged to Maj. David Franklin Bradley, who lost an arm in the Battle of the Wilderness in service of the Confederacy and went on to become a member of the South Carolina General Assembly and founder of the Pickens Sentinel and the Easley Progress.

The house was purchased by clerk of court Aaron Boggs in 1913 and remained in the Boggs family until 1997, when the Jaycees raised money to buy it to continue their Halloween tradition there. The house has changed hands a few times since then, and time and the elements have taken their toll over the years.

It didn’t have to be this way. Dozens of cities in South Carolina have adopted ordinances to protect historic structures, according to Michael Bedenbaugh, executive director of Preservation South Carolina, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of historic structures in the state.

“This icon of the community has been there all this time, and it would take city leadership to push for some sort of protections over the property,” he said. “And nobody’s been willing to do that.”

City administrator David Poulson said the city’s Board of Architectural Review, whose approval would be required for the construction of a new building, asked the owners for more detailed drawings of the building they propose after a meeting a few weeks ago, but that there’s nothing the city can do at this point to stop them from tearing the landmark down.

“The city is aware of the historical aspect and importance of the house, but right now it’s a private ownership issue,” Poulson said.

The Palmetto Trust, predecessor of Preservation South Carolina, nearly saved the house some 15 years ago, according to Bedenbaugh and Kelley, who were both there representing the Trust when an unknown buyer outbid them at an auction.

“We were completely blindsided,” Kelley said.

He said he warned the buyer that the house “has the largest infestation of groundhogs in Pickens County underneath it, and it’s been there for decades.” He said he told them, “This house could fall down tonight if you don’t do something about the groundhogs. They never even did that.”

The buyer did nothing with the property. So the house, no longer haunted, became derelict.

Kelley said preservation supporters arranged for buyers to make offers for it — twice — but the owner wouldn’t sell.

He finally sold it on his death bed, Kelley said.

Bedenbaugh said Preservation South Carolina has offered to work with the Monkses on an option for the property.

“We offered to option it to get his money back before he did anything to it and let me see if I can try and take it off his hands, and then he can take his investment and put it somewhere else,” Bedenbaugh said. “But he refused to do that.”

The nonprofit’s idea was to stabilize the building, raise money locally for restoration and then find a buyer who would use it for some public purpose, Bedenbaugh said.

Monks said neither Bedenbaugh nor anyone else has made an offer to buy the property, and the preservation group’s proposal “to allow” him to break even seemed like an insult.

With so many memories of the place in the minds of townspeople, seeing it go into the dustbin of history would be a tragedy to people like Breann Nicholson, who owns the Colonial House bed and breakfast along with her husband, Drew.

She remembers using the site for theatrical productions a few years ago and always hoped to see the place restored. She doesn’t have a problem with a brewery going there, but would hate to see the house torn down.

“I think something like that, to be able to restore it and have it for generations to come, I think that’s something Pickens needs. Because if we continue to get rid of all these historical aspects … how are we going to stand out?”

The city’s Board of Architectural Review is expected to take another look at Monks’ proposal on at 5:30 p.m. June 24 at City Hall.

Monks said he hopes to have more detailed drawings to present at that time, but he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to get them done by then.

“I think given the proper environment, people will see this is a good thing,” he said. “The place was a great place, but she’s past her prime now.”