Gallipolis preservationists rush to save house from future as gas station _ the columbus dispatch

GALLIPOLIS, Ohio — Preservationists who cherish the historic buildings that dot this Ohio River

community are racing time to rescue a house in the path of a new Speedway gas station.

The painted brick house at 809 Second Ave. near downtown Gallipolis is believed to have been

built between 1825 and 1840 by John Gee, a black man who moved into the community by 1822 and

became a noted builder and philanthropist. Among his gifts to the city: land for the Pine Street

Colored Cemetery. Black residents needed a graveyard because they were not allowed to be buried

with whites.

Gee also was active in the Underground Railroad, which secretly helped escaped slaves travel to

freedom, according to local historian Dorothy Casey, who maintains a museum in his honor.

Speedway, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corp., bought the property in October for $247,000,

according to the Gallia County auditor’s office. The company plans to demolish the house for a

larger gas station and store to replace the one currently next door.

Efforts to move the house are underway in the community of about 3,600, about 90 miles southeast

of Columbus.

The board of the nonprofit Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre, which houses the Ohio

Valley Symphony Orchestra and other arts groups in downtown Gallipolis, has approved spending an

estimated $40,000 to move the house to nearby donated land in the 600 block of Third Avenue, said

Executive Director Lora Lynn Snow.

It could become a cultural center that would complement what the Ariel offers, drawing tourists

to learn about the black history woven into Gallia County, Snow said.

“This could be a win-win for the city and for Speedway to have a historic property saved,” she

said.

Andy Gilmore, president of the local Emancipation Proclamation Celebration committee — Gallia

County claims the nation’s oldest continuous celebration of President Lincoln’s 1863 order

abolishing slavery — is among those working with Snow to save the house.

“I think that anytime we can preserve any of our black history, especially in Gallipolis, it’s a

worthwhile endeavor,” Gilmore said.

Time is short, however.

Speedway has set an April 1 deadline to remove the house, Snow said.

Speedway plans to move forward with construction “in the next few weeks,” spokeswoman Stefanie

Griffith said last week, adding that Speedway has been working with Snow since late last year. But

Snow hasn’t met multiple deadlines to move the house, Griffith said.

Speedway is willing to include a memorial to Gee on the site where the new store is to open this

year.

“Speedway means a lot to us. It will be a welcome sight in Gallipolis,” City Manager Gene Greene

said.

He said he wishes Snow had started trying to save the house earlier. The first that he and

Speedway officials heard of the effort was in December, when they met with Snow.

“Speedway said, ‘You can have the house. You just need to move it by a certain date.’ I have the

utmost respect for Speedway and the way they went about everything,” Greene said.

The community’s history experts are divided on whether the house is worth saving, and it’s not

known if it was a stop along the Underground Railroad — or even if Gee built it on the land he

owned.

“It’s a wonderful idea, but to be realistic, you have to have a plan of what you’re going to do

with it after you save it. Money is tight,” said Mary Lee Marchi, director of the Gallia County

Historical Society.

Gee owned more than 20 properties, and experts can document that he built two nearby houses, but

not the one bought by Speedway, said Henny Evans, president of the Gallia County Genealogical

Society, who has researched Gee’s life.

“I don’t doubt that he built it, but so far, I have seen no documentation,” she said.

F. Carey Howlett and his wife, Iris Heissenbuttel, whose Virginia-based architectural-services

firm works with historic properties, have inspected the house while visiting her family in Gallia

County. The facts that it was Gee’s land, that the house was built in his lifetime (he died in

1865) and that it resembles the style of others he built make for a strong case that he built it,

they said. They hope it will be saved.

“It should make Gallipolis and the rest of Ohio proud,” Heissenbuttel said.

mlane@dispatch. com

@MaryBethLane1