Living in a Home with History

October 14, 2015 | By

A historic home “gives you something modern homes just can’t give,” says Brad Brown.

He should know — the Brunswick, GA, resident has lived in an 1875 Craftsman-style house for the past 25 years.

“I’ve always loved historic structures,” Brown says of his decision to purchase the three-bedroom, two-bath house, where he lives with his wife and 15-year-old son. “The rooms are bigger; the ceilings are higher,” he adds. Then there’s the carpentry and the architectural flair, and the moldings and casements. “Something you just can’t replicate in today’s construction,” he explains.

These homes aren’t for everyone, of course. For one thing, it helps to be handy, Brown says, noting that upon moving in he did a complete renovation that took roughly a year.

“We restored everything that we could and tried our best to mimic the items that needed to be replaced, going down to the salvage facilities to find parts,” he recalls.

But if Brown’s Brunswick neighborhood — in the Georgia port city’s historic district — is any indication, there’s abundant interest in taking on such projects.

“In the last 25 years there’s been a tremendous rebirth and revitalization of the historic area,” he says. “Homes being renovated, people fixing them up and improving the neighborhood.”

How Historic Is Your Home?

So what makes a home historic as opposed to just old? According to Alexis Abernathy, a historian at the National Register of Historic Places, there are three main criteria the organization looks at when determining whether a structure is worth listing:

  1. Did a significant historic event occur there?
  2. Did a significant historic figure live there?
  3. Is the property significant in architectural or engineering history?

While certain tax benefits are available for businesses that make the National Register, in the case of private homes, listing on the register is by and large a symbolic honor, Abernathy notes. The flip side of that, she says, is that those homeowners who are listed are not restricted by the federal government in making alterations to their houses.

She notes that restrictions may pertain at the local level, though, as many historic districts have regulations governing construction and renovations.

Listing districts, as opposed to individual houses, is a common approach to making the register, Abernathy adds.

“A lot of times [a house] might not necessarily be eligible individually, but there might be a historic district in the area [that qualifies],” she says.

Not a Stringent Ordinance

Brunswick’s historic district was added to the National Register in 1979. And Brown, who served as the city’s mayor from 1998 to 2005, helped pass its current preservation ordinance.

“It’s not a highly stringent [ordinance],” he says, “but it ensures that structures aren’t adversely altered in a way that deteriorates the historic fabric of the community.” In Brunswick’s case, that historic fabric includes the city’s original colonial grid plan, which dates to 1771, along with a substantial stock of 19th-century homes like Brown’s.

Brown adds that while one might expect a historic home to require significantly more work than a newer house, that hasn’t been his experience — since the original renovation, anyway.

“People are like, ‘Oh, gosh, an old house — that has a lot more upkeep and maintenance than a newer house,'” he says. “In reality, it doesn’t. There are folks I know who live in newer homes who have more maintenance issues and upkeep.”

In any case, he notes, you’re less likely to be surprised. After 100-plus years, you can be pretty sure you know what you’re dealing with.

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