A timely grant from the Bulloch County Historical Society will lead to major restoration of a more-than-century-old Statesboro home, preserving the landmark for generations to come.
With monies provided by the Jack N. & Addie D. Averitt Foundation, the historical society announced last month that $15,000 would be used to restore Bland Cottage, on the grounds of The Georgia Southern University Botanical Garden.
The historical society’s board of directors selected the project from among a list of others to protect and preserve history long-tied to the location, said Virginia Anne Waters, Project Coordinator for the Bulloch Historical Society (BCHS).
“The reason why we gave this amount to the cottage is because the Bland Cottage is the historical foundation of this regional, public garden. The garden was a perfect fit for the goals of both the BCHS and those of the Averitt Foundation,” she said. “Also, an infrastructure is already in place — security and full-time staff — to make sure work can be done, monitored and protected, as well as enjoyed by the public.”
The former tenant farmers’ house, later home to Dan and Catharine Bland, was constructed in the later half of the 19th century and serves as a focal point of the garden, situated in the heart of its property.
According to Carolyn Altman, Director of the Botanical Garden, the gift could not have come at a more pivotal time.
“Until this grant from the BCHS, the cottage was in peril,” she said. “The foundation was sinking into the ground, and it was urgent that we repair it. (The grant) came at a perfect time.”
Since receiving the money, Bland Cottage’s foundation has been revamped and Garden staff has shifted focus to various other maintenance issues.
“Like any old house, it constantly needs something done to it,” Altman said. “Our next steps are maintenance related — painting inside and out, installing new flooring and repairing falling columns.”
“If we don’t take care of (the cottage); if we don’t fix the paint; if we don’t fix the roof leak or the tile that’s peeling up in the kitchen, then those small problems will all of a sudden become massive,” she said. “We would quickly lose the structure, because it is so old.”
It is the hope of both the Botanical Garden and the BCHS that renovations allow for an expanded exhibit inside the pine cottage, to display the history left by its past owners.
“The Bland’s were an important part of the community of Statesboro. Mr. Bland was a horticulturalist and had strong ties with many in community. This home became a center for people who were interested in the natural history of this area,” Altman said. “Mr. Bland collected many things that would be great for display, including objects and personal writings.”
Included in those objects are items one wouldn’t expect to see while on a stroll through a garden.
“Some of (the collection) is really wonderful,” Altman said. “For example, Bland had an ammunition collection. We are probably the only botanical garden with a bazooka shell.”
Bland’s collections, along with writings left behind by his wife, create a sense of what life was like for people living in or around Statesboro, Altman said. They make for an exhibit the she hopes can one day attract people from around the state.
“Their story tells the story of life in Statesboro and on the Coastal Plain,” she said. “Savannah tells the port-side of the story, and we tell the rest.”
The Georgia Southern Botanical Garden is open, free to the public, Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The garden grounds are open until 7 p.m. or dusk.
The cottage restoration is one of an assortment of projects backed by the BCHS this year, according to Waters.
Other tasks slated for this year include: the erection of multiple historical markers, restoring family cemeteries in Bulloch County, publishing a book on the homes and buildings of downtown Statesboro and publishing a downtown walking tour.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.