FAIRMONT – The former owner of an historic Fairmont home made a plea this week to city council for help to preserve the structure.
Terry Burton of Fairmont, who bought the house at 500 Ogden Ave. in Fairmont and restored it in the early 1990’s, addressed council about the matter during its meeting Tuesday. The house’s current owner lives in another state and has allowed the home known as The Ogden House to fall into disrepair and squalor.
Burton said he was “begging for this council to get actively involved now and do something to gain possession through a court order of 500 Ogden Ave. and preserve this valuable piece of history for your city and its residents.”
When asked for comment, City Manager Valerie Means said there has been no decision on Burton’s request.
She said council members will need to discuss it further “so that they can determine where the majority of council stands and how they would like to move forward.”
A local history preservation advocate, Joni Morris, the director of the museum of the Marion County Historical Society, said she, as well as the museum, support Burton’s efforts.
“I’m going to do what I can to help him,” when asked for comment, at the meeting.
Burton, who believes the house could be used for many purposes such as a museum or a site for weddings, receptions or meetings if it were put back in shape, said he was grateful for Morris’ support. He also had a message for Mayor Brad Merrifield.
“I can assure you Mr. Mayor, with my experience, I’m going to help in any way that I can, as you advise me, to restore and preserve this historic house for the citizens of Fairmont,” he said.
There was applause from people in the audience at the conclusion of his remarks.
In 1997, after four years of restoring the house, Burton and his family sold the home and moved away. He said he moved back to his home country of England to spend time with his mother, who was terminally ill. Since then, the house has fallen into disrepair.
Means said the house is considered vacant. She said “the taxes are paid and the owner is out of town.” There is a condemned sign on the exterior of the house.
The home originally belonged to the Ogden family, which founded a newspaper and printing company in the late 1800’s that still exists. The street on which the house is located is named in the family’s honor.
“I’ve been horrified over the years when my in-laws, who live locally, have given me updates on its terrible demise,” Burton said. “Unfortunately, it’s been neglected to a state where it’s now being condemned because it was abandoned, vandalized, trashed and rotted throughout, making it completely uninhabitable.”
Burton said he offered to buy back the house from the person he sold it to in 1997, but he hasn’t had any luck.
“This beautiful, stately home with its magnificent fireplace, mantel, Grecian columns, plate glass mirrors, which are now smashed, and grand oak staircase must be preserved,” he said. “Even the butler’s pantry below the stairs now have the glass windows and the display cabinet smashed.”
Burton, who was involved with historic preservation efforts in England while serving as a British politician, said, “very few people seem to care about preserving your heritage.”
“It’s a constant uphill battle watching the few fighting bureaucracy to save old buildings and more,” he said.
He said he witnessed the destruction of a pre-Civil War church in Georgia, where he lived for 11 years. He was encouraged, meanwhile, by an effort in Charleston to address vacant properties.
“It was interesting to note in last week’s newspaper again how Mayor Amy Goodwin of Charleston is introducing two bills to deal with such vacant and derelict properties in the City of Charleston,” he said.
An Associated Press report states that the bills would “increase fines on vacant properties and create an agency to help manage the buildings.”
Eric Hrin can be reached at (304) 367-2549.