City plans to renovate home on Depot Street as part of African American history trail

Published 9:00 am Friday, August 11, 2023

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The City of LaGrange is planning to purchase a property on E. Depot Street as part of an African American history preservation initiative.

On Tuesday, the city council approved the purchase of 406 E. Depot Street to restore the home, which has seen better days, and use it as part of a proposed African American history trail.

City Manager Meg Kelsey said the city has been in discussion to purchase the property from Warren Temple United Methodist Church for several months. The church has agreed to sell the home for $40,000.

The home, built in 1945, is believed to be the residence of the first African American attorney in LaGrange, Horace Ward.

Ward, the former lawyer, state legislator and federal judge, became known for challenging segregationist practices at the University of Georgia School of Law and eventually became the first African American to serve on the federal bench in Georgia.

The purchase is part of a plan to create a Black Heritage Trail that would connect several historic buildings to the Horace King-covered bridge at the Mulberry Street Cemetery.

As part of the proposed trail, a local historical preservation group, Enlightenment Center for African American History (ECAAH), is hoping to create an educational history center on Fannin St.

At the work session, in additional discussion, ECAAH Board Chair Alton West and Architect Skip Smith sought funds for a plan to renovate the former home of Dr. Isiah T. Epps at 224 Fannin Street as a history and educational center.

Epps was one of LaGrange’s first African American physicians. The Epps house, which later served as a boarding home for African American teachers, was the first two-story home in the community.

Brown said that they had originally intended to lease the former Epps house for the history center, but the property needs significant work, which they do not want to do without owning the property.

Brown and Smith requested that the council allocate $450,000 for the acquisition and renovation of the former Epps house property for the future home of ECAAH. They also requested that the city allocate funds to develop city property at the corner of Hamilton Rd. and Union St. into parking for the facility.

City Manager Meg Kelsey noted that the corner in question is now going to be owned by GDOT due to the Hamilton Road widening. She said GDOT might allow it to be used for parking for the history center, but it is no longer owned by the city.

Ultimately, the council voted to table the funding request from ECAAH until the project can be further researched.

The council did, however, authorize the city manager to purchase 406 E. Depot Street from Warren Temple United Methodist Church at a cost of $40,000. The purchase was approved 5-0 with Councilman Tom Gore abstaining.