I’m going to hazard a guess that many readers have watched "Antiques Roadshow" enough times to recognize this scenario. Someone brings in a fantastic antique. One of the Keno twins builds the excitement through the provenance of the piece, its history, who made it, who bought it, its rarity. The owner's eyes widen, they see their retirement plans opening before them, only to be crushed by these words, “If only it had its original finish.” Balloon burst – dreams dashed – unrecoverable!
Aiken’s original finish is at stake here. It is the provenance of our town that was celebrated in the Southern Living magazine article naming Aiken the South’s Best Small Town in 2018. The magazine used descriptors such as authentic, rich in historic charm and tradition, eclectic, interesting lodging and preserved character. Demolishing the Aiken Hospital is a further step in destroying our town’s original finish and unraveling the threads of our shared past.
George Washington didn’t have his tonsils removed there; and, as such, the hospital and countless buildings like it in Aiken are under threat of those who champion “progress.” They loudly proclaim they should be demolished because they are of no consequence, just old, and Aiken can’t attract new people if it has old buildings. Even if a building or home didn’t have an event that was significant, it is still a tie to our history, a tangible asset of our town’s story.
Preservation isn’t passive, which is why we continually show up to advocate for the importance of saving “an old building with mold, asbestos and lead paint.” We recognize that if every historic building owner demolished because of lead paint, asbestos and mold, we would no longer have historic buildings and homes. And without these cultural resources, what would we have? Southern Living lauded nothing beyond the historic district. The “progressives,” the adversaries of the old Hospital say renovation is impossible because of its construction without steel framing. I continue to beat my head against that “brick and mortar construction that makes it impossible to renovate” attempting to sway the vote of Aiken’s City Council and Planning Commissions for the protection of these buildings. I also know that years from now, I will be proud to be on record as a champion of Historic Aiken, not the one that unraveled our historic ties, and not the one who destroyed the original finish.
Historic Aiken Foundation