Savannah Church Seeks Restoration of Historic Marker
Budget Cuts Impacting Program Statewide
For 35 years, a historic marker at the intersection of White Bluff and Old Coffee Bluff roads described the founding of the Nicholsonboro community there by freed slaves from St. Catherines Island. Similar to the numerous plaques with hand-gilded lettering throughout Savannah’s downtown Historic District, the aluminum-cast sign informed unaware visitors of the area’s significance.
Now all that remains is a hole in the ground where the marker’s post had once been. And the community is trying to get it back so visitors can once again read the history of the site, where there are no tour guides waiting around to tell Nicholsonboro’s story.
“That historical marker is our history and we’d like to get it back,” said Edgar Sams, pastor of the Nicholsonboro Baptist Church, a 164-year-old congregation with two 19th-century churches on Old Coffee Bluff that the marker described as the “primary monument” of the community.
Sams said he has been trying to find out what happened to the marker after the Georgia Department of Natural Resources removed it more than two years ago. The historic marker is one of possibly hundreds throughout the state that are missing, damaged or in a deteriorated state due to the elimination of funding for the program, according to DNR officials.
The Nicholsonboro marker has been stored at Skidaway Island State Park since it was removed. The raised gold text is barely readable due to chipped paint and green splotches where a lacquer coating had worn away. The marker’s post was also removed after a car collided with it about a year ago so it will have to be replaced.
Park Manager Holly Holdsworth said she used to be charged with checking up on half of about 100 state markers in Chatham County, when she would spend about two days a year performing basic maintenance such as cleaning and tightening of any loose screws. Then in 2013, she and other park managers were instructed by DNR officials to stop the practice due to budget cuts.
Holdsworth said the Nicholsonboro marker was removed at the community’s request due to complaints about its appearance and she made it clear at the time that it was beyond just needing a cleaning and there was no funding to restore it. “I feel for them as a community,” she said. “There is just not a lot I can do”
Josh Headlee, a senior preservation technician with the DNR, said the Nicholson marker will unfortunately remain at the park until either the budget is renewed or a sponsoring organization is willing to take on the maintenance costs. The costs of new markers vary, but would likely exceed $2,000, Headlee
said, while the cost of restoring the original would probably run about $1,500.
Headlee said he did not know how many of the DNR’s markers are missing or damaged throughout the state due to the budget cut, but an increasing number of people are raising concerns about the issue. “I would say there are hundreds,” he said.
The Georgia Historical Society started administering Georgia’s marker program in 1998, but sponsor groups now have the responsibility of covering maintenance costs. Savannah Alderman Tony Thomas has been working with the community and contacting state officials to get information about the Nicholsonboro marker and see how it can be returned. If the state cannot fund the marker’s restoration, Thomas said he plans to organize a fundraiser to cover the cost. “In a historic city that revels in tourism, it’s critical that the history is not lost,” he said.