Palmetto Homes… Where are They?

When I was at the University of New Orleans working on my Masters in Planning, I had the coolest job as a Graduate Assistant. My job was to film all of the homes in the unique New Orleans neighborhoods. The purpose was to link these images to the Geographic Information System Map (GIS is the more familiar term) of the city in order to keep track of the city’s housing stock. It allowed us to locate areas of increased blight as well. While driving along the streets filming, I would fall in love with the actual homes itself. They were so unique, historic, and nothing like I had ever seen before. Sure there were historic homes in Savannah but there was something about the architectural detail of the homes I found in New Orleans on the doors, windows, porches, and overall structure that would take breath away. There were different types of homes to choose from – Creole Cottages, Cottages with a Raised Center, Shotgun, Double Galleries, Raised Basement Bungalow, and the American Townhomes. My favorites are the Creole Cottages. I have always wanted to purchase one to rehab and rent out one side while living in the other when I would return to the city for a visit. I’m still hoping to be able to do that. I was actually explaining this GIS work the other day when the person asked me if I took this housing inventory before or after Katrina. No sooner did the words leave her mouth did I realize that there was a good chance that those homes in the database that I helped to build were either no longer there or had sustained a lot of damage. I was instantly saddened by that thought. The style and quality of those homes cannot be duplicated. The hope that I have now is that perhaps those records of those homes in its original state survived providing evidence of their once existance.

So travel about 700 miles to the east and we come to a small island off the coast of South Carolina, that has its own history. We’ve talked about the culture and language, but what about the original structures? In spite of how long Hilton Head has been inhabited, very few original structures still remain. I ask the question where did they go? Did the storms take them or were they just replaced by something newer with little regard to its historical signifigance? I remember when I was small on my grandparents’ land there still sat the house where my father had grown up. The family had since moved into a newer dwelling next door, but the original house sat empty. Of course my cousins weren’t allowed within smelling distance of the front door as there could have been structural issues and it was more than likely a new home for the “critters.” I don’t even want to think about the boatload of trouble we would have been in if we disobeyed and ventured inside. I vaguely remember what this house looked like. I think it was wooden, white, and had a porch on the front. The structure was perhaps deeper than it was wide, which meant that the rooms probably extended towards the back of the home. If I had to guess, this house was as good of an example of Low Country architecture as any. Definitely historic. I can’t even pinpoint the time it was taken down. At the time, it wasn’t popular to keep a home that was no longer being used. And rehab? What was that? So it’s gone and the land where it had been looks like nothing had ever been there. I don’t even know if there are pictures. How many original homes of Native Islanders have built and demolished? How many remain? The homes that told the story of the island are now gone. And the land shows no evidence of it even having been there.