Georgia College's Oldest Building Wins State Preservation Award

Clarke Street streetscape showing three buildings, with the McIntosh House in the foreground
Clarke Street streetscape showing three buildings, with the McIntosh House in the foreground

The McIntosh House stands in direct opposition to Georgia’s Old Governor’s Mansion.

Whereas the landmark example of Greek Revival architecture sits prominently as the sole feature on its side of Clarke Street, the McIntosh House is crowded between four other historic structures, each vying for your attention with their clearly delineated architectural styles and ornamentation.

With its seven-ranked façade and full height entry porch, the Old Governor’s Mansion is the embodiment of symmetry and architectural refinement. Across the street, the McIntosh House is literally two drastically different houses lashed together by a breezeway, with just a passing concern for matching materiality and aesthetic sensibility.

So it might surprise you that the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation recently recognized Georgia College and the McIntosh House with an award for Excellence in Preservation.

In an April awards ceremony, Georgia Trust President Mark C. McDonald said “This year’s winners represent a tremendous dedication to restoring and revitalizing Georgia’s historic buildings and communities.”

On this edition of Georgia College Connections, host Daniel McDonald met Georgia College University Architect Michael Rickenbaker on South Clarke Street in downtown Milledgeville to talk about the McIntosh House, how Georgia College went about preserving it and his thoughts on the university’s role in preserving a sense of place.

 

Interview Highlights:

 

What is the McIntosh House?

Michael Rickenbaker: It’s a very unique structure. We know that as best we can tell, the oldest section of the building was constructed in the early 1800s, 1812-1815, we are not certain about the exact date.

Our university historian, Dr. Bob Wilson, has been working really hard to nail it down, but the best we can troubleshoot where it really started looks like 1815 something like that. And that is only a very small portion of the house.

The house was built as best we can tell the house was built in many sections. In one point, this section on the far right … is the oldest section.  That section was actually built in two sections. It is called a Dogtrot. You can actually see one between the two major sides of the building currently, but there was also one that ran behind this section on the right that separated what was, we believe, a kitchen, at some point. In early buildings they had the kitchen the kitchen and cooking area separated from the rest of the house in the event of a fire you didn’t lose the whole house. You only lost the kitchen. But we could go around the building and show you how it was incrementally added to over the years.

As best we can tell it may of had eight different iterations.

 

How did this plain house survive for so long on this valuable real estate on this prominent intersection of Milledgeville?

Rickenbaker: That would be an interesting story if we knew the real answer. We do understand that it remained occupied all these years, and it wasn’t ever a long period that we’re aware of that it didn’t have people living in it. So, I think it has always been occupied, it has always been owned by someone and I think it became probably pretty invaluable for student housing early in its lifetime or, in the period after Georgia College was established.

 

When people come and experience the McIntosh House what are some of the things that you would like them to notice?

Rickenbaker: I think some of the features would be the old fireplaces. They’re not functional. They’re not going to build fires in there, but we maintain them as a major element. It really is a character-defining element of the building. That is one of the things we are always looking for-- what would be a character defining element by the department of the interior's guidelines? That should be preserved. Although, you could take them out and end up with a more  little square footage and maybe even an easier space to arrange, we would definitely keep them and make them a part of the ambience

 

Is there a place on campus where you like to bring people or that you feel is indicative of the university?

Rickenbaker: I know most people know and love Front Campus… that that has to be one of the most incredible places on our campus.

We’re indeed fortunate. So many institutions, at some point in their life, paved them and turned them into a parking lot and Georgia College had the foresight to never do that. As a result, it is an incredible foreground to what I think are some of the more lovely neoclassical buildings on our campus.

I always offer that a walk across Front Campus is worth it, and if you can do it daily, you should. Why not? It’s a fantastic place.

I would offer that near the end of the fall semester, visit the Dorothy Leland Gallery in Ennis Hall and see the senior capstone projects. That is where you get a chance to see a wonderful gallery space [and] revel in the fantastic work that our art students do…

I would ask you to go by and see the sculpture we just put up just outside of Beeson Hall.  As a part of Beeson’s renovation, we said we really need to identify a place for public art and with the support of the Foundation to raise the funding to support a sculpture. It’s called [“Spreading Her Wings”]. It’s a great sculpture and when the wind is right, it is going to spin. The whole focus is all about this is a university that was built as a women’s college and that she earns her wings. This is all about the freedom or opportunity that comes with education and [the statue] is a great expression of that on our campus.