Mt. Zion needs to be saved

First Posted: 6:34 am - October 2nd, 2015

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As a member of the Friends of Mt. Zion Institute (FOMZI) I read with interest an article in another publication last week quoting Mayor Roger Gaddy’s opinion on the benchmark deadlines for FOMZI’s restoration and development and his vow to see the historic buildings be demolished for not meeting the contract’s deadlines.

First, I would like to say that I have known Roger for over 40 years and he has taken excellent care of the medical needs of my family since he moved to Winnsboro. I have always valued his professional competence and friendship.

However, I am disappointed to read his comments, because of the town government’s failure to follow its own ordinances and codes as evidenced in the conditions of many properties that lend a look of shabbiness to our historic town. The code is set up to require property owners to keep up residences and buildings within the town limits. I don’t think I need to enumerate the properties that have obviously slipped by enforcement.

How long did the town itself own the property without coming up with potential uses or development plans?

Several concerned citizens, myself included, last spring asked the town to sanction our ad hoc committee organization to begin studying building ordinances as concerning historic buildings. Although Roger says that the Mt. Zion building is not historical, I beg to differ on this, as the process to nominate the buildings to the National Historic Registry is already underway and the SC Department of Archives and History has already given preliminary approval to its qualifications.

The Mt. Zion Institute High School is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with the history of New Deal programs in South Carolina. The school was designed and partially funded by the Works Progress Administration which supported and supplemented local heritage and architecture.

The Public Works Administration, another New Deal agency that served as a federal construction agency, built the school in 1937 in Winnsboro. It is an excellent example of the design philosophy of WPA, which encouraged the influence of local architecture in new buildings. The school is one of many in South Carolina designed by James B. Urquhart, a prominent Columbia-based architect who specialized in school design.

After the work that our group has put into this project, the pest control work, the installation of faux windows, the repair of the classroom roof and cleaning of the facade, etc., I hope that certain individuals will refrain from criticizing when at least we are trying to do something to improve our community.

The economic depredations of the last few decades have destroyed the fabric of the past where things were built to last and be maintained, and have brought us to believe that we should scrape buildings off the surface and replace them with concrete block and steel boxes which also degrade and stain and look terrible when empty and vandalized.

Our governments’ attempts to attract questionably viable industries and enterprises don’t localize the economy or enhance and utilize the resources we are blessed to have retained. FOMZI believes that, even in the face of non-supportive elected leadership, we are on to something that can promote development in ways that will enhance the quality of life in our community. The recent economic times have made progress slow, but we have not given up and hope we can be allowed the time needed to continue our work.

Please join in support by voicing your support publicly and pledging resources. The FOMZI website with updates can be seen at www.mtzioninstitute.com .

Pelham Lyles




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