Group Has Deal To Buy Savannah Home That Was Museum

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A group says it has an agreement to buy a Savannah house that last year was labeled one of Georgia's most endangered historic sites

The Historic Savannah Foundation announced Tuesday that it has a contract to purchase the Kiah House Museum, the Savannah Morning News reported.

Virginia Kiah was a civil rights activist, artist and teacher who turned her home into a museum for African Americans children banned from Savannah's segregated institutions.

“There are a lot of vacant and distressed properties in Savannah, but there is probably not another structure right now that ... is more vital and imperative to save than this one,” said Ryan Arvay, Historic Savannah Foundation's director of preservation and historic properties. “It represents such an important part of a period in time in America that really wasn’t that long ago.”

The foundation can’t buy the home yet. Kiah died without a will and heirs are waiting on clearance to sell from Chatham County Probate Judge Tom Bordeaux.

The 1910 home has been damaged by water and vandals. The Georgia Trust for Historic Presevation in 2020 listed the Kiah house as one of its places in peril.

A committee of Savannah's Metropolitan Planning Commission on Thursday approved a historic marker for the home, which became a museum in 1959, after getting more than 150 letters in support.

“It’s important that this house be preserved and I’m happy we were able to approve the marker. That’s one step in the direction to getting this property recognized,” said Kristopher Monroe, chair of the commission.

A survey had earlier concluded the home was no longer architecturally significant because of changes made to support its use as a museum. That left the house more vulnerable to demolition after Kiah died in 2001. But Arvay says an updated survey recently classified the Kiah House Museum as a contributing structure to a historic district because of Kiah's cultural contributions.

“The significance of that house right now is its association with her and her story,” Arvay said.

Arvay said the foundation hasn't yet determined a use for the property. He said much of the home's contents have been removed, although some items are still inside.