Historic or just old?

Published 11:20 pm Tuesday, March 23, 2010

While its windows and doors have long been boarded closed and old wooden boards have to be nailed back on to the building, the Old Masonic Lodge in Hobson was once a hub of activity in the historic community, which itself dates back to the 1700s.

Marie Hill, 86, remembers attending school in the building, now nearly 100 years old.

While the building has undoubtedly seen better days, because of its deteriorated condition the City of Suffolk has cited the building for having violations — which can range from peeling paint to a caved-in roof and ultimately could result in demolition.


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During the past few months, two homes in the community have been razed by the city, and two others are at risk of being demolished for other violations. Suffolk officials have tagged a total of 10 Hobson structures for continuing review.

“We don’t understand why the city hasn’t been an advocate for our historic, black community,” said Mary Hill. “We just don’t have the resources to do what they’re asking us to do.”

Mary Hill is a seventh-generation resident of the Hobson community and owns several properties there, some of which are under observation by the city’s Department of Community Development. Most of the homes are now vacant, but at least one has a resident.

Hobson, located off Crittenden Road between Sandy Bottom and Governors Pointe, was founded in the 1700s by freed slaves who made their living by harvesting the oysters from the nearby riverbeds. Many of the homes in community are more than 100 years old and hold the memories of a once-thriving community.

Hill says she has worked for more than a decade to help clean up the old neighborhood, secure funding for improving the homes and, most recently, to have the village’s history recognized at the state level. Last year, her efforts led a historic resource department to set up a framework under which properties in Hobson might eventually be added to the state’s registry of historic landmarks.

“Our agency regards (seven of the properties with pending violations) as having higher potential than other properties in Hobson for listing,” Bob Carter of the department of historic resources said in an email.

A home demolished by the city in February, along with additional properties with pending violations, were identified as a few of 27 of the resources having higher historic potential in a document recently compiled by the Department of Historic Resources.

The document recently was submitted to a national organization, and has also been approved by the National Park Service.

According to Carter, approval by the park services gives a green light to submit individual properties that are listed in the document for historic designation.

In the meantime, the primary issue for the city is safety, according to Tim Davis, Suffolk’s assistant director of community development.

“Demolition is a last resort for us,” he said recently. “We understand blood, sweat and tears went into these homes. But public safety is our paramount concern. When it becomes an issue, it is the issue.”

Talking about the demolitions brings tears to Hill’s eyes. But, she said, “This will not stop us from moving forward. We’re going to stick with the process of preserving our heritage. We know we’re in violation, but that’s why we’re working with the department of historic resources to pursue federal funding for the homes.”

“For the most part, we’re just trying to hold on to what we have,” she said.