Charleston woman fighting to preserve Freedman’s cabin

Updated: Nov. 22, 2019 at 11:36 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Charleston woman claims that a billboard is damaging a house that has been in her family for more than 100 years.

After decades in court, she’s still fighting to preserve and restore the home.

“It was purchased by my great-great-grandfather. It’s been in my family since 1892. And he raised five of his children at least here. And my maternal grandmother, great-great-grandmother, they all lived on this same property,” said Geraldine Butler.

The home on Indian Street was one of the first things her grandfather bought as a free man. However, Geraldine worries that she won't be able to pass the piece of history down to her great-grandchildren.

“I want to preserve this," she said. "This is my heritage and my history and I want to relay this to my grandkids so they know who they are, where they came from. You know they can have a sense of themselves. And you know that’s what a lot of people don’t have. They have no roots.”

Unfortunately, Geraldine has been fighting what seems like an endless battle. Her hurdle… this billboard.

For years Butler has been fighting to get a billboard removed because she says it’s adding to the damage of the last piece of her family’s legacy.

According to documents filed with the city of Charleston’s livability court, where the city has argued that the property should be condemned, Butler says when it rains, water runs off the side of the billboard, pounding the side of the house.

"It's a strong house because you can see the whole front is still here and this back end is still good. But where the sign is…it's being torn up."

However, city officials claim the billboard isn't to blame. The city says the house is falling apart due to neglect.

The fight has turned into a family feud because the property where the billboard sits is owned by Loretta Mayweather, the Butlers cousin.

A letter from an attorney shows that butler and her cousin both requested to terminate the lease in 2015. However, Butler says her cousin backed out of the lawsuit and re-signed a lease with the company.

We reached out to Mayweather for comment, but she never returned our calls.

"I've never been compensated and I'm not giving up everything I have, for a sign?"

The home, which has been classified as a Freedman’s cabin, is one of the last remaining in the Lowcountry. The Gullah Society is one of the organizations dedicated to preserving them.

Ade Ofuniyion, the founder of the Gullah Society says the city can’t afford to lose this property.

"If we don't preserve it. What we'll have left of it are pictures….maybe."

The city of Charleston has warned Butler that her property may be considered demolition by neglect. But she says she’s doing everything she can. Butler has been back and forth to livability court more than a dozen times over the last ten years.

"It's just hard. I can’t work against the elements. Every time I turn around, I'm in court. I get one thing done and I'm back for something else."

Ofuniyion is concerned because preservation requires money.

“On top of the taxes that you have to pay for that old house…You have some choices to make. Are you going to neglect that? Or are you going to feed yourself? And the choice usually is...I’m going to feed myself," she said.

However, Butler says she won’t stop fighting.

"I'm determined that I'm going to stick with it until it gets done because I feel that if one family can preserve this after 125 years and it's never left my family's hand then I deserve to have it. I deserve to restore it."

The company that leases the land for the sign is Adams Outdoor. Over the last 3 months, we have called and left messages, sent emails and stopped by. We have yet to receive any comment.

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