A historic renovation on Gaston Street brings an 1868 townhouse back to life
Four years ago at the northeast corner of Gaston and Abercorn streets, passers-by would have seen a dilapidated apartment building, home to generations of families of… pigeons. Thanks to a recent, thoughtful renovation by new owners, the Greek Revival structure is once again a single-family home, with the same grandeur, warmth and charm instilled by its original residents in 1868, plus some restored and preserved architectural elements from a renovation in 1917.
John T. (JT) Prather, a Savannah native and orthopedic surgeon at Chatham
Orthopaedic Associates, bought the three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse with a
garden apartment and carriage house on Gaston Street shortly after meeting his
wife, Amanda, a physician’s assistant, in 2013. Married in 2016, they are now
parents to a toddler, William, and in early 2020, they’ll welcome a new member
of the family, another baby boy. These first years of
their marriage and family have also been devoted to the massive project of making their house a home.
The property was built in 1868 for Confederate lieutenant and cotton merchant Algernon Hartridge. He had notable real estate holdings throughout the historic district: What is now SCAD’s Keys Hall on Abercorn between Gaston and Huntingdon, for example, was built for Hartridge in 1870, along with homes at 105 Bull St., 135 E. Jones St., and a pair of townhouses at 105–107 W. Jones St. Today, the latter of the townhouses is Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room.
After Hartridge’s death in 1876, and as Savannah’s population grew between 1900 and 1920, grand single-family homes like Hartridge’s were broken up into smaller living spaces. When JT bought the property nearly a century after its renovation to apartments in 1917, it was run down and forgotten. The renovation was a massive undertaking, touching nearly every single aspect of the infrastructure, not to mention calling for a very serious clean-up.
“It was completely abandoned,” says Amanda Prather, who spearheaded the decor and design. “Random kitchens, dead animals, broken windows. Our poor construction team had to clean up an area where birds had been living for decades. They brought out something like 10 trash bags full of ancient bird poop.” (She treated the crew to breakfast the next day.)
After the overhaul, the Hartridge house was, in a sense, a blank slate. And when the Prathers set out to reimagine and restore it, they decided to call on its past with a boost from the historic rehabilitation tax credit, albeit within stringent guidelines.
“We got a good bit of info from the man next door, who has now passed away, but he actually lived in the house as a little boy,” Amanda says. The neighbor, who went by Boo, told the team — including John Clegg and Scott Barnard at Barnard Architects — how the staircase had been shifted, what the walls used to look like, even how the entry to the home was originally on Abercorn Street. “They shifted the entrance because a local businessman told the homeowner it was better to have an address on Gaston,” Amanda says.
Walk around the corner to the Abercorn side and you’ll see the evidence of the original entrance: a little portico elevated one floor above street level. “It’s the perfect parade viewing area,” Amanda says. “We watched the Veterans Day parade go by, and it was a great place to watch last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
Certain exterior elements, interior wall placement, transom windows, original antique window glass and more reflect the work done to meet historic rehabilitation requirements. On top of those structural aspects comes the decor: interior designer and friend of Amanda, Jon Peters, took a project manager-type role on the property. “In an old house, we were dealing with curved walls, strange measurements,” Amanda says. “[Peters] had to be creative in how he could use the space to make everything work.” Peters helped balance a historically reverent space that’s also inspired by the couple’s travels, including the easygoing, tropical influence of their 2016 Turks and Caicos wedding.
In the parlour — ground zero for the historic renovation and restoration work — the original white brick fireplace flanked by federal-style pilasters is the centerpiece of a cozy but bright space. Crowning the 10.5-foot ceiling, a glass floral fixture sourced from Circa Lighting evokes a revival-style bowl chandelier. In the dining room, sleek chairs and lighting reveal a more mid-century modern aesthetic, while the blue-on-white, batik-inspired rug underfoot stays true to Amanda’s “clean bohemian” theme. Elsewhere on the first floor, JT’s blue lacquered bar and ocean-motif backsplash tiles in the kitchen bring the color scheme together.
A vast portrait wall of black-and-white family photos in white frames draws the eye from the bottom of the stairs up to the second-floor master suite and third-floor children’s rooms, one with a vista of the spires of Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, Congregation Mickve Israel synagogue and the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Keep climbing: a spiral staircase leads to an intimate roof deck with sweeping city views, fit for lounging or entertaining and featuring an outdoor kitchen, cozy furniture and even a built-in television where, last Christmas, kids from the Prathers’ extended families cuddled up for holiday movies. “That was actually the very first space we bought a sofa for,” Amanda recalls.
It’s been a long journey, but now, the East Gaston house is feeling like home. And in downtown Savannah, home comes with community: “Throughout the renovation, we never really realized that our new neighbors were paying so much attention, or that people who drive by every day were noticing what we were doing,” Amanda says. “After everything, it’s been very special to have people come up to us and say, ‘Thank you for bringing that corner back to life.’”
Owners: Dr. John T. and Amanda Prather
Year built: 1875
Year purchased: 2015
Number of bedrooms and bathrooms:
3 bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms in main house;
1 bedroom, 1 bathroom in carriage house
Time to complete renovation/remodel:
Architects: Barnard Architects
Interior designer: Jon Peters Design
Tile/flooring: Floor & Decor; Red Fox Unlimited for kitchen backsplash
Hardware: Guerry Lumber
Plumbing fixtures: Sandpiper Supply
Paint/wallpaper: Sherwin-Williams, Phillip Jeffries, York Wallcoverings
Art: Jacqueline Carcagno via Daedalus Gallery
Jon Peters Design
Jon Peters Design
Lighting design: Visual
Jon Peters Design
Landscape design: Sprout Savannah
Electrician: Commonwealth Construction
Elevator: Residential Elevators
Audio/visual: Commonwealth Construction
Carpenter: Commonwealth Construction
Plumber: Radach Plumbing
HVAC: Commonwealth Construction
Appliances: Wolf, Sub-Zero