In family tradition, the Mills Lanes built, buried and borrowed.

Whether it’s “the devil is in the detail” or an earlier version, “God is in the detail,” Mills Lane IV went to great lengths to erect an appropriate fence for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah.

“Come and get me. We’re going to Bonaventure and steal a fence post.”

Mills Lane IV had called architect John Deering when they were working on the exterior of the Unitarian Universalist Church on Troup Square in Savannah. They didn’t steal the post from the cemetery, of course, but Mills did talk the city into letting him borrow one from the right era to send to a foundry in Alabama to copy for the fence around the church.

That kind of attention to detail is what made the difference in his renovations, Deering and others said. Mills knew cemeteries are great places to find historical architectural detail. “He would take that extra step,” Deering said. “We couldn’t just find something similar. He wouldn’t even use a catalog of old molds.”

Although the Mills Bee Lane families were all public-minded and gave great thought to the architecture, aesthetics and atmosphere of Savannah, they didn’t necessarily agree on direction or details. Mills Lane IV was deeply embarrassed that his grandfather had destroyed the impressive Bank of Georgia building on Johnson Square to build in 1907 the marble Greek Revival Citizens and Southern Bank, now Bank of America.  He was also distressed that his father had been involved in razing the 1890 landmark Hotel De Soto at Liberty and Bull streets in 1966. Mills IV also likely did not approve of his father paying for the first addition of gold leaf to the City Hall dome, gilding the lily of the original copper.

The year 1966 was a busy one for his father. Headquartered in Atlanta, Mills Jr. was given credit in the state and nation for single-handedly arranging for the financing of a stadium to attract a major league baseball team. But his heart was also in Savannah where the campus of Armstrong State College opened on land he donated on the Southside, and he established the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum in a former warehouse on west River Street.

Mills IV would eventually move the best of his father’s maritime collection and other commissioned and carefully acquired works into the William Scarbrough House on Martin Luther King Boulevard. But there was much handwringing about the fate of the regal house before that was decided.

Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.

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