In The Wonderful World of Mills B. Lane, Jr., his son, Mills IV, describes how his parents got into the renovation and restoration business in Savannah while they were still living in Atlanta.
“In 1961 Mills and Anne decided to restore an old house in Savannah where they could spend weekends when they visited the town.”
Mills IV quoted his father, “When we went to Savannah to go to the [Citizens and Southern National] Bank’s board meeting, we had to choose each time between whether we were going to stay with Anne’s family or my family. Neutral territory solved the problem.”
The first house they restored had been built in 1868 at 420 E. St. Julian Street.
“You should have seen the place before Anne started on it.” Mills, Jr. wrote. “My mother, charmed though she was with the little place, wanted to know why in the world we were living in the slums.”
During the 1960s and 1970s the Lanes worked primarily in the east side of Savannah, beautifying squares;purchasing, rehabilitating, and restoring individual and blocks of run-down houses; and adding trees and brick sidewalks.
In Greene Ward, named for Revolutionary War Hero Nathanael Greene, the Lanes purchased and renovated a row of houses from 502-12 East State Street that had been built for the estate of Edward C. Anderson in 1890.
In addition to rehabilitating the square, they purchased and renovated the house at 513 East York Street that had been built for the estate of Catherine DeVeaux in 1853. She was a free woman of color and part of a prominent African-American family who educated enslaved children when the practice was illegal.
Farther south on Price Street the Lanes looked west toward Troup Ward, named for former congressman and Georgia governor George M. Troup, which also offered blocks of houses that called for extensive work.
In Wonderful World Mills IV said his father financed his renovations “sometimes with Bank money, sometimes with gifts from the Lane family foundation and sometimes from his own pocket.”
In the 2nd edition of “Historic Savannah: Survey of Significant Buildings in the Historic and Victorian Districts of Savannah, Georgia” edited by Mary Lane Morrison, Mills, Jr.’s sister, the preface describes the Troup funding.
“In the 1960s Troup Trust, two outstanding rows of nineteenth century houses were saved and privately restored using Federal Housing Authority 312 loans as part of an Urban Renewal program, in which $4 ½ million in low interest loans produced over $40 million in restoration.”
In typical Lane fashion, Mills IV accepted no credit for helping Mary Morrison with her book, and the Lanes were not named as the power behind the restoration of the houses in the book.
The Troup Ward Conservation Project rehabilitated the rows of houses on the north and south sides of Macon Street that stretched from Habersham to Price streets.
The Lanes also renovated the square and put in the original Armillary Sphere in 1968. The skeletal globe is a sundial with zodiac signs on its rings.
When Mills IV was in the Navy, his mother had written to him about the progress on different projects and lamented that plans had had to be changed on Troup Row.
Mills IV appealed to his parents: “How about giving me a chance to try an economy renewal of the end house of Troup Row as a demonstration upon my return.”
While it is not clear how much Mills IV influenced his parents on the houses of Troup Ward, his later work with the Unitarian Universalist Church on the west side of the square was a signature project you can read about in a previous blog post.
Mills IV also describes a conversation between his parents and landscape designer Clermont Lee. She asked Mills, Jr. and Anne, what color flowers they wanted in Troup Square. Mills, Jr. blurted out, “Gold and blue.” Anne began laughing and said, “Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s color blind and went to Yale.”
Rexanna Keller Lester is working on a book about Mills Bee Lane IV and his preservation legacy.
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