Paranormal Investigators work to save historic house
May 31,2012–Josh Wilmoth has a bum knee from being hit by a car as a kid, but that doesn’t stop him from sweating behind an old push mower as he tries to tame the overgrown lawn surrounding one of Augusta’s oldest properties, the Goodale Inn.
Mowing the lawn around a house with three walls — part of the historic home collapsed after a big storm last summer — might seem like an exercise in futility, but Wilmoth believes in things that aren’t always visible, and that makes him the perfect person to see the possibilities of this kind of project.
Wilmoth is the lead investigator and case manager for the South Coast Paranormal Society (SCPS), and he and his group have adopted the Goodale Inn and dedicated themselves to its preservation.
“We’re out here as often as we can be,” he says. “We’ve put a lot of effort into this place.”
As you might expect, Wilmoth and the group were drawn to the building because of stories of paranormal activity, and though they have conducted several investigations and have accumulated many accounts of strange occurrences, they say that was just the introduction. The main push behind their effort is to keep the old building from deteriorating any more than it has.
Built in 1799, the Goodale Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known to be one of the oldest structures in Georgia to survive relatively unaltered.
“Just looking at the building, it’s an excellent example of early Georgia history and architecture,” says Robin Mainer, preservation services director for Historic Augusta. “The footprint and the materials are there, which is really the biggest key to having historical integrity.”
The house was actually one of the five featured properties in Historic Augusta’s 2012 list of endangered properties.
“It was always our intention to put that on the list at some point,” she says. “We felt that since there was a new owner and we could reach out to him, that it would be the best way to kick start that and move it forward.”
The new owner, Wes Sims, lives in Alabama and is working along with Wilmoth and the other members of the SCPS to preserve the old building before it’s too late.
Now that one of the walls has fallen down, the sense of urgency has increased. On the upper floors, you can see where the house is separating, but it’s in the basement where you can see the house literally falling apart.
“We’re going for a grant right now for a structural engineer to come in,” Wilmoth says. “We’ve got to do that before we put the wall back up.”
Fellow SCPS member Billy Daugherty nods his head into the darkness of the basement.
A lighter reveals just how deteriorated the brick has become. All around the foundation’s base, brick dust is piled up several inches high.
Although nothing has been finalized, Wilmoth says they’re not ruling out fundraisers that involve selling off token bits of the house, which are of course are historic.
Its age, its condition and its location — on Sandbar Ferry Road at the levy — have all contributed to the vandalism that has decimated the house. In most cases, it’s people looking for easy scores like copper wire or tubing, but in other cases, the trespassers seem more informed, like the ones who ripped apart the fireplace. They were possibly looking for forgotten valuables that might have been kept safe by hiding them in or behind the fireplace.
“It’s really bad,” Wilmoth says, looking at one of the doors, which they’ve barricaded shut. “It’s almost like, what’s the point of saving it, since it’s already so far gone. But if we can just get the foundation sound, we can put the wall back on and then it would be different. Then, it would look like something that was worth saving.”
As he finishes, a door randomly slams on the second floor, something that’s common, though unexplained.
“We’re like, hey — come on down and help us cut the grass — and then two doors will shut,” Wilmoth says. “We’re like, fine — if you don’t want to come, that’s cool.”
Owner Sims saw a little girl in the attic window and once, when he was on the side of the house, he saw a woman coming down the stairs. Rather than thinking she was a ghost, he ran inside thinking it was a person wandering around. No one was there.
The SCPS crew has also heard a little girl giggling and they’ve heard stories from others about a little girl frequently being seen inside the house long after it was abandoned.
Wilmoth is puzzled why Augusta seems so unwilling to embrace the economic possibilities of the paranormal, especially given how popular ghost tours are in nearby cities.
“In the long run, I don’t see why Augusta couldn’t be like Savannah or Charleston,” he says. “What do you suppose Savannah makes off of ghost hunts every year? I just don’t understand why Augusta is so damned reluctant to do that.”
Though his organization has conducted investigations at the Miller, the Imperial, Magnolia Cemetery and Pendleton King Park, he says trying to get access to government buildings after hours, like the historic courthouse in Appling or the gatekeeper’s cottage at Savannah Rapids Pavilion, requires an exorbitant rental fee, while other places, like the Old Medical College Building or Sibley Mill simply won’t allow them at all.
“Everything we do is on our own dime,” he says. “I just don’t understand why people aren’t willing to help us help them.”
The group has an investigation scheduled for the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky, at the beginning of June, but their main local project remains the Goodale Inn, and if it’s less about investigation then rehabilitation, he’s okay with that.
“Going into abandoned houses and stuff — this is like my childhood dream,” he says. “This is a Federal age house that I have a key to, so it’s like everything I’ve ever wanted and then some.”