GALLIPOLIS — The Ariel-Ann Carson Performing Arts Centre Board of Directors has dedicated money for the potential move of an 1800s home owned by a deceased and prominent Gallipolis African American landowner and constructor, John Gee.
According to Lora Snow, executive director of the nonprofit organization, the potential move of what some regard as a historic home to the 600 block of Third Avenue in Gallipolis would cost around $35,700. Snow and house-moving supporters have spoken with contractors about how they can move the property. Emancipation Celebration Day Committee members Andy Gilmore and Glenn Miller voiced their support of the move and that it was vital to preserve the history of African American culture in Gallia County.
Supporters of the move have said historic tourism can be a boon to area economies. Snow has also said fundraising events may be held in the future to support the house. Supporters add they would ultimately like to turn the building into an exhibit honoring Gee.
According to city officials, the move of the home would need to see a variety of permits and plans made as houses on semi-tractor trailers are often considered oversized for roadways. Power lines may need to be temporarily taken down to permit the house to pass through street intersections and the like.
Snow sought to move the home due to recent construction plans. The Speedway company bought the property on which the house sits and is anticipated to demolish its old gas station next door to create a new facility where the currently house stands, including both newly acquired and old properties for a larger station.
Snow said Speedway has been “very accommodating” when she approached company representatives about attempting to have the house moved. She has further said she in no way wishes to impede the construction of a business aimed at providing useful services to the community. The old Speedway facility is slated to be demolished at the end of March.
Architectural historians Carey Howlett and his wife, Iris Heissenbuttel, have family in the area of Gallia County and inspected the Gee home during one visit. According to Howlett, original features of the home place its construction at some point in the 1820s. The pair also have said that because Gee was a constructor of homes that it was not unreasonable to believe that records suggest Gee could have constructed the home.
Howlett and Heissenbuttel make a living as consultants to museums and private collectors of historical relics.
Gallia County Courthouse records place John Gee as being the owner of the property in question. History as told by local historian Dorothy Casey says that John Gee was a well-known African American philanthropist and prominent community member who overcame a variety of challenges in his time just across the river from what was then considered slave territory. Gee died in 1865.
Gee was partly responsible for the construction of Gallipolis’ first African American Methodist Episcopal Church along Pine Street. The church is now called the John Gee Black Historical Center.
Allegedly, organizations and structures Gee was involved with may have helped slaves escape north on the Underground Railroad.
According to the Gallia County Genealogical Society’s study of old census records, Gee was categorized as a “mulatto,” meaning that he had mixed African and European ancestry.
According to collected writings of Gallipolis reporter Pinckney T. Wall, his series of notes from 1889 to 1909 listed John Gee as being a son of ninth U.S. President William Henry Harrison. Oral history among Gallia County African American residents also shares this claim.
Dean Wright can be reached at (740) 446-2342, Ext. 2103.