Historic Savannah Foundation Could Help Kiah House Move From ‘Peril’ To Preservation

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SAVANNAH, Ga (WTOC) – A piece of Savannah history is one more step towards saving.

The Kiah House Museum was built in the early 1900s and housed Dr. Calvin Kiah and his wife, Virginia. The Kiahs purchased the house in 1959, where they opened a museum to showcase Ms. Kiah’s art and educate children in the community.

It was one of the first museums in Savannah established by African Americans. In its heyday, figures such as Rosa Parks, Duke Ellington and many more visited the museum.

Now, after years of neglect, the house and museum are on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s List of “Places in Danger” because it was in danger of being demolished.

However, the Historic Savannah Foundation claims to have a contract to purchase the house. Last week, the Savannah-Chatham County Historic Sites and Monuments Board announced that a historic marker would be placed there.

The Historic Savannah Foundation is waiting to get the green light to purchase the home, cementing its place in Savannah history.

“Savannah has its fair share of vacant and distressed homes, but I can’t think of a single home that fits this description that’s more vital to save right now, than this home,” said the director of preservation. and historic properties of the Historic Savannah Foundation. Ryan Arvay.

The Kiah House Museum is one more step towards moving from peril to preservation. Historic Savannah Foundation Director of Preservation and Historic Properties Ryan Arvay said the house was protected because of the history of owner Virginia Kiah.

“She was an extremely talented portrait painter, teacher, civil rights activist, and she created the museum with her husband as a place for African American children during this time to come to learn, to be enlightened. Due to segregation laws, they weren’t allowed in other museums in the city, so she wanted a place where she could not only invite the community, but she could come and exhibit her art herself.

Arvay says the museum operated for several decades until Ms. Kiah’s death in 2001.

“From that point on, the house fell into a period of neglect and disrepair due to an ongoing probate battle,” said Arvay.

The deteriorating state of the house and museum ultimately placed it on the Georgia Trust’s “Places in Danger” list in 2020.

However, according to Arvay, thanks to the Savannah Archeology Alliance’s outreach efforts, the foundation was able to take a look at the house and, through negotiations, secure a sales contract in July 2020.

“We’ve had this contract for a long time now,” said Arvay. “We were pretty quiet about it because we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the probate, we certainly didn’t want to give people hope, but we hope we are close.”

Arvay says he doesn’t know when the probate process will be complete, but they hope it will be in the near future.

The Historic Savannah Foundation does not yet have plans for the house and museum. At the moment, they are concentrating on its acquisition. If they can, Arvay says they will seek feedback from neighbors on how best to use the building.

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