Historic Savannah Foundation could help Kiah House Museum go from ‘peril’ to preservation

Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 10:01 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - A piece of Savannah history is a step closer to being saved.

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

It was one of the first museums in Savannah started by African Americans. In its heyday, prominent figures like Rosa Parks, Duke Ellington and more visited the museum.

Now, after years of neglect, the home and museum is on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” list because it was at risk of being demolished.

However, the Historic Savannah Foundation says they have a contract to buy the home. Last week, the Savannah-Chatham County Historic Site and Monument Commission announced a historic marker will be placed there.

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

“Savannah has its fair share of vacant and distressed homes, but I can’t think of any single house that fits that description that is more vital to save right now, than this house,” said Historic Savannah Foundation’s Director of Preservation and Historic Properties Ryan Arvay.

The Kiah House Museum is one step closer to going from peril to preservation. Historic Savannah Foundation Director of Preservation and Historic Properties Ryan Arvay says the house is protected because of the history behind homeowner Virginia Kiah.

“She was an immensely talented portrait artist, teacher, civil rights activist and she created the museum with her husband as a place for African-American children during that time to come be educated, be enlightened. Because of segregation laws, they were not admitted to other museums in the city, so she wanted a place where she could not only invite the community, but she could come exhibit her art herself.”

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

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

The home and museum’s state of deterioration eventually landed it on the Georgia Trust’s “Places in Peril” list in 2020.

However, Arvay says through awareness efforts of the Savannah Archeology Alliance, the foundation was able to take a look at the home and through negotiations, get a sales contract in July 2020.

“We’ve had that contract for quite a while now,” said Arvay. “We were fairly quiet about it because we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize the probate, we certainly didn’t want to get people’s hopes up, but we feel hopefully that we’re close.”

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

The Historic Savannah Foundation does not have any plans for the home and museum just yet. Right now, they’re focusing on acquiring it. If they’re able to, Arvay says they’ll look to get feedback from neighbors on what’s the best use for the building.

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