‘An aging dowager’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Selma landmark slipping into disrepair

By dale James / Selma Times – Journal

Grace Hall has fallen once again on hard times.

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The years have taken their toll on the historic antebellum mansion built in 1857. Paint is peeling. Wood, exposed to the elements, has begun to crack and dry. Wind and cold seep in through cracks around the windows.

Last week’s cold snap added insult to injury for the aging Selma landmark by freezing the water pipes.

The structure suffered no serious damage as a result of the frozen pipes. Jewell William-son, a Realtor at Cornerstone Realty, located across from Grace Hall on Lauderdale Street, took it upon herself to call a plumber to repair the pipes before any major water damage could occur.

Williamson said she isn’t sure when or even if she’ll be reimbursed for her efforts, but she added, “I just couldn’t let that happen.”

Since 1981, Grace Hall has been owned by Coy and Joey Dillon. On Dec. 17, the Dillons executed a foreclosure deed with Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corporation, which purchased the house and property at auction for $232,304.58.

Grace Hall has seen hard times before. When the Dillons purchased the property, it had sat empty for a number of years. Selma resident Jean Martin recalled just how far the property had fallen into disrepair.

“The house was empty,” Martin said. “Tramps were in it, vagrants … it was a mess. Just a mess. The house looked like an aging dowager without her makeup on. It was pitiful.”

Martin was one of five members of the Selma-Dallas County Historic Preservation Society who signed a note with a local bank in 1978 to keep payments current on the principal owed on the house.

“I love to tell people that I once owned one-fifth of Grace Hall,” she said. “Five of us signed the note at the bank. That gave us time to find a buyer to try and restore it.”

The Dillons, who lived in Kansas City, Mo., at the time, had been touring small Southern towns in search of a prospective retirement home. When they saw Grace Hall they fell in love with it. “I saw a house that was in a sad state of neglect, but I also saw what was there at one time,” said Joey Dillon.

Things looked much worse than they really were. The Dillons replaced the plumbing and wiring, repaired the roof, and added central heat and air. The house assumed some semblance of the grandeur it once possessed. But that was 1981. Now, 20 years later, the house is once again beginning to slip quietly into disrepair.

The house has been on the market for more than a year. Without a buyer, Martin fears things will only continue to get worse.