Just outside Grovetown, off Freeman Harris Road near Wrightsboro Road, stands a more than a century old white clapboard house suffocating in overgrown brush.
In contrast, at 202 E. Robinson Ave. in Grovetown is a 125-year-old white clapboard house with an inviting front porch and perfectly manicured lawn.
County historian Charles Lord says the houses, although visually different, share a connection: They are the only remaining buildings in Columbia County with direct links to comedian Oliver Hardy.
The house off Freeman Harris Road, known as the Hardy House, belonged to the comedian's father, also named Oliver Hardy, who died within months of his son's birth. The comedian was born in Harlem in 1892, in a residence now replaced by a coin laundry, and never lived in the Hardy House.
Hardy probably visited it, though, during a trip to Columbia County to retrace his roots in 1954, just three years before his death in Hollywood, Lord said.
"These two are the only buildings you can lay your hands on" with a connection to Hardy, Lord said. Soon, that number might be reduced to one.
The Hardy House, which has sat vacant for at least a decade, is owned by Matthew Johnson, whose family has owned the parcel since at least the 1940s, according to county records. Johnson said Tuesday that he was recently approached by someone who wants to demolish the house and salvage the surviving lumber for use in a log cabin to be built in Athens.
"I know I'll never have the money (to preserve it) unless I win the lottery," Johnson said. "It's just a waste of time trying ... I'm trying to get something out of it before it just rots down."
Years ago, Johnson said, he was approached by Harlem officials with a proposal to purchase the house, but talks fizzled out. Harlem City Manager Jean Dove said she approached a tenant there in 1990 or 1991 and later the city approached Johnson in the late 1990s about relocating the house to a lot within the city limits. The house was in better shape then, but a deal was not worked out.
"I went out two or three years ago just as a follow-up to see what was going on, and it was in really bad shape then," Dove said.
The Robinson Avenue house was built by Thomas B. Norvell, a maternal uncle of Hardy. It was a place where Hardy visited many times in his youth to umpire baseball games at a nearby field, Lord said.
"There is a Grovetown connection," he said.
Hardy visited Grovetown and the house again in 1954, long after becoming a star as half of Laurel and Hardy. Lord said Hardy was joined on his tour of the county by his cousin and then-mayor of Grovetown, Robert Toombs Hardy.
The house is owned by Grovetown United Methodist Church and serves as its parson's house. Norvell was a member of the church, Lord said.
Renovations in the late 1990s returned the house to as near the original floor plan as possible after many years as a duplex, said the Rev. Brandon Fulmer, the pastor and resident of the home for three years. He said he was unaware of the house's connection to the comedian until told by the historian. Fulmer said his favorite room is a study that originally might have been a parlor.
"It's a really neat place to live for me," he said. "Old houses like that make noise constantly. It was a little strange getting used to it, but now it's home."
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