Since the University of Georgia was founded in 1785, Athens has the first electric streetcar running on Athens streets in 1891, the first football game held in Sanford Stadium in 1929, and R.E.M.’s first show in 1980 at a friend’s birthday party.
Overtime buildings deteriorate, landscapes are destroyed, and houses are abandoned, but Athens has strived thanks to the contribution of Amy Kissane, executive director of the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation.
ACHF is an active organization that develops communitywide understanding of the value of historic buildings, heritage and neighborhoods. The organization also runs the Athens Welcome Center located in Athens’ oldest surviving residence, the Church-Waddel-Brumby House.
Kissane studied at Duke University for her undergraduate degree and moved to Athens to get her graduate degree from the University of Georgia. As she was getting her degree in zoology, she discovered her passion for historic preservation. She saw the history around her and decided to become a proactive force in preserving it.
“My favorite part of my job is building relationships with people in the community from Hands on Athens’ clients to board members to business people, and building relationships on behalf of the foundation,” said Kissane. “That’s really satisfying to try to help people understand what the foundation is all about”.
ACHF aims to educate others about historic buildings in Athens as well as advocate for them. It has been a membership organization since 1967 and Kissane has been the executive director since 2002.
“Throughout my 12-year career at ACHF, the most difficult part about my job is educating others and helping them to understand her point of view when people can be very set in their ways, “said Kissane. “We could have saved a building if we just could have sat down and talked about it.”
While informing people of the importance in historic preservation is Kissane’s main goal, she finds it her duty to keep ACHF working at its full potential. Kissane constantly updates members of the necessity, so that the organization continues to make a dynamic impact on Athens.
“Amy Kissane approaches me with new ideas. When she receives notices about historic properties that are slated for demolition, she forwards this information to members of our board of trustees,” says Jan Levinson, ACHF president. ”It has pushed us as a group to regularly ask: What can we do?”
This simple question motivates and drives its members. Throughout Athens are homes, businesses, and buildings that have been positively affected by ACHF. Ciné BarCafé, Nuci’s Space, Heirloom Café, Creature Comforts, Bottleworks and Morton Theatre are some historic buildings in downtown Athens that were carefully renovated inside to maintain their original external building.
One of ACHF’s major preservation activities is a weekend long event called Hands on Athens, which is administrated by John Kissane, Amy’s husband.
“Volunteers are expected to come out and complete much-needed repairs for a dozen low-income homeowners in Hancock Corridor, East Athens, and Newtown neighborhoods,” said John. “These houses are usually 50 years or older.”
The program’s clients are often long-term Athenians who have resided in their neighborhoods for several decades, if not longer. Most of the people they serve have a rich history in Athens beginning in their childhood. Hands on Athens took place on April 11-13 and 2014 was the 15th year doing this service project. In the upcoming year, they hope to make the project a year-long effort to best utilize their volunteers and serve more people over the course of a year.
“The beauty of Hands on Athens, and the goal is to spend as little cash dollars as possible and use volunteers,” said Amy Kissane.
Kissane has spent the last 12 years celebrating and sometimes saying goodbye to historic buildings in Athens.
“I know there are going to be losses… but it’s a labor of love,” said Kissane.
ACHF Heritage Newsletter