Once again the city of Rock Hill is in the news for teardown of its historic buildings. The recent loss of Rock Hill Church, for which the town was named, raised a big public outcry. The Giddings-Lovejoy Presbytery sold the land to a developer, and a U-Gas now occupies the site. At least Fairfax House (circa 1841), which sat near the church, was moved—its third move to accommodate commercial building.
The original stone portion of the Rock Hill church, built in 1845 by slaves and immigrants, found a savior at the last minute. Carl Bohm had the little church dismantled and moved to his Cedar Lake Cellars winery in Warren County. Rock Hill residents were not happy to lose an important part of their town’s history, but the cash-strapped city could not afford to move the structure.
Now the 150-year-old Gothic Victorian Book House, designated a historic building of Rock Hill, looks to become another victim. The shop sells new and used books and hosts local author events. Owner Michelle Barron took over the shop in 1986 and donates a portion of proceeds to several local charities for children and for the developmentally disabled. The property the house sits on is in a trust. The original owner’s son finally agreed to allow the property to be subdivided, but Barron has not been able to get a bank loan to buy her parcel. She says she has a good down payment, but the banks want a co-signer.
Now a deal is in the works to sell the entire property to an out-of-town developer who intends to tear down the house and other nearby small businesses and put up an industrial storage facility. These businesses have been told to clear out by the end of June. Barron has a houseful of books and nowhere she can afford to go. She will also need to pay a moving company, as she says that is the most efficient way to safely and quickly move so many books, including many rare editions. Despite the apparent rush to vacate premises, Jennifer Yackley, AICP Assistant to the Rock Hill City Planner, said the deal is not done. The property would have to be approved for rezoning and a building plan submitted and approved, followed by permit approvals. No applications have been received yet.
Adding to the pain is the thought of losing another independent bookstore. St. Louis is a rarity these days because it still has real, physical bookstores. Many lamented the recent loss of Puddn’head Books in Webster Groves, but times are tough and the presence of Amazon hovers like a vulture over every book store in the country. The Book House, however, has been holding its own, and even increased its profits the last two years.
The Book House, with its charm and history, its labyrinth of affordable books, its dedication to helping the community, is an asset that will be missed, judging by comments on a petition to save it. Robin Tidwell, of All on The Same Page Bookstore, another new and used bookstore in St. Louis, has taken up the banner for her fellow bookstore owner and for historic preservation. Anyone wanting to join the call to save the Book House can sign the online petition to the mayor of Rock Hill. If nothing can be done to negotiate saving the house, a long-standing local business will be hurt and another piece of color and history will be destroyed. Money talks, and drives a big bulldozer.