Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting historical places in North Augusta. If you have a suggestion for the series, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 803-279-2793.
North Augusta’s chapter of the American Legion has a rich history in the city.
North Augusta’s chapter was chartered in 1932 – 13 years after the American Legion was created – by a small group of World War I veterans who got together for fellowship, food and moonshine.
The group, which met at Panic Pond, became a post of the American Legion after reaching 16 members, the minimum number required to become a post.
James C. Bush Sr., was selected as the first commander of Post 71, with notable residents such as Daniel P. Westcott, John E. Covar, Jesse C. Lynch and Dr. W.H. Mathis as members.
Under the leadership of Bush, Post 71 continued to grow, which brought the need for a new meeting space.
The first ‘Hut’
The year 1948 was key in the history of American Legion Post 71.
In that year, the Post signed a 99-year lease with the City of North Augusta to build the first “Legion Hut” on E. Spring Grove Avenue. The group had only been around for 16 years, but had already grown to need its own space.
“It had one big room, a kitchen and then a barbecue pit,” Carl Schutte, a 94-year-old World War II veteran and 26-year member of Post 71, said of the Hut. “In the old building on the Fourth of July we had a limited capacity, so there was usually a line coming into the building and going out of the building and people eating at tables. It was family style, and we had bowls that we kept filling up of hash and barbecue, potato salad and everything else.”
The former Post 71 location could hold 100 people, which did not allow for meetings with the entire post membership. The building also had no handicap provisions and was crumbling from decay, according to members. When the building was demolished on June 1, 2011, it had been in use for 64 years.
Schutte called the time in the former home of Post 71 “the good old days.”
“Those were the old days, we enjoyed them, but we’ve got a new group now,” he said. “When I look around the room, I don’t see a lot of people who were contemporary with the old building, but that’s all right. The new blood came in, and we continued to really have a great Post.”
A modern Post home
Bob Ramsey, a member of Post 71 and commander from 2009-2012, helped with two big roadblocks in getting a new building.
When he was elected commander in 2009, he had been a member of Post 71 for only three months, and was the leader during the building of the current post home.
“There were two key obstacles in the way of going forward to a new building,” Ramsey said. “First, sufficient funds had not been raised to consider a reasonable mortgage, and the land upon which the proposed new building would be built was leased land from the City of North Augusta.”
The former commander was confident he could raise the funds for a building, but was unsure if he could overcome the land ownership obstacle.
“We approached the City about a possible land swap deal that would benefit all parties,” he said. “We had ownership of a property on Five Notch Road that backed up to the City-owned public safety substation. We proposed a transfer of the four acres off Five Notch Road to the City, and in return, the City would give us a full and clear title and deed to about two acres under long term lease to Post 71.”
The deal was a success for both parties, and the Post moved to the other obstacle: raising the money needed to construct a new building without a large mortgage payment.
In March of 2011, Post 71 signed a construction contract with Kuhlke as the general contractor to build the new hut and construction began in early May on the 400-seat facility.
“The things that we did, we auctioned off a car one time, but we never could get enough money to really go, until Bob Ramsey was elected commander,” Schutte said of the fundraising efforts. “Bob had the know-how, the drive and was able to coordinate all of the efforts and here we are in the new building. This big room is called the Ramsey Room and properly so.”
Jerry Morin, project manager for the new building and former commander of Post 71, said the Post saved around $250,000 on construction costs.
“This building has multiple uses, from wedding receptions, fashion shows or funerals,” Morin said. “It was around $960,000 total. We had the help of several fundraising campaigns from (Legion) members and the community and negotiated a mortgage.”
According to Ramsey, the fundraising campaign included public sales and golf tournaments.
“We started a full fledged fundraising campaign by asking our members to make a five-year commitment of donations,” he said. “We also held numerous hot dog sales and several golf tournaments. We received some grants from local organizations and businesses, as well.”
The new ‘Hut’
The new building, which has a seating capacity of 224 at the round tables in the Ramsey Room, features a commercial kitchen, canteen, and a modern-designed stage, and audio-visual and sound systems.
“We consider our facility a ‘Beacon of Hope in the Hollow,’” Ramsey said. “It has become a home for Post 71, its members, and its affiliates, including the Ladies Auxiliary Unit 71 and the American Legion Riders Chapter 71.”
While planning the new home of Post 71, a military museum was included, which allows for the members of the Jesse C. Lynch Memorial American Legion Post 71 to display some relics of their backgrounds in service to the nation.
“The military museum is the first thing you see when you enter our building,” Ramsey said. “We are very proud of it and are greatly indebted to Milledge Murray for the displays in the museum. It is always open to the public, especially our school children.”
The modern facility is available for rent by the public for events, such as wedding receptions, birthday parties, and other private and community oriented events. For rental rates, and any other questions regarding rentals, contact Facility Coordinator Rex Bell at 803-341-9552.
The Jesse C. Lynch Memorial American Legion Post 71 is located at 333 E. Spring Grove Ave.
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for The North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.