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Local insurance agent turns historic North Augusta home into varied rental business

The Charles Hammond House – located at 908 West Martintown Road in North Augusta – is probably the oldest standing house in North Augusta and one of the oldest in South Carolina. (Photo courtesy of James O’Neal)

When James O’Neal was growing up, his mother drove him past a house every Sunday on their way to church. She told him he would one day buy that house.

Fast forward to June 2018, when O’Neal bought the house – a purchase he considered impossible as a teenager. But this isn’t just any house. It’s the Charles Hammond House – most likely built in the 1770s – located at 908 West Martintown Road in North Augusta. He states it’s probably the oldest standing house in North Augusta and one of the oldest in South Carolina. He paid close to $150,000 for the 6-bedroom, 6-bath house – named after Hammond – a wealthy planter from Virginia who fought in the Revolutionary War.

O’Neal has retained or recreated as much of the home’s original features as possible. Here are the original bricks above the fireplace. (Photo taken by Josh Heath)

With the help of SRP Federal Credit Union, O’Neal began renovating the Greek Revival house in Oct. 2018 and hopes to begin renting it out as an Airbnb, Vacation Rental by Owner, and event space this fall. “I’ve done 24 renovations,” says the Allstate insurance agent. “This one has been the longest.” The project is taking so long to complete because he wants to retain as much of the home’s original structure and style as possible, while also ensuring the safety and enjoyment of his guests. For example, he made improvements to the front porch to prevent accidents. Despite the house’s history, “I don’t want you to feel like you’re in a museum,” O’Neal explains.

Of course, a project of this size requires a great deal of work, attention to detail, and money. “When I renovate a house, I ask the house what it wants to be, and the house talks back,” he says. “This one is still talking.” So many people have lived in the Charles Hammond House over the years, so if it could talk, it would certainly have many stories to share. O’Neal explains he experienced significant delays due to COVID and the challenge of finding contractors who are willing and able to complete the extensive work the house needs. Also, the cost of materials, such as lumber, has increased, so he’s invested not only much of his spare time but also a large portion of his savings. It’s a tax credit project, meaning he receives credits on both his federal and state taxes for renovating a historic site. That helps to offset some of the costs of the renovation.

The house has undergone several renovations over the years, particularly in the 1830s. O’Neal has worked closely with local historical societies, such as Historic Augusta and Historic North Augusta to recreate some of the home’s original features, which has been a challenge without photos or written records from the late 18th century. Several generations of the Hammond family lived in the home, and the last one died in 1942. At one time, it was used as an apartment building.

James O’Neal – an Allstate insurance agent – paid about $150,000 for the 6-bedroom, 6-bath house. He plans to use it as an Airbnb, Vacation Rental by Owner, and event space. (Photo taken by Josh Heath)

He says he hopes to have various events at the house, such as weddings and meetings. One of the neighbors was concerned he will host large concerts at the house, but O’Neal says that will never happen. “We have neighbors,” he adds. “We don’t want to make anyone mad.”

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