City DopeNews

UGA Historic Preservationist John Waters Remembered

Waters received the key to the city from then-mayor Nancy Denson in 2017. Credit: UGA College of Environment and Design

During a recent memorial service, the stories shared by his former students offered a portrait of University of Georgia professor John C. Waters, who died in August, and his many accomplishments. A landscape architect by training, Waters was a pioneer who co-authored (with former Carl Vinson Institute of Government director Mel Hill) the Georgia Historic Preservation Act, and spent years working for its adoption with former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy. The act passed in 1980. 

1983 saw the publication of Waters’ still-popular handbook, Maintaining a Sense of Place, a citizen’s guide to community preservation, and found him crisscrossing the state, preaching the virtues of historic preservation and helping communities create local ordinances. Almost 40 years after its publication, the book remains useful for local governments setting up historic preservation commissions and for commission members. The Athens historic preservation ordinance passed in 1986. 

In what is now called the UGA College of Environment and Design, Waters established the Master’s in Historic Preservation program in 1982 and its certificate program in 1987. That year, he also created a program leading to a law degree and a master’s in historic preservation. 

With colleagues Richard Westmacott and Ian Firth, Waters saw the value of preserving cultural landscapes, as well as buildings and helped create a program and a certificate for it. He founded an honors fraternity for historic preservation students. For his teaching—and preaching—historic preservation Waters received the 2014 James Marston Fitch Award from the National Council for Preservation Education.

The John Waters his students loved was funny, generous and encouraging, known for his hospitality. His late wife Charlotte and he entertained them at their Milledge Circle home, designed by Frederick Orr, which Waters named Greyside. He enjoyed barbecue sandwiches and bourbon. Charlotte and he loved their many dogs and cats, and their house and its lovely garden. And they loved Waters’ students and helped nurture their careers.

When Waters took his classes on field trips—former students called them forced marches—he was always leading the pack, waving his hands and talking. And talking. And talking. He took students to Natchez, Charleston and Savannah, showing them examples of how historic preservation can and should work.

One of Waters’ many tenets was that historic buildings need to have a purpose, said Ethiel Garlington, former director of the Church-Waddell-Brumby House and now the director of Historic Macon. It’s not enough to save the buildings; they must have utility.