This week Columbus is hosting experts who are attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual meeting in Indianapolis. In partnership with Indiana Landmarks, many have helped arrange this visit, which includes lectures about preserving modern architecture and tours around the city.
Now is a good time to look back at how this community has embraced historic preservation over the years. Of course one of the first historic preservation efforts was made by the famous designer, Alexander Girard, who showed how the facades of buildings on Washington Street could be remodeled to look beautiful in a contemporary context.
Effects of this project, which was featured nationally in the 1965 edition of Architectural Forum, are still visible.
Later in the 1970s more traditional historic preservation projects were realized, including the restoration of two 19th-century homes at Franklin Square, the transformation of the Storey House into the Columbus Area Visitors Center and the restoration of the Columbus Pump House into the Senior Center.
In 1976 Mayor Max Andress created the city’s first Committee for Historic Preservation. This committee worked with the Bartholomew County Historical Society to hire Leroy Troyer and Associates to survey all county buildings and provide a guide to understanding historic structures.
Another outcome was the formation of the nonprofit group, Preserve to Enjoy Inc., whose mission was to encourage “the preservation and continued use and enjoyment of historic architecture in Columbus.”
Until fairly recently, this organization restored downtown houses, completed the first successful nominations for properties to the National Register of Historic Places and worked to have the county be among the first to have a countywide inventory completed by the state.
Today there are 22 resources in Bartholomew County listed on the National Register of Historic Places — seven are National Historic Landmarks and two are historic districts (one in downtown Columbus, the other in Hope). By comparison there are only 36 National Historic Landmarks in Indiana, making the seven here 20 percent of the National Historic Landmarks in the state. That’s pretty impressive.
However, and contrary to popular belief, having a property listed on the National Register or identified as a National Historic Landmark confers only honor to the resource and does not restrict any changes property owners want to make (including demolition).
This community deeply values and is committed to preserving the assets that have added to the quality of life here and earned Columbus national recognition. Mayor Kristen Brown has made sustaining the community’s historic and architectural heritage a key priority of hers.
Earlier this year, I started working as a consultant to the Redevelopment Commission to identify best practices, programs, resources and possible incentives for voluntary preservation of our historic and architecturally significant buildings.
This community can be proud to tell visitors this week that it is beginning to forge a new path that continues to respect the past while recognizing that some buildings must evolve over time.
Richard McCoy is working as a consultant to the city of Columbus to help create a voluntary preservation plan for the Columbus Arts District.