Archived Story

Are right people protecting our history?

Published 12:00am Sunday, March 4, 2012

Folk singer Joni Mitchell may have been ahead of her time when, in the song “Big Yellow Taxi,” she lamented that “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot.”

That certainly could be said of the so-called urban renewal initiative of the 1940s and ‘50s that destroyed much of the architecture, history and heritage of communities across the nation, including right here in Ironton.

The downtown business districts were once the hearts of small towns across America. As this began to change and urban sprawl increased, many historic elements were lost as building after building was torn down in the name of progress.

Even now many questions remain over what to do with aging and historic structures that were once integral parts of our community.

Nothing illustrates this better then Ironton’s Memorial Hall, the former city building and jail that has continued to decay as its future is debated year after year.

The building is currently owned by the city — and therein may lie the problem.

Although it may or may not ultimately be cost-effective to renovate this particular building, now is the time to look at how we are approaching safeguarding our history, who makes these decisions and why.

Maybe the city or other government entity shouldn’t be the owners or caretakers of property like this in the first place.

Elected officials often feel political pressure to “do something” with it and, when there is no funding, the option to bring in the wrecking crew becomes an easy, albeit short-sighted, answer.

Ironton needs a nonprofit historical preservation society.

Currently, there are historic preservation groups across the country that Ironton could emulate if concerned citizens wanted to make this a priority and start one.

Nonprofit organizations like these operate differently than the government and they can open the door to a variety of funding streams including grants and donations of estates.

This could be a win–win situation for everyone.

Politicians benefit by not being publicly forced to own and maintain dilapidated property. All citizens win by having a nonpolitical entity that is dedicated to preserving the history of our community. The taxpayers win because they are no longer footing the bill.

The city is also currently working to save and restore the Ro-Na theater, a project that has some similarities and poses some of the same challenges.

How many other projects like this are out there? How many historic landmarks or architectural marvels have already been lost to the wrecking ball?

Historical preservation societies are also key in helping property owners receive tax credits and rebates for restoring historic homes.

Governments — especially ones facing the challenges that Ironton’s is — should not be asked to do everything in our communities.

In fact, the taxpayers are likely better off if the government isn’t leading the way on preserving our history and heritage.

Once the parking lot is down, we will never be get paradise back.

 

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.

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