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 Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.


    Your right mike, I remember growing up in the 50′s-60′s in ironton. We would get to come to town on the weekends with my mom too do her shopping, On saturday the streets were so buzy you could hardly walk for all the people. now they are almost deserted, all the buildings I remenber were there are all gone, they need to try too save some of these buildings for future generations. When their gone their gone forever, Its sad too see a town go so far down hill, probably never too return.

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  • Poor Richard

    Staunton Va nearly destroyed its downtown buildings and its history in the process over years of demolitions, changes, and road expansions.

    In the late 1970s, concerned citizens formed the Historic Staunton Foundation and began a historic architectural inventory of their city. The foundation began nominating properties to the National Register of Historic places. Learning first hand that preservation would have to be a magnet for business they pushed forward even with high inflation, stagnate growth, and all the problems facing other cities today. A historic preservation ordinance was passed; they developed beautification projects, installed decorative sideways and street lamps and restored downtown facades. Historic preservation became a part of who they are today, a way of life.

    A theater was rescued and restored which draws around 3000 people a month. The city utilizes their wonderful historic buildings, architecture and landscapes to continue building their economy — an economy that combines the cities respect for historic preservation, the importance of preserving the past and the hopes they intend for the future.

    Thank you, Mr. Caldwell, for your article and for your viewpoint.

    (Report comment)

  • tiger534

    Hey nice point Mr. Caldwell keep up the good articles.

    (Report comment)

  • mikehaney

    Liked what you said.

    (Report comment)

  • mickakers

    Michael Caldwell; An excellent article. My compliments.

    (Report comment)

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