Downtown Ironton renaissance possible

Published 12:33 pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ironton is a city I have called home all my life.

In those years I had never visited the upper floors of most of the downtown structures. In the past months it has been my pleasure to visit those upper floors, most of them older than myself by 20 years or more.

I had always wondered what was at the top of those many stairs and behind the many mysterious windows, but I had no reason to find out. Not until now. Last June I was given the project by the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation to visit those buildings with the purpose of cataloging the spaces and apartments and start a conversation about renovation.

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Walking through the many spaces that had been called home by Ironton residents for many years was like going back in time. Seeing the old fireplaces, I could imagine families celebrating Christmas and other happy events.

The overhead lights, that possibly was the only lighting in the room, still had old bulbs in many of them. This was easy living in some ways and hard living in others. There are many steps they climbed every day carrying coal for the fireplaces and stoves, carrying things from groceries to new babies up to their upstairs homes.

Not all floors are apartments, some floors are just open space. Day after day I climbed these well-used stairs in building after building, adding pictures in my research. Pictures not only in my camera but in my mind, some will be there forever. The findings were eye-opening.

I found bathtubs, not full of water and young children splashing, but old tubs full of material that once was covering the wall and ceiling. I found outdated kitchens and very small closets. I even found a movie theater.

I was guessing at the start of the research I would find 50 spaces where apartments could someday be. I found more than three times that many and still counting. In many cities the size of Ironton, and some much larger, developers are renovating such spaces and folks are moving back.

Could this happen in Ironton? What a wonderful thing that would be to have people walking the downtown sidewalks again, sidewalks that would take them home.

We would need more retail businesses for buying food, clothing, services, drug items, restaurants, entertainment and more. We would no doubt see major growth to the downtown. Moderate to upscale apartments could be available. Isn’t that interesting? What an idea.

Hopefully this is a new beginning and not an end to these wonderful spaces. The owners of these buildings are excited about the idea of downtown residents and offer their cooperation. I hope the project is not finished but just beginning. I wish to thank all the down town property owners for the courtesies shown to me.

Ironton, a very special place.


Sam Heighton

Housing Research, LEDC

Board Member, Ironton aLive

Manager, Ironton Farmers Market

Owner, HEIGHTONe Video Productions