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Take the History Underfoot Tour!August 4, 2023
Why are people worried about preserving the past?
We aren’t talking about the preservation of our nation’s grand spaces such as Union Station in New York or our hallowed historic places, Washington’s Mount Vernon or Jefferson’s Monticello. We are talking about preserving our local spaces, our own neighborhoods, the places we live and are most comfortable in. The main street that we are all familiar with, the park that we played in as children and the spaces in which we experience our lives are in some form or fashion important to us all.
The United States National Park Service explains our need to preserve as this, “Preservation contributes to neighborhood walkability and quality of life. It minimizes environmental impact and yields economic rewards.”
Certainly, a great explanation, however, it warrants a little more exploration. Just how does preservation provide neighborhood stability and economic rewards? It is a basic, yet solid idea that livability and walkability create a neighborhood’s identity. As one walks down Harrodsburg’s Main Street, they identify a place as unique to this community. Additionally, preservation reinforces desirable community and social patterns. Basically, crime goes down in well-preserved communities. Some studies suggest a thirty percent decline in crime. Buildings that are well maintained, streetscapes that are well lit and easy to navigate do not lend themselves to criminal opportunity.
The environmental benefits are many. Recycled buildings reduce the need for new materials and new space. Energy’s preservation is vital to a sustainable world. Preservation retains energy in numerous ways. Recycling standing structures does not consume as much energy. Energy is not used during demolition nor is energy required to dispose demolished materials. Energy is further conserved by not requiring the manufacture or transportation of new materials. Recycling our structures also preserves embodied energy, which is the labor used to create that structure.
Preservation brings economic benefits to the table. It always perks one’s ears when you show them the money; preserving our historic spaces really is added value to our built environment. Again, we can explore the “money” by looking at a few facts. Old buildings tend to be very adaptable. They are better suited for and can accommodate comfortable lifestyles. Big open spaces are easily manipulated for both retail and domestic spaces. The construction quality of historic buildings cannot be surpassed. The material value alone is generally out of the reach of most modern construction projects. A trip to your local Lowes will clearly illustrate that a 2” x 4” is not really a 2” x 4” anymore. You can rest assured that the lumber within old buildings far surpasses anything you can now purchase.
There is also a hard economic value in preserving our historic spaces. Historic districts increase property value. Property within districts that are protected by local preservation ordinances are often ten to twenty times more valuable. If your neighbor does not invest in their property and allows it to deteriorate, your property is worth less. The reverse is also true – investment creates increased property value. A well-maintained neighborhood is attractive to investors.
We’ve explored why preservation is important to our community. So, what is being done to preserve Harrodsburg’s historic structures? First of all, we need to be very clear that just because a structure is on the National Historic Register or within a National Historic Register District it is not really protected. The only way to protect historic structures is by local ordinances. In 2004, the South Main Street Historic District was created. That district runs along South Main Street between Lexington and Moreland Avenue. The buildings that front South Main Street are protected by our local preservation ordinance. This ordinance established an architectural review board and a review process for that district. This process is governed by a set of design guidelines that were created in 2012 and they are in accordance with the national standards used by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.
The review process is simple. Anyone wishing to change the exterior façade of a structure within the district has to go through the review process. A Certificate of Appropriateness application, detailing the project should be completed. That application is then reviewed by administrative staff and the design review process begins. The design review compares the presented plans against the established guidelines. Exterior changes that are classified as general maintenance do not require review, neither does paint color or painting structures that have been previously painted. The review process can often be done by the administrative staff if the changes fall within the design guidelines. However, if there is a change in the design or materials, the Harrodsburg Architectural Preservation Commission reviews the application.
Future preservation plans for Harrodsburg are underway and the city has applied to be a Certified Local Government. A CLG, as it is often referred to, is a historic preservation partnership among local, state, and federal government entities. That includes the City of Harrodsburg, the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Secretary of the Interior of the United States through the National Parks Department.
Certified Local Governments are based on the principle that all preservation must be local. Local interest and concerns must be integrated into historic site identification, evaluation, nomination and protection. CLGs have many benefits including access to grants as well as technical and design assistance from the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service. CLG status provides easier access to tax credits for qualified projects within the protected district boundaries. The CLG application process is underway in Harrodsburg, and we hope to complete that process within a few months.
There is no doubt that Harrodsburg is a unique place within the nation and one of Kentucky’s most historic communities. The protection of our special place is of paramount importance to the citizens. The preservation process is ongoing and with the assistance of the local community that process can now stretch for many years into the future.
By Joni House
Joni has a M.A. in Historic Preservation from the University of Kentucky. She served as a historic preservation coordinator for the Commonwealth for over 20 years and retired from state government as the Park Manager of the Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site. She currently serves as Historic Preservation Coordinator for the City of Danville and Historic Preservation Consultant to the City of Harrodsburg. In addition to serving on the Boyle Landmark Trust Board, she served on the board of the Tennessee Civil War Preservation Association and was the current president of the Kentucky Military History Preservation Alliance.