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Historic Preservation in Indiana: Essays from the Field

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Over the last half century, historic preservation has been on the rise in American cities and towns, from urban renewal and gentrification projects to painstaking restoration of Victorian homes and architectural landmarks. In this book, Nancy R. Hiller brings together individuals with distinctive styles and perspectives, to talk about their passion for preservation. They consider the meaning of place and what motivates those who work to save and care for places; the role of place in the formation of identity; the roles of individuals and organizations in preserving homes, neighborhoods, and towns; and the spiritual as well as economic benefits of preservation. Richly illustrated, Historic Preservation in Indiana is an essential book for everyone who cares about preserving the past for future generations.

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1 Historic Preservation

ePub

Henry Glassie

Historic preservation is a natural aspect of human existence, an inevitable result of our being creatures of memory and intention. We select and protect things to locate ourselves in time, in space, in society. The old woman on a green hill in Ireland washes weekly and displays daily her precious collection of plates; each was a gift and together they map her connections to family and friends, both living and dead. The young Turkish woman in a rocky mountain village folds into a studded chest her gathering of textiles, embroidered or woven by her grandmother, her aunt, her beloved sister. The Chinese potter fills his cramped apartment with antique crocks and jars that heal the rupture of the Cultural Revolution and provide him models for creation. The old soldier polishes his granddaddy’s sword. The jazz master still has the trombone he played in the high school band. I have the family Bible, inscribed in different hands between the testaments with the dates of births and deaths running back to the eighteenth century. The things we save position us in the flow of time, helping us remember the past and imagine the future, keeping us balanced for contingency, sane and ready.

 

2 Economics and Restoration: The Story of a Neighborhood’s Rebirth

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Bill Sturbaum

Our family moved to bloomington in 1963. it was a different city then. A railroad ran through the center of town dividing it socially and economically. East of the tracks was Indiana University, with large homes and expensive student rentals. West of the tracks was the city’s industrial heritage – the railroad, limestone mills, and a massive furniture factory, by then defunct – along with the modest homes originally built for workers.

We came in mid-August because I would be teaching at Bloomington High School. We wanted a house big enough for the seven of us – my wife, Helen, and I, along with our children, Karl, Chris, Arthur, Anne, and Ben. Everything we saw on the east side of town was beyond our price range, yet our realtor showed us nothing on the west side. So we spent our first school year in a duplex near the university. That was the year the Beatles became famous, and we learned their songs through the thin walls that separated our apartment from the one with boys and guitars.

 

3 Ode to a Bungalow

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Teresa Miller

As I sit writing, I look out the west window through a curtain of lace, slatted wooden blinds, and mullions. My gaze moves on through the boughs of two century-old firs standing guard over the dignified front porch of the neighboring house. Additional trees provide a tracery of branches in winter and a comforting green canopy in summer. My view stops at the historic Dunning House, beautifully proportioned with twin porches flanking a two-story brick central structure. Toward dusk the sky changes color – first, from bright cerulean to a dusty, smoky blue. As the sun lowers, the light reflects off the bottoms of the clouds in colors ranging from lavender to pink, perhaps with bit of ochre. The changes in cloud form and color may be subtle or striking, but they are always beautiful at that magic moment of early evening. It is a view that evokes a past of tree-lined streets, graceful buildings, and a slower-paced life. How did I come to be so fortunate as to be able to sit in my study and enjoy such a sweet view?

 

4 The Old Library Debate: How Bloomington, Indiana Preserved Its Carnegie Library

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Elizabeth Schlemmer

Carnegie libraries are a common sight in cities and towns across the United States, monuments not only to the steel magnate whose wealth made their construction possible, but also to the largely unknown communities of people who planned and preserved them. Every Carnegie library building stands for the work of local citizens who believed in its worth.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Andrew Carnegie was the wealthiest man in the United States, having grown Carnegie Steel into the largest and most profitable business in the nation. After selling his enterprise to JP Morgan in 1901, Carnegie committed the remainder of his life to philanthropic and scholarly pursuits. As outlined in his 1889 essay on the disposal of riches, “The Gospel of Wealth,” he considered libraries among the institutions most deserving of support, and he required would-be beneficiaries to invest in their libraries’ establishment.

To be eligible for a library grant, a community had to demonstrate need, provide land for building, and promise to support and maintain the library with annual tax funds equal to ten percent of the grant amount. Local leaders hired the architect for the project, planned the design, stocked the building with books, and employed librarians.

 

5 On Loan from the Sea

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Scott Russell Sanders

Why, you may ask, does a weathervane in the shape of a fish swim atop the dome of the county courthouse in Bloomington, Indiana, six hundred miles from the sea? The explanations that circulate hereabouts range from sober to silly. My own theory tends, I suppose, toward the crackpot end of the spectrum, but I will share it with you anyway, because it belongs to my private mythology of this place.

A fish, some argue, simply has the right contour for a weathervane, long and flat to catch the wind. Some speculate that a few of the families who settled the town in 1818 may have migrated to the hills of southern Indiana from Massachusetts, where codfish whirled upon rooftops. Some think the weathervane is modeled on the perch in nearby ponds, even though it’s the size of a ten-year-old child. Some explain the fish as a zoological compromise between Democrats, who wanted a rooster, and Republicans, who wanted an elephant. Some regard it as a symbol of Christ. Others see it as a warning that the actions of government, including those carried out in the courthouse below, may be fishy. Still others claim that the blacksmith who is given credit for hammering the weathervane out of a copper sheet and coating it with gold leaf in the 1820s actually brought it with him when he moved to Bloomington from Louisville, and thus the fish hails not from an ocean or pond but from a river, the mighty Ohio.

 

6 Industrial Muncie

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Cynthia Brubaker

As preservationists, we are always looking for what a building can become at the same time as we are investigating what it once was. For that reason, industrial buildings present an especially compelling challenge. Once hubs of extensive and productive activity, when found abandoned or underused they stand as memorials – to the products manufactured inside their walls, to those who sought to create fortunes through those products, and, not least, to those who came to work each day and went back to their families at night. But they also stand as opportunities to connect with their communities today in re-imagined ways of working.

Muncie, Indiana, sixty miles northeast of the state capital, is typical of many small industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest – once powerhouses that have lost big industry to the South and overseas, yet retain the infrastructure and workforce to recreate themselves in new ways. Incorporated in the mid-nineteenth century, the city had the good fortune to lie within a 2,500-square-mile natural gas field that was discovered in 1876 by coal miners laboring fifteen miles to the north. By 1886 this gas field promised seemingly unlimited fuel for industry.

 

7 Preservation as Good Business

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Gayle Karch Cook

Bill and I had always liked indiana history and architecture, and we spent hours exploring southern Indiana in the 1960s when we could spare the gasoline and the time. That was our recreation, eking out a few hours from our small Bloomington business, which we had started together at home and were gradually growing.

In 1976, the bicentennial year, historic preservation was emerging into the limelight nationally and locally. Bloomington Restorations, Inc., newly organized as a non-profit, was bringing attention to worthy old buildings in Monroe County. “Preservation is Good Business” was a National Trust theme, and adaptive reuse was being widely promoted. A stately 1850 downtown Bloomington home, the James Cochran house, was vacant and probably headed for demolition, while our thirteen-year-old medical business was outgrowing its quarters each year. Bill and I decided that we should see if preservation really is good business and renovate the Cochran house as an additional office building – our own bicentennial project.

 

8 Passing Through: Historic Preservation in Pike County’s Patoka Bottoms

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Edith Sarra

The place was, and still is, south of where county roads 300 West and 200 South intersect, approximately eleven miles below Petersburg in Pike County, Indiana. If you were to turn west from State Road 57 onto County Road 200 South, just north of the Gibson County line, and follow that road until you reach the first crossroads, you could turn again, south this time, and find yourself, as I did ten years ago, on what the late nineteenth-century histories of Pike and Gibson Counties call “the old state road.”

The origin of this road is difficult to pinpoint. A survey of Pike County Commissioners Reports (1817–1826) suggests it may have been constructed as early as 1825. For more than a century, until it was bypassed in 1936 by State Road 57, it served as the main route between Petersburg, the Pike County seat, and what is now Oakland City in eastern Gibson County. Follow this road south and it will plunge you soon enough into a wide floodplain flanked on either side by crop fields. An old set of oil well storage tanks stands off to the left here, just beyond where the road makes a short switchback along the bluff as it drops into the broad valley of the Patoka River’s South Fork.

 

9 Where’s the Porch? and Other Intersections between Archaeology and Historic Preservation

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Cheryl Ann Munson

At a historic preservation conference in the 1980s, I was introduced to a noted preservationist and dedicated champion of Indiana’s historic places. Upon learning that I was an archaeologist, he mentioned that he was involved in restoring a house; workers had nearly finished repairing the foundation, but he wondered whether the house would have had porches across its front and back. My specialty within the discipline of archaeology is prehistoric Native American cultures, not nineteenth-century residences, so I did not expect this line of inquiry. (I also wondered why the question wasn’t answered before restoration began.) Still, my questioner was not entirely out of line, considering that archaeologists in the United States have collaborated with historic preservation professionals since the beginning of the preservation movement.

When it comes to preservation, structural and archaeological sites share the same legal foundation, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, which created the National Register of Historic Places and incorporated the National Historic Landmarks program under the administration of the National Park Service. Congress included Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act as a procedure whereby sponsors of federally funded projects are required to consult with State Historic Preservation Officers to identify, evaluate, and treat historic properties that may be eligible for the National Register. Historic properties include buildings, bridges, and battlefields of the historic era in the United States but also prehistoric Native American villages, mounds, and camp sites. At the state level, laws and procedures generally mirror those of the federal government, so it is no surprise that our State Historic Preservation Office was named the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

 

10 Preservation in Our Parks: A Natural Fit

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Vicki Basman & Benjamin Clark

From its flat, lake-studded terrain in the north to the rolling hills of the Ohio River valley in the south, the Hoosier state is composed of an extraordinary variety of natural landscapes. The dense forest, meandering creeks, and rugged ground that so tried the determination of early nineteenth-century settlers have been prized for their beauty by generations since.

Many of Indiana’s most striking places would not be intact for us today had it not been for the efforts of a German expatriate. Richard Lieber, educated son of a genteel Dusseldorf family, visited Indianapolis in 1891 at the age of twenty-two and decided to stay. He quickly became involved in various entrepreneurial ventures, most notable among them the Richard Lieber Company, which bottled soft drinks and medicinal waters and later added imported wines, whiskies, and champagne.

On two vacations to the western United States – the first to California in 1900, the second to Montana and Idaho in 1904 – Lieber witnessed the grandeur of Yosemite and other undeveloped lands – the “high-vaulted temples of nature,” he called them. Awed by their majesty, and acutely aware that these, like so many other places, were threatened by short-sighted policies that viewed genuine riches in mere financial terms, Lieber became passionately involved in conservation.

 

11 Bloomington Restorations: Saving Landmarks, Neighborhoods, and Bloomington’s Sense of Place

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Donald Granbois & Steve Wyatt

Since its founding in 1976, bloomington restorations inc. has relentlessly strived to save and restore the old buildings and neighborhoods of Bloomington and Monroe County, Indiana. Formed by people fed up with the destruction of landmark houses near downtown Bloomington, the group quickly moved beyond advocacy into the direct action of acquiring and restoring old buildings.

By 2010, our group had saved and helped restore more than seventy-five historic structures, all of them protected by deed restrictions barring demolition. When Indiana Landmarks, the nation’s largest statewide historic preservation group, marked its fiftieth anniversary by offering a $5,000 prize to an organization for lifetime achievement in historic preservation, the award went to Bloomington Restorations. “From a preservation perspective,” said Indiana Landmarks president Marsh Davis, Bloomington Restorations “has done it all, and can legitimately claim a sizable chunk of credit for making Bloomington an attractive, lively, and distinctive place to live and visit.”

 

12 Guinea Hens in the Churchyard: Signposts of Maple Grove Road

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Lauren Coleman

The first time my husband and I drove maple grove road, a rural historic district near Bloomington, Indiana, we were surprised. From the descriptions given us by friends, all of whom praised its rural charm, we had formed an expectation of idyllic, uninterrupted farmland dotted with benevolent old farmhouses. The farmland was still there. But so many of the houses were distinctly modern; the kind with faux-brick façades and preternaturally green lawns; the kind you can’t imagine, a hundred years from now, standing, let alone eliciting the pleasure of the district’s few remaining aged farmhouses, which are as wholly right in their environment as the enormous trees that shade them.

I am a twenty-eight-year-old woman from Southern California, where iconic, early twentieth-century Spanish Colonials and Craftsman bungalows coexist with vast tracts of McMansions. My time in Indiana is brief and somewhat arbitrary, the result of my husband’s three-year graduate program. I am a vegetarian of twenty-one years (not, I like to think, of the proselytizing variety; rather of the “this is comfortable for me” variety) who subscribes to homesteading magazines with headlines such as “Butcher Your Own Hogs!” and “Onions: Truffles of the Poor.” Although I do not identify with a sub-culture, I acknowledge that I am somewhat of a cliché: a young, college-educated, temporarily (and not all that uncomfortably) lower-income person, yearning in a vague and naïve way toward a rural way of life I know very little about. At present, my efforts to access this life are essentially limited to – ironically – spending money: I pore through my homesteading magazines; I splurge on organic tomatoes at the farmers’ market; I plant carrot seeds that languish in the clay soil of our side yard. My husband and I talk earnestly of pint-sized houses, backyard chickens, herb gardens. I imagine a life in which I milk goats, bake whole grain bread from scratch, and sell some sort of felt craft on Etsy. In other words, I’m sort of annoying, in the way my husband’s precocious freshman students (“I’m going to get my Ph.D., become a professor at Yale, and write for the New Yorker on the side”) are annoying. Not because my daydreams are wrong or bad, but because they reek of inexperience, a lack of acquaintance with the realities of goat poop (Plate 13). And because they make of farming and livestock a pretty game, where once people lived and died – indeed, still live and die – by poor soil and mastitis.

 

13 No Place Like Home: Preservation, the Past, and Personal Identity

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David Brent Johnson

There is something mystical about the places you inhabited when you were young. Visit them decades later and you will find your mind redressing and regressing the houses and other buildings, cascading you into a reflective state of haze in the face of suddenly living memory. The past is a fading dream, and buildings are its symbols of meaning, its totems of silent significance, its runic monuments to a sense that what came before us mattered; therefore what we do now will matter as well.

When I was twenty-three I returned to Indianapolis after spending several years at Indiana University in Bloomington and a summer working on a salmon processing boat off the coast of Alaska. I had grown up in the Midwestern metropolis in the 1970s and early 1980s, a time when the city’s vitality was at a low ebb. Although population rankings placed my hometown as the eleventh-largest urban concentration of residents in the country, it tended to have the vibe of a minor-league burg, bereft of significant sports franchises save the Pacers, with no skyline to speak of, and a downtown that seemed to be struck by a neutron bomb every day at 5 PM. The buildings were there, but where were the people? I sensed no spark, no soul in “India-no-place” or “Naptown,” as the city was derisively called.

 

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