Is Preservation Always A Good Thing?

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

The news that an agreement in principal was reached between the town of Crothersville and the Indiana Historic Landmarks to save the nearly 125-year-old Odd Fellows Lodge at the stoplight corner is met with mixed feelings here at the newspaper.

I am a firm believer in the saying “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” And local places of history should be preserved to instruct future citizens of the local history and heritage.

If we do not know where we have been, how will we know where we are going?

And the collection of Crothersville history— important, insignificant, and inconsequential—here at the newspaper office will rival anyone’s. Some would say I’m just a packrat.

Which brings me to my point. Just how much history, memorabilia, and preservation can a community of 1,500 stand? Or more precisely…be willing to pay for?

The town kept a 1933 Chevrolet fire truck that used to be used in area parades. It’s been restored but interest in and funding for maintaining it has waned. The town also has a 50-year-old fire truck that it now finds it can’t even give away.

The old Presbyterian Church was purchased, renovated, and repurposed as a community cultural arts center several years ago. In the process it was re-named Hamacher Hall in honor of the man—John Hamacher— credited with founding what we now know as Crothersville. The building was given to the Crothersville History and Cultural Arts Association to continue its new purpose in the community. But buildings require maintenance, and upgrades, and remodeling to make them conducive and attractive to a public purpose. And that takes money.

Indiana Historic Landmarks mission is to save, stabilized and repurpose historic buildings. The solid brick Odd Fellows Lodge, built in 1891, certainly qualifies. The only older buildings in town now are our historic churches.

IHL wants to stabilize and sell the building for some future business purpose. A noble idea, but has anyone driven the main drag of town recently and noted the number of empty, vacant, for sale and underutilized business locations? And we want to preserve a building thinking (hoping) someone will find it a great place to open a business?

And yet, the alternative of a vacant lot (green space in today’s governmental nomenclature) across from another green space, a boarded up business and a vacant former Masonic Hall doesn’t strike us as its best use either.

When you consider the amount of vacant property owned by the town, the school, and churches—none of which pays property taxes— we have to wonder if another green space is needed.

I wonder how many people come to our town to see its green spaces and historic structures? I wonder how many of our residents utilize its green spaces and historic structures?

I do not know the answer.

I do know the newspaper has a lot of local history and memorabilia that is not on public display but stashed in boxes, cabinets and drawers that is of little interest but to a select few for a momentary bit of history and nostalgia.