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Understanding the past helps determine future

Understanding the past helps determine future Understanding the past helps determine future

I am in the midst of the disruptive and messy job of plaster repair in my house. Dust is everywhere as we tear out crumbling plaster and replace it with a good solid surface covered with a coat of bright clean paint. I used to be full ‘hands on’ with all the construction projects that we undertook in the name of historic preservation. Today, I find I feel drawn away from those activities that demand oomph and mobility. At 82, I don’t move as well as the younger workers. However, I do believe, with age, I have acquired more useful skills for figuring out hazards and opportunities in construction. My own adaptive reuse has gone from hands-on work to becoming a manager.
Yesterday, while brainstorming with some friends as to the best thing to do with their old buildings, we discussed all the options. I realized the issues that arise are the same whether it’s buildings, programs, governments, institutions or people. The question starts with whether to tear down the old and bring in the new or adapt the old to serve the new. It seems in the midst of such pondering, I always come back to a basic premise that one has to understand the past in order to know who and where they are today. Only then can a person figure out where they want to ‘ and should ‘ go tomorrow.
Sometimes the only way we have of knowing those who came before us and to experience what life forces they encountered is by the artifacts and stories they left behind. A corseted long dress of the 1800s differs a great deal from the stretch fabric jeans worn by females today. That certainly tells us a lot about the changing role of women through the years.
The fact that the first Indiana state legislators in 1817 adjourned to the spring near the Constitution Elm in Corydon to cool off while writing our first constitution gives a real feel for the value of being able to regulate our own thermostats today.
I am ever grateful that our ancestors had the insight to save the buildings that housed the development of our state. Old traditions and buildings define our roots through history. But buildings, just like old ladies, do take a lot of care to keep them in the upright position. The Homecomers Hall at the Harrison County Fairgrounds is one such structure. It was built in 1909 to honor the 50-year anniversary of what now is the longest running consecutive county fair in Indiana. As it has for the past 157 years, this year it served as the display area for flowers, vegetables, canned foods and baked goods. It stands as a statement of a long commitment to agriculture and farm heritage. It’s new addition, the Talmage Windell Memorial Agriculture Building, is a statement of the expanded role and uses of present days’ county fair facilities.
Our community must exercise adaptive reuse in order to serve residents, businesses, manufacturers and tourists. The various organizations focused on the maintenance and development of our community are all striving to stay relevant to people and activities in 2017 and to build a good foundation for the future.
In the process of applying to become a Stellar Community under a state assistance program, there were a good many studies that analyzed the assets and needs in Southern Indiana. Experts were called upon, open town meetings took place and local leaders worked to develop plans that made for progress. This was a complicated and thorough process. With a plan now in place, the work is beginning to show. Several of our underutilized buildings and facilities are being converted for new uses. We will have what the studies said our residents wanted: apartments downtown, green spaces for family recreation, new restaurants, high-speed Internet and updated goods and services.
Once the programs and buildings began to become transformed, the ‘let’s fix up and grow for the future’ attitude becomes contagious.
The Corydon Democrat building is a good example of the potential in a building. Built in 1837, it has been overhauled through the years to accommodate a variety of uses: a doctor’s residence and office, hotel and dining rooms, apartments, law offices, newspaper print shop and office. The old hot-lead type of the early years of printing gave way to a modern ‘off set’ form of printing in 1972 and the inside of the building had to be altered to accommodate new equipment and processes. Today, all the printing is sent off site and we are studying the best use of this property along Capitol Avenue in Corydon. We are looking at the large storage areas on the north side of the building, concluding this is not the best use of the location. Our question is how to put this area into a use that supports the revitalization of the commercial area around the First State Capitol.
Such changes must be taken in concert with all the other developments in the area.
Even with all the good advice and serious planning, there is still a lot of entrepreneurial risk for building owners, institutions and business leaders. Aggravating ‘dust’ seems to pop up from unexpected places, but the transformations in the works here in Southern Indiana are definitely worth it.