In my last article, I discussed the preservation of cemeteries within Mason County. However, there is another more pressing dilemma facing our home. Cemeteries are easy. They may sit neglected, but they are rarely bulldozed. Buildings, on the other hand, are being lost at a rate that we can no longer permit.
Sure, most of Main Street in Point Pleasant still stands. However, our county encompasses much more than our county seat. Just within my lifetime, a short 19 years, we’ve seen so much of our physical history be demolished in the name of “progress” or lost to fire. Among the losses are the Lakin Industrial School for Colored Boys, Steenbergen/Lewis farm (Gallipolis Ferry), and Virgil Lewis house (Mason). Of everything that could’ve reached the point of no return, I still can’t believe that one of them was the home of our first state historian and a beloved educator.
Obviously, this wholesale destruction needs to stop, but why?
First and foremost, these buildings are records of our history, more detailed than any piece of paper. As my professor, Dr. Keith Alexander, loves to say, buildings are palimpsests. Every change to the building can be seen somewhere within, and this records not only the changing function of the structure, but the changing ideas of the town.
Second, you may not believe it but many of these buildings are truly unique! The Lakin Industrial School was one of only two in the state, and no other street in the country looks just like Main Street in Point Pleasant. Take the Christ Episcopal Church for example. It was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, a nationally famous architect!
Third, these places have been a part of our community for much longer than you or I have been around. Think of Point Pleasant without the State Theater or Mason without Foglesong’s. They’re as much a part of our identity as the Wahama White Falcons, Point Pleasant Black Knights, or Hannan Wildcats. I know that here in the Bend Area, Foglesong’s has been taking care of us during our times of grief for generations. How weird would it be to drive through town, only for one of those buildings to be gone? You’d probably end up with whiplash from hitting the brakes so hard!
Fourth, these structures provide a sense of continuity. To come out of the 1937 flood and see that your home was still there, or to come home from college and see that nothing has changed is a good feeling.
Fifth, these places serve as a physical remnant of those who came before us. Why do you think we preserve places like Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington? It is a physical link to our nation’s first president. While our buildings might not be that important to national history, our buildings were the homes and workplaces of people who still mattered. These were our families, our teachers, and our friends. And now, in the age of Ancestry.com, their memory is more alive than ever.
Sixth, and the most important for their preservation, historic buildings are sustainable and economic. Why would you tear down something that could last 200 more years only to replace it with a cheap, cookie-cutter store that will last 50 years at most? Just look at England. There are medieval buildings still in use. Here, we see homes built in the ‘80s already in need of demolition. For any business owner, it is more cost-effective to restore their building than to replace it.
This also creates more local jobs than building something new. To fix your window, who are you going to hire? You’ll call Joe Smith at his window repair shop down the road. What if you need some new wood cut to match the historic wood timbers in your home? There’s a sawmill in West Columbia, and multiple wood carvers in our area. Roofing is another common problem. Well, there’s plenty of people around here who do that.
As far as the environmental impact, tearing down a typical downtown structure has the same impact as throwing away over a million pop cans. Along with that, everyone complains about their electric bill. Brick, wood, and concrete (old buildings) are the least energy consumptive materials. Plastic, steel, and vinyl (new buildings) consume the most energy.
For more information on preservation, there’s any number of organizations. I’d recommend the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Alliance of WV, or WV State Historic Preservation Office. You can also check out Donovan Rypkema’s book, “The Economics of Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide” for more info on the economics of it all. Or, you can check out his company’s website: PlaceEconomics.com.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society. More information on the organization found on Facebook at Mason County Historic Preservation. The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be 6:30 p.m., July 18.