This week, I had planned on laying out my proposal for saving our rapidly disappearing history, but before I go any further, perhaps I should give you a few more reasons for saving these buildings? After all, coming from me, it probably sounds like I’m arguing that we need to save these buildings simply because they’re historic, simply because they’re old. That isn’t the case, not even close.
First, these buildings are part of what makes our community “home.” I’m sure many of my older readers already realize this, because they’ve experienced the change in the community over the last few decades. When these historic buildings are demolished, they take with them those intangible feelings that tie the community together. For us younger folks, myself included, imagine your community without those buildings. Imagine Point Pleasant without Main Street, or the Mansion House. Imagine Mason without Wahama (a real possibility), or Foglesong’s. Imagine Southside without the stately plantations, or the farmhouses that dot soon to be Old Route 35. Truly, it’s a matter of civic pride.
Second, these buildings are a lot stronger than people think. Most of the buildings on Main Street have been standing for 130-plus years. The homes on Front Street in Hartford are even older, and the plantations dotting the county are older than that! They’ve taken the worst the Ohio River can throw at them, a few fires, and quite a bit of neglect. Simply put, they’ve got good bones, and demolishing them in favor of a new building that might last 50 years is a waste of money.
Third, along those same lines, old buildings are better for the environment! Think about it. The building’s already there, none of that material has to be made today. If it’s demolished, not only do you need to produce more material, the old ends up in a landfill somewhere. Old buildings, especially brick, are usually pretty solid and airtight. The stereotypical drafty old houses weren’t made that way. There’s usually a hole somewhere that needs fixed, or more likely, the old insulation needs replaced. There’s nothing saying you can’t reinsulate an old building. To that same point, historic windows have much thicker glass than new ones (hint, that’s better for your heating/AC bill). And last, there’s nothing saying you can’t make some “green” upgrades. New HVAC systems, geothermal heat pumps, chilled/heated water systems, solar panels, the list goes on. There are ways to add all of those without harming the building’s historic character.
Need an economic reason? I’ve got that too.
Fourth, most historic commercial buildings can be adapted to fit any need. Their layout was usually very generic, which gives the new businesses more than enough options. And like the environmental retrofits, there are ways to add new features without harming the historic character. In terms of residential buildings, most were built for a family of at least six. With the smaller families most people have today, there’s more than enough room. Combine a few rooms here and there, and voilà!
Fifth, most historic commercial buildings were retail on the first floor with living space on the upper floors. Today, that would make great rental space for people looking to live downtown! So, on top of income from a business, there is potential for rental income.
Sixth, and this is perhaps the most important, historic buildings provide a solid base for the local economy. Let’s be honest, people come to Mason County for three reasons: the Battle of Point Pleasant, the River Museum, and the Mothman Festival. And people who are here for those things expect to see a historic town. They want to shop at unique stores on a historic Main Street. They want to drive around and look at pretty historic houses. If those things disappear, so do the tourists and so does the money. But, if we fix things up and really market our history, that tourism revenue provides a base from which we can invest in infrastructure and start attracting the jobs that I know everybody wants.
After all, a tourism economy isn’t just the museum. It’s the hotels and bed and breakfasts, gas stations and mechanics, restaurants, unique downtown businesses, and other fun stuff to do. It’s kayaking, hiking/biking trails, driving tours, events and festivals, the State Theater, and so much more! From there, it creates a ripple effect. Who gets paid to maintain the historic buildings that are attracting the tourists? Hardware stores, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers, etc. And we can’t forget the florists and artists that make the town look beautiful! A booming local economy supports the other businesses that locals need. Grocery stores, hair stylists, dentists, doctors, pharmacies, banks, insurance, real estate, and lawyers. A booming local economy attracts the larger manufacturing companies that everybody wants. The added revenue from all of this supports the police, fire departments, EMS, parks, community centers, libraries, schools, and roads. And an expanded economy once this begins taking place requires more power production, more electric/water/sewer lines, and everything else that just goes with running making a town run. And finally, granted, it’s not a major impact since most farmers deal with bulk produce or livestock, but you know what tourists absolutely love? Farmers’ markets!
Did I miss anyone? I don’t think so, and it all starts with heritage tourism.
And the best part? Because there would be more businesses and people paying taxes, you can keep the taxes relatively low and still gain that extra revenue that pays for the police, fire departments, EMS, libraries, schools, etc. This also diversifies our economy and makes sure that Mason County can survive if a major employer were to shut down in the future.
Next week, I’ll lay out my proposal for saving Mason County’s historic resources, thus saving any chance we have of profiting from heritage tourism and diversifying our local economy.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.