Monday, March 1, 2010

The history of a place

Sometimes what makes a place special is the sense of history related to the place. Lincoln’s neighborhood in Springfield, Mesa Verde, Cahokia Mounds are just a few of the big historical sites I’m glad to have visited and hope to revisit. (Walking through Dealey Plaza 30 years ago was an entirely different experience I really would not like to repeat.) But in the spirit of know-your-place, I’ll describe a few that are (or were at the time) close by and therefore not only easy to visit frequently but also added to my sense of appreciation for the general location in which I live(d).

My present location, the area around Sault Sainte Marie, sometimes feels like one big historical site. Historical buildings are all around (including many of the buildings on my campus). The natural features, such as the St. Marys River Rapids and the pine forests have their own history. Of the many historical sites in this region, one of my favorites is the Mission Hill cemetery out in Bay Mills. Nothing brings history to life quite like a cemetery. Wait, does that make sense? Well you know what I mean.

The local historical society maintains several nice historical buildings and museums and several books are available on the history of the St. Marys River area. An especially fun book is the new Then-and-Now photo collection. Thanks, Bernie! A group is also working hard to preserve a bit of local history, the old Soo Theatre.

Local history walking paths are a nice way to preserve a town’s history. We have at least two here. I lived in Hays, KS for a while and the downtown history walk as well as old Ft. Hays were always fun ways to imagine life in frontier Hays City. It was a shame the Union Pacific station got demolished. Since there were so many of them, no one of them had any big historical significance. Too bad. They’re probably all gone now. A group in Hays did preserve the old Fox Theatre, though, similarly to how the local group is working toward preserving the Soo Theatre.

I’m reminded of another place made special for me by its local history. As a kid, my brothers and cousins would scramble through the woods near Grandpa’s house to visit the ruins of a canal lock in Groveport, Ohio. Scrambling through the woods added to the fun, but imagining what it was like moving freight by canal (i.e., before railroads) was also part of the fun. A small part of the canal bank has now been saved as part of a park. Good job, Groveport. Groveport also managed to save its downtown. It’s kind of yuppie-fied and not the out-of-the-way small town it used to be, but at least they were able to avoid betting completely phagocytized by the amoeboid growth of Columbus, Ohio, suburban development from which now surrounds Groveport.

Historical preservation has a long, well, history as a way to preserve the uniqueness of a place. It’s not just nostalgia. It’s also dollars. Old historic buildings can literally add value to the built environment via increased property values, increased tourism and just overall neighborhood preservation. Uniqueness = more valuable and more civic appreciation. As we moved to new areas, I generally tried to learn about its history. Thanks to the work of the local historical preservationists, I have always been able to. So, if you haven’t already, support your local historical society’s work toward keeping your area’s special, unique places intact.

No comments:

Post a Comment