BROOKVILLE – There are landmarks across the state that were wonderful examples of beauty and charm in their heyday. However, today many are in danger of being destroyed if individuals or groups don’t step up to help.
On Aug. 21, those who attended the Franklin County Public Library District’s Hooked on History series at the Brookville Library learned about some of these endangered structures and some that have been saved.
Julie Schlesselman, Local History and Genealogy Department manager, began with a local success story.
“In 1991, the Valley House was on Indiana’s 10 Most Endangered list. However, the 167-year-old landmark was not lost to the wrecking ball.”
The structure had various owners over the years, and “when it was closed in the 1970s, it was the longest continuously working hotel in Indiana. At that time, it was rapidly deteriorating under a bad roof.”
Fast forward nearly 50 years, and it is being brought back to life.
“Earlier this year, construction began on Valley House Flats,” which will have a combination of 27 senior and 20 market-rate apartments at 450 Main St. The developer is Batesville Senior Cafe chairman Bruce Rippe. “What a wonderful addition to Brookville,” she noted.
Jessie Russett, Indiana Landmarks Eastern Regional Office, Cambridge City, director, explained how Indiana Landmarks works to “save the most endangered” structures.
“We are the largest statewide preservation organization in the U.S. .... What we do revitalizes communities, reconnects us to our heritage and saves meaningful places.
“We have nine different offices across the state, and our central office is in Indianapolis. It is in the former Central Avenue Methodist Church, which at one time had the largest Methodist congregation in Indiana. Before it closed, there were 30 people left in the congregation.
“They didn’t want to just close it and let it sit, so they donated it the Old Centrum Foundation. Unfortunately, this group didn’t have the best of luck with it, so it closed in 1999.
“In 2008, Indiana Landmarks took it over,” restoring the building through a $19 million project, with $16 million donated by the Cook family, Bloomington.
Venues on the campus can be rented for weddings, concerts, meetings and other special occasions.
The 10 Most Endangered List was started to draw attention to Hoosier properties and encourage individuals to help in preservation efforts.
Russett revealed some of the other projects Indiana Landmarks has assisted with:
- Snow Hill Covered Bridge, Franklin County – The truss bridge was built in 1895. “Back in the 1980s, INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) was destroying all our covered bridges. By putting them on our 10 Most list, we got people involved in helping preserve them.”
- Morris-Butler House, Indianapolis – “This was one of our first projects. This building is directly behind our central office. We use it as rental space, and it has been a museum.”
- Holler House, Lockerbie Square, Indianapolis – “This was the first residential project we ever took on.”
- West Baden Springs Hotel – “This hotel in its current form opened up in 1902. It was only operated as a resort for 30 years, closing in 1932 .... This was one of our main inspirations to do the 10 Most list. In 1991, we saw this property, an amazing one that didn’t need to be lost. We took possession in 1998 and started a rehab .... Later, the Cook family purchased the building and completed the rehab in 2007.”
- When the Jennings Building, New Castle, renovation is complete, it will have street level storefronts and restaurants and housing on the top two floors.
- The Mount Pleasant Beech Church, Carthage, “was built in 1864 in the simple Greek style.” It is the last remaining public structure associated with the Mount Pleasant Beech community, the oldest free black settlement in the state.
- Lyles Station School, Gibson County – “It was built in 1922 as a free black settlement and it was a school for anyone, African Americans, whites, etc. .... We assisted with the funding. They did such a nice job on this rehab that people from Washington, D.C., have come to see it and the museum collection.”
- Knightstown Academy – “We had to get so involved in this project that we actually acquired the building. We found a developer out of Michigan who turned it into affordable housing.”
- Cannelton Cotton Mill – “When it was built in the 1850s, this was the largest building west of the Appalachians. It was so prominent and important, it was deemed a national landmark by the National Parks Service .... It’s used for affordable housing now. It blows my mind how all these historical buildings work for housing,” Russett revealed.
- Bush Stadium, Indianapolis – “When it was listed on the 10 Most Endangered List, it was used as a dump where they started storing cars .... It has been converted into office space.”
- Muncie Fieldhouse – “This was built in 1928 .... The state of Indiana has 15 of the largest gymnasiums in the country, and this is one of them.” The structure also has a lot of history: “Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at this location and Abbott and Costello performed there .... In 2017, a tornado went through Munice and took off the top of the building .... Muncie School officials were going to demolish the building, but Ball State University took it over.”
- Gerig Barn, Fulton County – “From 2001-04, round barns were falling down,” including this one. “We started a barn series called Barn Again! where we help owners preserve historic barns by suggesting strategies for their use.”
Russett pointed out that even though Indiana Landmarks has had many success stories, “there are 16 properties that have been demolished or fallen into disrepair.”
One of them was the Anderson Athletic Park Public Swimming Pool. “It is in a really neat location. The restrooms are underneath the egg-shaped pool .... A lot of communities are pulling out of having public pools, so there is still no solution of what to do with it.”
She also revealed the 2019 10 Most Endangered:
- Reid Memorial Presbyterian Church, Richmond;
- Church of the Holy Cross, Indianapolis;
- Cannelton Historic District;
- Pulaski County Courthouse, Winamac;
- Downtown Attica;
- Crump Theatre, Columbus;
- Circus Hall of Fame, Peru;
- Mineral Spring Hotel, Paoli;
- John Howe Mansion, Howe; and
- Indiana Veterans’ Home, West Lafayette.
For more information, please visit www.indianalandmarks.org.