Monday, July 27, 2015

Preserving history has economic benefits

I learned something last week about an agreement that protects historic bridges in Indiana, such as the covered bridge at Darlington, which was posted to the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 28, 1990, and the covered bridge at Deer’s Mill, which is “eligible for the National Register of Historic Places,” according to Bridgehunter.com. 
It was while reporting (researching) a story about the historic bridge over Eel Creek at Bowling Green than I learned a bridge that is on the National Register of Historic Places cannot be moved without the agreement of the Indiana State Historic Preservation Officer and the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation of the State of Indiana. 
The “programmatic agreement" was entered into by the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Transportation. It can be found on the IN.gov website in a document titled HistoricBridgePA.pdf. 
It protects Indiana’s historic bridges, which is important because there has always been a pressure, however subtle, to rewrite history for selfish ends. If any kind of structure is historic and a metal plaque is installed at the site that documents the structure’s importance, that plaque cannot be later changed with a swipe of a computer mouse like historic documents. 
While the agreement mentioned above only affects historic bridges, I have to applaud any effort to protect our historic landmarks. That is exactly what Indiana Landmarks is doing in the state. 
Indiana Landmarks’ Mark Dollase and Tommy Kleckner spoke at a meeting of the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board in Indianapolis recently. Most people may not know such a board exists. 
The board was reviewing INDOT’s desire to move the bridge on S.R. 46 at Bowling Green to Brown County. INDOT plans to split the last standing two-span bridge built by the Vincennes Bridge Company into two parts and place it on the Salt Creek Trail that is being built near Nashville. 
After more than an hour of testimony from INDOT officials, Indiana Landmarks personnel, and residents who live near Bowling Green, the Historic Review Board decided that moving the bridge would be reason for the National Park Service to remove the bridge from the National Register of Historic Places. 
Each year, Indiana Landmarks lists its “10 Most Endangered” landmarks on its site, http://www.indianalandmarks.org. 
This year’s top 10 list includes landmarks in Attica, Bedford, Chesterfield, South Bend, Indianapolis, Huntington, Evansville, Greenwood and Indianapolis as well as “Indiana County Homes.” 
Now, lest you think this is all academic and stuff of dry and dusty library tomes, our historic structures have very practical impacts other than just preserving history. 
Where would West Central Indiana be each year if people didn’t flock to see our covered bridges? Think about the money spent by the tourists who stay in hotels many miles from Parke County while visiting the festival, the gasoline that is pumped into vehicles, the restaurants that benefit, etc., etc. 
The Vincennes Bridge Company iron bridges are rapidly disappearing, being replaced by new cement bridges, such as the one INDOT plans to install at Bowling Green and like the one that stands adjacent to the covered bridge at Deer’s Mill in Montgomery County. 
Clay County has four of the remaining Vincennes Bridge Company bridges and Robert Hostetler, a local businessman and resident has said perhaps people will not only want to see historic covered bridges but historic iron bridges as well. 
When I was 14, my parents wanted to take a trip but could not decide where to go so they asked me. 
I had just discovered the joys of reading Mark Twain’s books and told them I would really like to see his home town. 
So, we packed up our new 1965 Dodge Coronet 440 and drove to Hannibal, Mo. We visited caves that Twain (Samuel Clemens) probably walked through when he was a boy and we toured the magnificent home he built after achieving fame and fortune that included such innovations as electric lamps that plugged into floor sockets. 
We weren’t alone. Perhaps millions of people have visited Twain’s home town and rode the riverboat that docks there on the Mississippi. 

So, I, for one, am glad there are agreements like the agreement signed by the Federal Highway Administration and INDOT. I’m sure there are other such agreements that cover structures other than bridges. Our history needs to be protected. Too often we repeat our mistakes. At least we need to know what we did right and wrong in the past.