Preservation group wants to help set up historic districts

June 17, 2005

Bulletin Staff Writer

The National Trust for Historic Preservation wants to help set up historic districts on Starling Avenue and Church Street in Martinsville, as well as in Fieldale, to promote community revitalization and tourism in the area.

Ultimately, it will be up to area residents, officials indicated.

Robert Nieweg, director of the trust's Southern Field Office, said the trust plans to begin researching the history of those locations this summer.

Half of the $20,000 cost will be paid by the state, Nieweg said. The other half will be shared by Martinsville, Henry County, The Harvest Foundation and the trust.

Efforts to put those areas on the National Register of Historic Places would begin once the trust is able to prove they should be preserved, said Nieweg. Communities then must tackle the preservation efforts, he said.

He thinks that people who own property in those areas would be willing to pursue setting up historical districts because of the benefits involved, such as qualifying for tax credits when rehabilitating their properties, he said.

"Being on the National Register does not limit in any way what the property owner can do with his property," Nieweg emphasized.

Work on pursuing National Register status could begin in about a year if enough interest can be generated, he added.

Nieweg was the keynote speaker for the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association's (MURA) annual meeting on Thursday. He shared a report that the trust prepared about promoting community revitalization in Martinsville and Henry County.

The report will be formally presented to the community at a "preservation roundtable" to be scheduled within the coming weeks, he said.

At The Harvest Foundation's request, representatives of the trust assessed Martinsville and Henry County during visits over the past few years.

Martinsville and Henry County have many historic buildings and areas that can be revitalized to help the community support its diverse neighborhoods, stabilize and improve property values, attract newcomers and visitors, and possibly attract new business and industry, the report says.

"A significant number of historic buildings, traditional neighborhoods and scenic landscapes remain in good shape in Henry County and Martinsville. Importantly, these places provide ... attractive places to live, work and visit" among people interested in small communities, the rural way of life, natural beauty, a low cost of living and pleasant climate, the report says.

An example is uptown Martinsville. The report says the district is "the heart of Henry County," and the architecture of its older buildings, mainly intact, presents the appearance "of a compact small town" within a town.

The report suggests rejuvenating the old Henry County courthouse because it is a symbol of the community and using it for local history exhibits and as a meeting place.

Another preservable feature of the community is its old schools.

"I love the schools you have in Martinsville and Henry County," Nieweg said, noting that older schools in many places are being abandoned in favor of more modern buildings that lack the same aesthetic qualities.

The report also recommends instilling a historic preservation "ethic" in area residents that encourages them to rehabilitate and maintain historic buildings, finding new uses for those no longer suitable for their original purposes.

Community revitalization will not happen overnight, Nieweg said, but will happen over time through public-private partnerships.


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