By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
Findlay is joining other communities throughout the country in celebrating National Historical Preservation Month.
Sarah Sisser, executive director of the Hancock Historical Museum, explained the event is a national effort to raise awareness.
“It’s important to recognize that historic preservation is not just about saving a building because it’s old,” she said. “It’s about keeping those buildings as viable, relevant resources in our community, because they have inherent value. They’re imbued with value. They tell our collective story, our local history.”
While the National Trust for Historic Preservation created National Historic Preservation Month in 1971, Sisser said this is the first year the museum is promoting the observance.
“We are the only entity in our community that’s mission is really to promote the preservation of our local history, so I think it’s our responsibility to do so,” she said.
Sisser said people may not be aware that Findlay’s downtown historic district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Dating back to 1985, the district — which encompasses the central business district, South Main Street homes, West Sandusky Street homes and the north side of West Main Cross Street to Dietsch’s — was originally nominated for its architectural and historical significance. It includes approximately 275 structures.
Since the original listing, 53 buildings within the historic district have been demolished or destroyed, most of them north of the river.
An updated survey of the historic district was conducted in 2017, said Sisser.
“Listing on the National Register of Historic Places does not, in and of itself, offer any protection to a historic district or a historic building,” she said. “We’re fortunate in that we still have such a great stock of those buildings, both commercial buildings on our Main Street and then beautiful residential historic buildings. But there really is not much in place that would prevent those buildings from being demolished or significantly changed.”
She said it’s up to each community to decide what, if anything, should be done to protect those resources.
“So often times if somebody purchases a historic building downtown, a commercial building or a historic home, let’s say on South Main Street, they’ll frequently call the museum and ask, ‘Is there anything I can’t do to this building?’ or ‘Whose permission do I need to be able to make changes to the building?,'” Sisser said. “Frankly, right now the answer is you can do just about anything you want and there’s really not much in place preventing you from tearing down the building or changing it in many ways.”
These design guidelines are something the local community needs to put in place, she said.
Sisser said there is a local design review board that hadn’t been active for many years until recently. The board is now looking at blighted properties in the downtown area.
In larger communities that have significant historic districts — such as Savannah, Georgia, or Charleston, South Carolina — these boards review applications for things like painting the exterior of the building or making architectural changes, said Sisser.
The museum hopes to use this national observance as a way of showcasing local examples of preservation “and to shine a light on the homeowners and the building owners that have been such great stewards of those historic properties.”
These resources provide multiple benefits to a community, Sisser said.
“Old buildings give cities a sense of identity and authenticity, and that is very attractive to employers, employees and tourists, and there’s a lot of research to support that,” she said. “So it’s not just something that makes us feel good to preserve these old buildings. It’s also really of great benefit to our local economy.”
The museum has planned several events throughout May to raise awareness.
Signs that read “This Place Matters” are available at the museum. Community members can use the signs to designate the buildings that are important to them.
“They can put them in their windows. They can put them in their yards. They can take pictures holding signs in front of the places that matter to them, whether it be downtown buildings or their personal historic home. And we’d love for them to share those on social media, on our Facebook or on Instagram, to get a campaign going about the places that matter to us in Findlay and in Hancock County,” she said.
A photo contest will be held on the museum’s Facebook page for people to share pictures of the buildings and homes that they have preserved. The winner will receive a piece of Findlay glass.
Merchandise and books pertaining to preservation month will also be available in the museum’s gift shop.
“We have a lot of examples of preservation right here on our own campus,” said Sisser. “We have several buildings that are over 100 years old here on the museum’s campus. We also, when possible, try to showcase the stewardship and the successful examples of preservation with our events.”
Sisser added that there are many businesses and individuals who adaptively reuse and preserve local buildings and homes.
“It’s truly a labor of love. Anybody who owns a historic home knows that,” she said. “But it takes those kinds of people to keep those structures going and around for generations to come.”
An example of local historic preservation will be showcased once a week this month in The Courier’s Life section.
320 S. Main St.
Rooney & Ranzau, Ltd. (Davis Block, 1841)
Built by John Ewing in 1841, this is one of the oldest structures in downtown Findlay.
It was known for years as “The Old White Corner.” The upstairs housed the Hancock Courier printing offices and encompassed the offices to the south. A general store operated in the building from 1863 to 1889.
In 1906, the building was willed to David and Eva (Barney) Davis, and was redesigned by architect George J. Horn. The rear section was cut down to two floors and a stone façade was added, along with the owner’s name at the top: D.T. DAVIS.
Throughout the years, the building housed Buckeye National Bank, Gallaher Drugs and Lords Clothing. The Hancock County commissioners purchased the property in 2001.
The building saw extensive damage in the 2007 flood and had been threatened with demolition before it was purchased by Mike Mallet and leased to Christie Ranzau and Phil Rooney in 2014.
During the remodel that year, the interior south wall was exposed to show the original brick. Doors found in the building were repurposed, and reclaimed wood from the property was used to accent the attorneys’ offices. Many doors were salvaged from Central Middle School before it was razed. Additional period pieces have been added and combined with modern touches to create a unique style.