By Debra Farst, Texas Main Street Program State Coordinator
As reported in the March 2012 issue of Main Street Matters, the Texas Main Street Program launched a pilot program in the Northeast Texas town of Pittsburg with a historic resources survey project. That project had the potential to lead to a National Register of Historic Places historic district nomination, which is yet another project in itself—and it’s a project that ultimately materialized during the remainder of 2012. Here’s how we got there.
A historic resources survey is an inventory of historic and non-historic buildings and structures within a designated area, along with information about individual building histories and physical descriptions. Pittsburg was selected after looking at all of our Main Street cities to see which ones needed the most assistance (i.e., the ones with no building inventory and no National Register buildings or districts in town). These cities also needed to have a compact downtown district with lots of good building stock, an effective Main Street board with functioning committees, and an active historical organization. Pittsburg was selected as the initial city for the pilot project with input from Greg Smith, National Register coordinator at the THC.
After an initial site visit by THC staff in February, the first public meeting was held in Pittsburg in May to inform citizens about the project and the need for volunteers to assist in the physical survey and gathering of information and images. During the visit, local community members brought in photographs and provided historical background information about the buildings and the town. Survey work was done by THC staff and Pittsburg volunteers the following morning. This consisted of taking photographs of every building in the district and filling out an inventory form for each one.
Information gathered during the survey was entered into a database by THC staff, along with historical and photographic materials. A historic context was written by Camp County Historical Commission members Vernon Holcomb and Stan Wiley, and then edited by THC Staff Leslie Wolfenden and Carlyn Hammons. A historic context is a narrative of the broader historical patterns that have influenced the development and character of the survey area, which includes geography, settlement, transportation, industry and commerce, social history and culture, physical development, and building patterns.
Over the following months, THC staff transformed the gathered information into a National Register Historic District nomination. A National Register listing, an honorific designation, is an excellent heritage tourism tool. It provides national recognition of a property’s historical or architectural significance and provides special consideration to the properties during federal projects. It also makes available a federal rehabilitation tax credit to qualifying building projects.
To wrap up the project, THC staff held a public meeting in the Pittsburg City Hall in late November to inform citizens about the National Register nomination and what it entails. The Pittsburg National Register Commercial Historic District nomination will go before the State Board of Review this month before being sent on to the National Park Service (NPS) for final approval and listing.
Once NPS finalizes the National Register nomination, the newly created survey database and images will be sent to Pittsburg so that city staff can easily update the information. The completed inventory can be coupled with the efforts of the economic restructuring committee for a complete database of downtown buildings, including historic and current information. New photographs should be taken every time a major façade renovation occurs, and a complete photographic survey can be done every five years.
This project could not have been completed without many partners, including: Pittsburg Main Street Manager Clint Hardeman; Camp County Historical Commissioners Holcomb and Wiley; the Pittsburg volunteers and city staff; Camp County staff; and staff from the THC’s Main Street and National Register program staff. They not only collaborated to produce a great National Register Historic District nomination, but also created a working inventory tool for Pittsburg to use now and in the future.
In the current Texas Main Street network, 57 cities do not have National Register commercial districts, and 75 cities do not have local commercial districts downtown, so there are tremendous opportunities to expand this program.
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