Preserving the past

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By Rachel Christian

When the old Yaggi building came down two weeks ago, I posted a photo of it on our Facebook page. Some of the comments we received surprised me.

There were angry comments from some readers who wanted to know why a building with so much history in the city of Mount Vernon had been demolished. Others took a “good riddance” attitude, proposing that other old, decrepit structures along Main Street be leveled as well.

Those comments got me thinking.

With the bicentennial less than a year ago, it’s undeniable that Mount Vernon is a historic town full of people who care deeply about preserving and protecting it. I assumed, as I’m sure many others did, that there was some organization dedicated to maintaining these structures that have lined the downtown streets for decades.

It turns out there isn’t. At least, not at the moment.

There are many outstanding groups in the community, such as the Greater Mount Vernon Association and the Posey County Historical Society, who do fantastic work to promote the city’s future and preserve its past. But overseeing and protecting the historical structures along Main Street would be a major undertaking; an effort that would need real support and engagement from the community.

The reason Roger Yaggi demolished the building that had been in his family for over 80 years was because he simply couldn’t afford it anymore. The taxes were high, the upkeep was expensive and the structure no longer served as his primary residence. He took no pleasure in tearing that building down. It is easy to pass judgment and accuse others of not trying hard enough after the tough decisions have been made. Those who criticized Yaggi were not there the past few years to help him pay the taxes. They weren’t there to place an offer on the building. This is why a group dedicated to preserving these structures could greatly benefit Mount Vernon.

There are some efforts to get that ball rolling. At a recent City Council meeting, Attorney Trent Van Haaften announced that money generated from the Landing TIF district would soon be available to nearby businesses for facade improvements. The process would almost work like a matching grant, with the business owners applying to utilize a portion of the funds, and then the district matching it.

But Van Haaften even noted that the approximately $30,000 captured over the last few years will only stretch so far. This is a solid first step to serve as a launching pad for renewed community interest in these aging yet familiar sites.

The major Main Street Renovation project is coming up next year. It is funded largely by INDOT grant money, and will add greenery, a walking trail, a bike path and other features to enhance the city street. It is a project I am excited about, but it does not include any plans to update or renovate the shops and business that sit along Main Street. Much of that area has been registered as a historic landmark, but the title alone does not automatically guarantee that the structures will be there for future generations to admire.

Only we can do that.