Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Old Courthouse

A recent story in The Dispatch told us that Davidson County is going to spend $940,000 on two repair projects, including $617,500 for external repairs to the Old Courthouse on Main Street. About $150,000 of that designated courthouse money will come from Preservation North Carolina, a nonprofit designed to protect and preserve historic buildings.

The stately Old Davidson County Courthouse is due for some repairs.
Sounds like a good idea to me. I'm into historic preservation. It's a way to save unique architecture as well as preserving an example of a construction skill set that's almost lost. As it is, the courthouse exterior is a living museum (as well as a real working edifice that houses the Davidson County Historical Museum). Furthermore, the Old Courthouse is a well-known landmark. To my way of thinking, preserving old structures is also a way to enhance our quality of life — an appreciation for something that you can't quite put your finger on but by the same measure something you know is there. You can feel it. Perhaps more importantly, you can also feel it when you've lost it.

Preservation is also a way to link ourselves to the history that got us here. By keeping our ties to the past — how and why those who went before us implemented their particular plan for the town — we might have a better understanding of how to ford our own way to the future.

But if you glance at some of the reader comments to the story, you'd think the county was ready to take barrels of currency and throw them into the Yadkin River.

Even the state recognizes the courthouse's history.
Example 1: "Why? If it is so important then I am sure people will be willing to donate private funds. I am the future generation and we have a courthouse. Paint a picture and lets move on. People are going without food and shelter in this county, allocating nearly $1,000,000 is unacceptable."

Example 2: "Money on History, now the question is who made that money to do the job, and were did it come from? That is Lexington for you folks waste tax dollars on empty buildings. People will not bring their business here because of an old building's."

Opposition to historic preservation almost always brings up the argument that the money can be better spent elsewhere. Usually, that means feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.

Well, I'm for that, too. Who isn't? It's a really good-sounding argument for collecting votes, but I'm not sure using tax dollars is the way to go here. Use $1 million to feed the hungry? Then what? When the money's gone, I'll bet the hungry are still going to be hungry. Throw in another million? When does that train ride end?

It was suggested that preserving the courthouse — which was, ironically enough, no doubt built by tax money in the 1850s — could be done by private donations. I might argue that a better way to care for the needy is already in place with organizations like the Salvation Army, Pastor's Pantry, most churches and any number of nonprofits, including the spectacular work done by the United Way.

There are no simple financial solutions, either for taking care of the indigent or for historic preservation. And I'm not sure one takes priority over the other. Both are important concerns and both require our attention.

1 comment:

  1. Nicely said Bruce. Unfortunately we live in a world where mobile homes are condidered fine architecture and fastfood fine cusine by some folks and shows about swamp people and pawn shops rule TV. Smart phones with texts, twitter, Yahoo, and OMG have made history so 30 seconds ago. Reminds me of Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi:"They paved paradice and put up a parking lot." Hey there's an idea of what to do with the Old Courthouse. NOT!