Importance of preservation

“The power of place” was the dominating theme at the Annual Preservation Awards Thursday. Sponsored by Tiffin Historic Trust, the dinner meeting attracted about 50 people to the University Commons on the Heidelberg University campus.

THT President Jackie Fletcher welcomed the crowd and pointed out the trust is beginning its 38th year.

She encouraged members to invite more people to join. Her goal is to obtain 37 new members, one for every year of the group’s existence.

“We need to get some young people into this organization,” Fletcher said.

Giving the keynote address at the dinner was Christie Weininger, executive director of the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. She spoke of civic tourism and its underlying idea to attract visitors by having them experience a cross-section of the community and its residents.

“That is not just a trend. It’s becoming a movement, and it’s a shift in philosophy,” Weininger said. “The focus becomes the bigger picture. The clever communities out there are the ones who are starting to use civic tourism as a development tool.”

As an example, she spoke about a recent trip she took with her brother Andrew along A western segment of US 66. The highway was built in 1926 to connect Chicago and Los Angeles. Shops, restaurants and motels sprang up along the route to attract travelers.

Changes in transportation and travelers’ desires led to the demise of many of those businesses.

In some cases, small communities vanished from the landscape; however, many of these sites are being restored and visitors are interested.

“They want to see something authentic. We live in a digital, virtual world. People want to see the real deal,” Weininger said.

Communities that can promote the unique and authentic attributes of their towns are being rewarded with tourism dollars. Preserving historic buildings and other attractions is part of that effort.

Budget cuts at the state and federal levels are forcing local groups to get creative in locating and utilizing resources.

“People, places and economic development are all entwined,” Weininger said. “Basically, our job (as preservationists) is to capture the hearts and minds of people … and convince them of the importance of historic preservation. It’s not easy.”

Weininger said community agencies, organizations, churches, businesses and local officials should network rather than compete with one another. They need to plan activities spanning the year. In addition, she believes establishing relationships in surrounding areas also is beneficial.

“These relationships are not easy to create. They are built over time and constantly nurtured, and that needs to occur outside of a crisis situation so that when an emergency arises, that relationship is already in place,” Weininger said.

She said the destruction of the Seneca County Courthouse was the catalyst for the Ohio Historical Society to plan a historical preservation symposium, probably in 2014. The symposium is to generate ideas on using preservation as a tool to tell a community’s story.