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History needs a hand

March 12, 1999

The demolition of a 1770s-era log house last week was a "comedy of errors," according to Paul Prodonovich, Washington County's director of permits and inspections director. Pat Schooley, secretary of the county's historical society, describes it as a "snafu." Commissioners' President Gregory Snook says "a mistake was made" and promises that the county will "revisit what is in place."

If the commissioners are serious about doing that, they have to do more than express concern and prohibit verbal authorizations of demolition permits. It's time to give the county's Historic District Commission the power to prevent such travesties.

The house that was destroyed was the main house of a plantation called Fox Deceived and was built by Conrad Hogmire, who became one of the county's first commissioners in 1776. Ironically, another Dual Highway property once owned by Hogmire became the center of a controversy when it was demolished in the dead of night in February 1991.

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At the time, preservationists talked about putting more teeth into the ordinance, but past county boards gave the matter lip service, but little more. In fact, if the state didn't require a Historic District Commission as a prerequisite to certain state grants, it's doubtful the commissioners would have authorized one here.

That's history, but before any more historic structures are demolished, the commissioners need to give the Historic District Commission the right to review proposed demolitions and alterations of historic structures. The county also needs to enact some tough measures to punish anyone who demolishes an historic property without an approved permit.

We know we will hear opposition from some who say that in some cases, the past has to make way for the future. We agree, but Hogmire house's destruction shows us that local historic structures are at present protected only by the owner's good will. There's no reason more of them can't be re-used, or worked into a new development. But until it's required, like the sediment-control regulations most builders face, most won't bother. This ordinance needs teeth, before another major piece of local history bites the dust.

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