Fifty years ago, the best thing many people could think of to do with a vacant, abandoned or underused building was to tear it down. Today, Ohioans recognize historic places as valuable resources, essential to understanding our shared story. People are finding innovative ways to repurpose our old warehouses, factories, houses, schools, barns and commercial buildings.
Historic preservation has become economic development, and the National Historic Preservation Act makes it possible. This change in thinking is not a coincidence.
After World War II, the nation began changing quickly: suburbs sprang up to house returning veterans and their growing families; interstate highways pushed through city neighborhoods and rolling countryside; and Urban Renewal — a program of the 1950s-70s that demolished large areas of some cities for new development — was considered forward-thinking.
In response to this rampant development that erased many historic places, on Oct. 15, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Historic Preservation Act. It made preserving historic, architectural and archaeological resources whenever possible federal policy.
Since 1966, more than 3,800 properties and historic districts in Ohio have been added to the National Register of Historic Places, recognizing their significance. Ohio, the 36th-largest state geographically, boasts the third-highest number of listings — showing how much Ohioans care about protecting the fabric of our communities for future generations.
Imagine an Ohio without Severance Hall, the grand Art Deco building that’s home to the Cleveland Orchestra; or without the spectacular American Indian earthworks built by Ohio’s native people thousands of years ago. Dayton’s Paul Laurence Dunbar home highlights the literary triumphs of this son of former slaves, and showcases the power of determination. The National Historic Preservation Act has made it possible for us to preserve these rich cultural resources. These are the places that define our neighborhoods and communities, and help us to better understand where we came from.
Tax credits made possible through the National Historic Preservation Act breathe new life into historic neighborhoods, spurring economic development and reinvestment in historic places. The federal and state historic tax credit programs, administered in Ohio by the Ohio History Connection and the Ohio Development Services Agency, have stimulated over $3.9 billion in investment in historic buildings in 61 counties. Completed Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit projects have created more than 8,000 construction jobs and 10,000 permanent jobs.
Fifty years after the National Historic Preservation Act, Ohio ranks among our nation’s leading states in preserving historic places, thanks to combined national, state and local efforts.
To celebrate this big anniversary, the Ohio History Connection is sponsoring Ohio Open Doors Sept. 9-18, when over 100 of our historic buildings and landmarks will be open for special tours and talks, all free to the public. You can discover the history and uniqueness of Ohio’s most treasured places and explore the impact of half a century of historic preservation.
You can learn more about Ohio Open Doors and see all participants by visiting ohiohistory.org/opendoors.
Burt Logan is Ohio History Connection Executive Director and CEO of the State Historic Preservation Office.