Monday, November 17, 2014

Death of a National Landmark

For one last opportunity to help save this national landmark, please contact local Cynthiana officials! For more info about the house:
Cynthiana Board of Commissions: (859) 234-7150 
Cynthiana Fiscal Court: 859-234-7136 or  
Representative Tom McKee:  or (859) 234-5879 

On Veterans Day, the Cynthiana Fiscal Court chose to ‘honor’ the memory of one of its most prominent Veterans by voting to demolish his residence, Ridgeway (aka The Handy House), just 3 years shy of its 200th birthday. For those of you who wanted a pool to be built in the place of this national historic treasure, congratulations, you have quite a victory on your hands. Since there is no money to construct a pool, and since the demolition of a house on the National Register removes the possibility of federal money helping in said construction (or completion of the park), you will be the proud new owners of a hole in the ground – with only the memory of the opportunity and heritage that just slipped through your fingers.

Out of all the wonderful memories I have of Cynthiana from my childhood, none quite compare to the recent memories I have of Cynthiana’s people, fighting to save one of the most important pieces of history left in the community. I watched dedication and love of community in action. Years of tireless work, acts of love, in the vain hopes of preserving a piece of our heritage to pass on to future generations.

With each temporary victory, political winds would blow once again, pressuring those who gave an oath to preserve history until they violated said oath and gave up the hard won victory before its allocated time was fulfilled. Despite the 2000+ signatures of community members expressing their support, and despite the thousands of dollars continually raised to save the house, those who wanted a pool had a more powerful voice, sometimes whispered in the right ears instead of expressed outwardly in open dialog.

As I cherish the memories of new friends made, and proud moments witnessed, there are a few memories I will gladly try to forget: the easy disregard for historically significant properties expressed by a few local officials, and the sarcastic comments of a county magistrate who was of the opinion that we should just pick another house to “waste” our time and efforts on – namely his house – as he thought this was just another “Money Pit” waiting to happen - Despite the fact that no city or county money was to be used for restoration. Well, I have an answer for that comment made out of ignorance: history and the heritage of a community are not interchangeable nor fabricated. They are tangible elements of a community’s narrative that we, as wise stewards, have a responsibility to preserve for the future generations.

Just what kind of history is Cynthiana voting to erase? The kind that solidifies its place of prominence among our statewide and national histories. When we point to significant accomplishments of this community, should we forget the earliest foundations of pioneer accomplishments? The same foundation that built educational institutions, fought to keep our independence, governed through the Missouri Compromise, built an agricultural success story that inspired a new generation of pioneers that traveled west. From these accomplishments grew a struggle with slavery, freedom, more war, a split state, and an indelible connection to one of the most beloved Presidents of U.S. history.

When our students learn about the Civil War, and they read the words spoken by Lincoln: “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game” (1861), will Cynthiana students be taught about their community’s connection to this important moment in U.S. history – Lincoln writing them to a native Cynthiana boy from Ridgeway? Wouldn't it have been a remarkable lesson learned if they could walk the hill up to a restored and beautiful landmark in their community, and could proudly point to it as evidence of Cynthiana’s rightful place in our national history? Sadly, that opportunity has passed. But hey, maybe in a decade or so, some of the kids of the community might be able to go swimming, and isn't that more important anyway?

For those of you who have not followed this issue with rapt attention: Despite the house’s cosmetic appearance, it was inspected and deemed structurally sound by a top Cincinnati architect. After producing a sound business plan by real estate developer and Brown descendant, as requested, and as favorably received in late July by both the Fiscal Court and City Commission, the finances necessary to restore the house were within grasp. Since the house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, simply allowing interested parties to raise the money for restoration, federal funding opportunities would be available for the park’s completion. However, this disgraceful decision by the Fiscal Court has denied the future generations a national historic treasure in their community they can look upon proudly, a new community space which has been greatly needed, and a completed park they were promised over a decade ago. The plan proposed was a sound one and a benefit to all in the community as it also included provisions for the pool next to the house. Now that this landmark is passing, just how many 200 year old structures with city, statewide, and national prominence do you have in Cynthiana to make this one obsolete?

Raising a glass in final farewell to a great and beautiful monument of history not worthy of a community not willing to allow able hands to save it within the proposed few years. “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” ― George Orwell


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