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Every building tells a story

August 3, 2018 12:29 am

As the value of history rises in the Twin Counties, it makes sense to save the irreplaceable cultural and artistic touchstones we have, just as Olana and the Thomas Cole House have expanded their reach on an international scale.

As part of the attempt to keep the symbols of our heritage from irreparably aging and crumbling, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is pushing for additional federal funding to help localities restore and preserve and, perhaps, find new purposes for our historic buildings.

We’ve seen historic buildings in Greene and Columbia counties demolished before they were past their prime, their contents sold or destroyed. Others have been abandoned and left to stand, ignored and forgotten as developers with big ambitions and low funds come and go.

Gillibrand hopes to counteract President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Historic Preservation Fund, which supplies grants to help history-oriented communities restore old buildings and historic sites to attract visitors who want to take a trip into the past. Trump’s cuts would be a serious mistake that would hurt communities like those in Greene and Columbia counties that depend on history for tourist dollars.

History can have ancillary effects on a community. A sharp-looking restored historic structure can improve the aesthetics of streets and neighborhoods. Rehabilitation work on old buildings can create many temporary jobs and even some permanent jobs. And it doesn’t hurt that local contractors can bid for and be awarded those jobs. That keeps money spent in the community.

The Hudson Opera House, now Hudson Hall, and the Wick Hotel, once thought to be on the verge of extinction, each received $2.3 million from the Historic Preservation Fund and are thriving today. With help from the fund, Union Station in Chatham, once abuzz with train travelers, and the Hillsdale General Store, still stand, and are sources of great pride in their communities.

In Greene County, a new team of developers plans to have a go at the ForeLand Building on Water Street in Catskill. The ForeLand Building, once the home of the warehouse for the successful Oren’s Furniture Store and before that, a 19th-century ironworks factory, will get another chance at life thanks to the Historic Preservation Fund.

The fund supports more than history. It means economic development, job creation and protection of resources that, if lost, future generations will not see again. The architecture of our communities must be safeguarded. We may not realize it, but every building tells a story, and each story is worth recounting.