HUDSON — Cost of maintenance could pull the plug on historic designation for a culturally significant church.
The Historic Preservation Commission held another public hearing on Old Shiloh Baptist Church, 241 Columbia St., on Friday.
The former church is being considered for historic designation, in part as a place with cultural significance to the African-American community of Hudson.
Victoria Milne, who owns the building, formally addressed the commission and the community for the first time.
Milne is pleading hardship if the city were to designate it a historic building, and said she would sell it if the designation is approved.
“This is already a very expensive building since it has not been maintained for years,” Milne said. “I realize that members of the committee will say that preservation does not add expense, but every preservation committee in the country says that and it’s not true.”
City attorney Victoria Polidoro said Milne could not plead hardship until after the designation was approved.
She recommended the property owner present preliminary plans for renovation to the commission so there could be a collaboration.
“The decay I plan to address in the building has been underway for decades,” Milne said. “These are decades in which the prior owners and the city itself could have taken on the project of restoring the building.”
Milne, who has a background in architecture, said she plans to restore the building “with dignity.”
Ronald Kopnicki, an advocate for historic designation from the beginning, spoke of the faith of the first congregation members, who built the church by hand.
“Designation and preservation of Old Shiloh would construct, alongside the religious faith of its original congregation and their descendants, the foundation for another kind of faith, a civic faith,” Kopnicki said. “It would assure the community the government recognizes the community’s historic architectural and cultural heritage, as embodied in monuments like Old Shiloh Baptist Church.”
Sidney Long said black history has been erased throughout the country, and Old Shiloh, which was also a Masonic lodge, could be part of the movement to preserve where that history took place.
Long was concerned that without historic designation, the building could be demolished by the previous owner or future owner.
Commission Chairman Phil Forman said expanding the city’s historic district to include Columbia Street or designating the site as historic would add an additional layer of protection to the building.
As a member of the Tourism Board, Long said the board is working to reimagine Hudson and encourage people to expand their visit to Hudson past Warren Street.
“The granting of landmark status could in and of itself provide a public relations opportunity,” Long said. “The favorable press it could generate would not only be great for Hudson, but would certainly be a benefit to the new owner, as well.”
Matt McGhee said Christian faith carried African-Americans through adversity and injustice before freedom came, which deserves to be recognized through preservation of Old Shiloh.
“During a time when we are trying to reimagine Hudson and trying to preserve everything we have and have everything in our arsenal to present ourselves as an attractive city, I don’t see why we would do anything to risk losing a historic and important building in the city,” said Chris McManus, also a Tourism Board member.
“This piece of property, while it’s no longer operated by Shiloh, does maintain a vibrant history,” the Rev. Ronald Grant of Shiloh Baptist Church said. “In the African-American community, we have nothing that would maintain such a status as this particular building.”
Grant said the new building the congregation occupies at 14 Warren St. was once Congregation Anshe Emeth. The congregation left the stained glass windows with the Star of David in place so as not to detract from the building’s Jewish history.
While Milne said she is sympathetic and understands the need to tell the building’s story, she said designation is not the way to go.
“I am not happy to find myself owning a piece of another’s community,” Milne said. “I don’t want to be that person, but I am.”
Milne said she feels unwelcome and the process has been unfair.
“The City of Hudson has had no problem in finding me for tax bills, but when there was a desire for people to come together to impose a very expensive restriction on the property I had bought, no one seemed to be able to find me,” Milne said.
Kristal Heinz, counsel to Milne, said the application was incomplete, and the commission did not do its proper due diligence, which sets a bad precedent for the board.
Milne said she has spoken to the applicant, the Rev. Edward Cross, pastor of the former parish, and recommended a permanent plaque in front of the building to tell its history.
She said it could be written into the deed that any future owners would have to maintain the plaque, which Polidoro said the city could not enforce.
“The need is for the place to be recognized as a historical site,” Cross said. “Where [Milne] was going, we were headed in the right direction...I don’t want this woman to wind up being broke by having something that turns it into something too expensive, but I do want the recognition.”
Cross, the formal applicant, said he has spoken to Milne, and would consider withdrawing his application if there was a guarantee that they could work together.
Although Heinz objected to a continuation of the public hearing, the hearing was extended for written comment for 10 days.
Abby Hoover is a reporter for the Register-Star. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.