by grassroots effort to save heritage
20 years of community service
(September 2008) In 1988, the Wilson House
was the home to the Jefferson County Health Department. County officials
wanted to tear down the building to make way for a more modern structure.
A group of concerned citizens, including Evan and Mary Lynn Sommerfeld,
Maryanne Imes and George Freeman, called for a public meeting and decided
to form a group to stop demolition of historic buildings.
They worked at swaying public opinion and stressed the importance
of the Wilson House to the architectural fabric of the citys historic
district, said Cornerstone treasurer Meredith Gregg.
by Don Ward
Wilson House was saved from
destruction in 1988 by the
newly formed Cornerstone Society.
The Wilson House, built circa 1825, is not a grand building.
It has no ornate features and was not built to be the home of a wealthy
or grand family. The most distinctive feature of the building is its
unique doorway. The Wilson House is a prime example of a non-grand
house being important to Madisons Historic District, said
Madison is unique because of the combination of small, large, grand
and just ordinary historic buildings all fitted together to form the
fabric of the historic district, she said. Many people simply
do not understand the importance and significance of how even the smallest
structures in the district work with the larger, more prominent buildings
to give our city its uniqueness, she said. There are only
a few other communities across this country that have this rare combination,
and we have to keep working to preserve it.
In 2006, Madisons historic district received National Historic
Landmark District status from the U.S. Department of the Interiors
National Park Service. The historic district comprises most of the downtown,
133 blocks and about 2,000 acres and more than 1,600 historic structures
built between 1817-1939 representing Federal, Greek Revival Italianate
and other styles. The designation puts Madison in the same company as
only a few other famous cities, such as Savannah, Ga., and Charleston,
The Cornerstone Society played an important role in helping the city
to achieve that status. The designation for Madison as a National
Historic Landmark District status is a major economic factor for our
community, said Murray. High-end historical tourists come
here to see the district. They stay here and put money into our economy;
we need to work to keep them coming back.
Murray feels the National Historic Landmark District status will create
even greater demand for the kinds of educational programs, resources
and materials that Cornerstone provides. The status of each district
comes under review every two years, he said. We do not want
that designation revoked, which means that our community is going to
have to get more serious about preserving and protecting the architectural
fabric that we have been up to this point.
Some of Cornerstones achievements include helping to save the
building that now houses the Madison Mercantile, creating a DVD of the
1930s film Madison in the 30s, and the development
of the Riverfront Walking Tour that features 44 of Madisons historic
sites. The society offers periodic workshops for building owners on
a variety of preservation topics. An upcoming workshop from 10 a.m.-noon
on Oct. 25 at a Historic Madison Inc. property will discuss 19th century
Christmas decorations.The group continues to support and offer suggestions
for historic building owners on preservation issues, and is working
to develop a treasury to be able to offer financial assistance to homeowners
for preservation projects.
For more information about Cornerstone
Society, call Rich Murray at (812) 273-1123 or visit: www.cornerstonesocietyinc.org.
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