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Bricks and mortar

Cornerstone Society formed
by grassroots effort to save heritage

Organization to celebrate
20 years of community service

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(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 city’s historic district,” said Cornerstone treasurer Meredith Gregg.

The Wilson House

Photo by Don Ward

The 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 Madison’s Historic District,” said Gregg.
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, Madison’s historic district received National Historic Landmark District status from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s 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, S.C.
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 Cornerstone’s 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 Madison’s 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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