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New places can give new life to old buildings

By Tom Fetters

Preservation through relocation seems like a great way to give new life to old buildings.

When I read the Associated Press article about the folks in Buffalo, N.Y., and Norcross, Ga., reaching a deal to move 99-year-old St. Gerard’s church piece-by-piece from its site in a crumbling Buffalo neighborhood to suburban Atlanta, I thought back to the fates of a couple of important buildings from my childhood.

First, there’s the one-room schoolhouse I attended during my first two years of formal education. I – along with a small number of other former students, I’m sure – have special memories of the old building and an appreciation of its history. But when the schoolhouse closed years ago, apparently no one was interested in preserving it, so it was demolished. Farm crops now grow on the site, and the building is nothing more than a memory.

Second, there’s the old township hall just a short walk from our family’s farmhouse. It was the meeting place and polling place for everyone in the area. As a kid, I went there with my parents on Election Day. And as a young reporter, I covered my first township meeting there.

When a modern township hall was built across the road, the old building found a taker and was moved piece-by-piece to an adjacent township, where a former farm has been transformed into a place for preserving structures of the past. Not long ago, I visited the old building in its new site, appreciating the fact that I could read the hand-lettered sign stretching across the entrance, look through the old glass windows and walk on the creaking floorboards.

So given the choice between saving the St. Gerard’s building and its history by having it moved to the South or leaving it in place and risking deterioration, neglect and possible demolition, I’d remember my old schoolhouse and township hall – and I’d pick preservation.

Tom Fetters, who has preserved his career through relocation many times, is a copy editor at The Daily Reporter

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