I have often heard Henry Countians express their belief in traditional values, in their appreciation for the old ways, and their respect for the past. However, for a community as deeply rooted in what is perceived as tradition, it is very sad to see so little care taken of the physical reminders of where we have been and who we are.
Whole communities, schools and industries that once thrived in Henry County are no more. While we may want to believe that the way Henry County is now is the way it has always been, it’s not true, and we certainly can’t understand who we are today or want to be in the future without an understanding and appreciation for these vanished people and places. The physical remnants they have left behind — houses, barns, churches, railway stations, storefronts — are frequently the only things we have to help us learn their stories. For this reason if no other they should be preserved. But there are powerful economic reasons as well — tourism brings dollars and jobs into our community. If you are skeptical, ask the people at the Low Dutch Meeting House, at Ft. Boonesboro, at Colonial Williamsburg — the past equals tourism equals jobs and money for the community.
We lose not only our own history, but also any economic opportunities it may bring if we keep taking such poor care of our historic buildings. It is a deep and abiding shame that historic homes are used to store junk, that churches once important to their communities are used to store hay, that public buildings which once revealed our connection to the wider world store combustibles and old trash. Even worse is when they are allowed to burn, fall over or disintegrate from negligence. The worst circles of shame are reserved for those people who destroy these buildings on purpose — for insurance, to score points in a petty dispute, or merely because they take up space.
I realize the county and our cities don’t have the money to buy and refurbish all of these buildings (though they do have rights of eminent domain to put these structures to public use). I also realize owners don’t always have the means to restore these buildings. But please, have some respect and some care. That old home, gazebo, church or barn on your property is a community asset. You hold it in trust for the rest of us. The next time you’re looking to store some hay, please buy a tarp.