The Historic Future

Time heals all wounds. Unless your wound is a leaking roof or exposed wiring. Time does not heal those things. It makes them worse. Much worse.

For historic architecture, stemming the tide of time requires constant maintenance and upkeep. Occupancy also seems to help; something there is about a building that wants people in it. Most of all, it requires money. Great loads of it. For reasons unknown, other people’s money appears to work best, particularly money from a mysterious philanthropist known only as “Grant.” A generous do-gooder, “Grant” has funded everything from water systems to community parks in cities, towns and counties far and wide. Who knows where we would be today if it weren’t for all of those timely Grant funds?

But even the wealthy Grant is not immune from the difficulties imposed upon us all in these uncertain economic times, and as the Chairman of County Council pointed out Monday night when discussing the fate of the former Voter Registration building at 117 E. Washington St., Grant funds are not so easy to come by these days. And that is too bad, because it puts yet another historic building in historic downtown Winnsboro on the historic executioner’s block. Barring some miracle, that is.

That the historic building’s days are numbered should not come as a surprise, for they have been such since before the County even relocated their various offices from the site nearly two years ago. But it is a shame, nonetheless, especially considering the Chamber’s hopes of breathing new life into the site and utilizing the structure as part of an upcoming farmer’s market. Furthermore, if History is part of our community’s tourism draw, one less historic building in the downtown hub decreases that draw by . . . well, exactly one.

With Grant having fallen on hard times and his cousin Earmark in cold storage, is there a solution? Some compromise that will prevent this building from becoming an albatross like the Mt. Zion property or a dilapidated wreckage like the old News and Herald Tavern? Facts is facts, as they say, and the fact is the building as a whole is unredeemable. A half dozen new buildings could be put up for what it would cost to bring this one up to code. And the County made it clear Monday night that a new building is on the way. We hope that when that new building goes up it is not simply a rapidly built concrete and steel box, but instead one built with some attention to the surrounding aesthetics. Something that at least looks as if it belongs there, and maybe has been there all along.

There is another option, however, of gutting the existing structure, leaving the exterior walls and erecting any new building inside the historic shell. Such an alternative would, no doubt, involve more cost than razing the entire building and starting anew, but less cost than salvaging the entire structure. And that would seem to fit the definition of compromise perfectly.