Preservation organization ramps up education efforts

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GREENFIELD — New life has been breathed into a local organization dedicated to promoting the preservation of historic buildings in downtown Greenfield.

Greenfield Historic Landmarks, which for some 20 years has given awards to homeowners and entrepreneurs who preserve significant buildings in downtown Greenfield, was this year named the recipient of funding from the Martha Beckenholdt Charitable Fund, a trust administered by the Hancock County Community Foundation to more than 50 area organizations.

Beckenholdt, who died in 2014 and is the namesake of Beckenholdt Park in Greenfield, was the former president of the Greenfield Gas Co. and was involved in the work of many local, state and national nonprofits, according to a press release from the community foundation. She served on numerous boards and quietly provided substantial financial support to causes she supported, a legacy carried on by her estate after her death.

Officials with Greenfield Landmarks plan to use the funding, about $2,000 per year, to reestablish walking tours of historic downtown buildings, a once-popular effort that has fallen by the wayside, said president Cathleen Huffman.

When people know interesting stories about the structures they pass every day, they’re more likely to have an interest in caring for them, she said.

Greenfield Historic Landmarks in the past has offered presentations about the historic architecture on the National Road, oral histories from local seniors and walking and biking tours of significant buildings in the downtown historic district, Huffman said.

The timing of the grant from the Martha Beckenholdt fund was perfect, she said — the group’s leaders had just completed an effort to register as an independent nonprofit organization when they were notified of the funding, she said.

For years, the local organization operated under the umbrella of Indiana Landmarks, but about five years ago, a structural change in the parent organization withdrew the use of its nonprofit status, meaning independent groups like Greenfield Historic Landmarks had to seek their own nonprofit status to qualify for grant funding, Huffman said.

Greenfield Historic Landmarks was established in 1980 when a group of concerned residents sought to make portions of downtown Greenfield a historic district, said board member Rosalie Richardson. The historic district designation means anyone interested in tearing down a building has to go before the city of Greenfield for permission to raze the structure, Richardson said.

Businesses built during the National Road’s heyday were in poor shape or being demolished at that time, and the group hoped by creating a historic district, another layer of protection would be put into place against the loss of structures important to the city’s history, she said.

The National Road, now known as U.S. 40, was built between 1800 and 1820 and spurred the settlement of the plains states and beyond, Richardson said.

As part of the renewed effort to preserve Greenfield’s historic homes and businesses, the organization will host its annual meeting 2 p.m. Sunday at Photon Automation, 275 Center St., Greenfield, said treasurer Tom Strickland. Though the group conducted annual meetings in the past, it’s been at least a decade since the last gathering, officials said.

Board members hope to encourage more people to become members of the organization, he said.

“These buildings aren’t replaceable, and we want to get more people on our bandwagon,” Strickland said.

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Greenfield Historic Landmarks annual meeting

2 p.m. Sunday

275 Center St., Greenfield

Program: “Hoosier Grain Elevators, Then and Now”