Time to reconsider preserving downtown gem

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 23, 2007

The downtown fire two months ago that destroyed several ofBrookhaven’s oldest structures, along with recent discussionregarding the cleanup of those buildings, may signal the need forcity leaders and the community to re-examine an effort tabled latelast year.

After initially agreeing last September to take the necessarysteps to set up a historic preservation ordinance for Brookhaven,city aldermen tabled the measure over concerns that such ordinancesmight be too restrictive for property owners.

Establishing historic districts is sometimes a controversialissue, but those districts are used by progressive communitiesthroughout the country to help preserve the character anduniqueness of their communities. Ordinances sometimes limit whatproperty owners can and cannot do with their buildings, which isthe rub – private property rights versus community rights.

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Over the years, downtown Brookhaven has suffered greatly fromtragic fires and renovation efforts that have forever changed theaesthetic beauty of our community.

Across from the downtown post office once stood a magnificentthree-story building dating to the late 1800s. A fire in themid-1950s destroyed the building, which was then replaced with anarchitecturally lacking red-faced brick building.

In the 1960s, the city again lost to fire two historic buildingsdating to the late 1800s. Many of us will remember those buildingsas the old Woolworth and Morgan and Lindsey stores. Again,architecturally lacking red-brick buildings – which are completelyout of character with the buildings around them – replaced onebuilding. A vacant lot is all that remains of the other.

Farther up the block, in an attempt at the modernization crazethat swept Mississippi in the late 1960s, Brookhaven lost anotherhistoric structure. The building was razed and replaced with awell-designed modern looking structure – but still very much out ofcharacter with the 1800s era buildings all around.

We lost another historic 1800s era building in the early 1980swhen the Lincoln County-Brookhaven Government Complex was built.Again the new building a well-designed modern building, but muchout of character with a community that is celebrating its 150thbirthday next year.

Then, of course, two months ago a tragic fire took two more ofour historic buildings. The fate of what replaces those structuresis still unknown. While it is important to clean up the remains, itis more important that that clean up does not further destroy whatis left – halting any attempt at possible preservation of thefronts of those buildings.

Slowly over the last 50 years the community that prides itselfas the Homeseeker’s Paradise is quickly losing the historiccharacter that young homeseekers are now seeking.

Developers across the country, cashing in on the desire of youngfamilies to live in areas of architecturally pleasing design, aredeveloping new communities that have the look and feel of what wealready have here in Brookhaven – quaintness and a small townfeel.

Looking into the future is an important part of a community’seconomic vitality, and using a community asset such as a historicdowntown is one of those things that progressive communities areconsidering to insure future growth.

It was not that many years ago that the Whitworth Campus wasconsidered an eyesore. It took vision, time, dedication andcommunity involvement to transform it into the center piece itserves today as the campus of the Mississippi School of theArts.

Our community is a rare gem in Mississippi. Now it is moreimportant than ever to polish that gem for future growth.

Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602,or send e-mail to bjacobs@dailyleader.com.