Momentum still strong for historic preservation and renovation projects in 2005
The push to preserve historically important locations and buildings in Cape Girardeau and Jackson maintained its momentum last year as numerous sites won state and national recognition.
Five places in Cape Girardeau were named to the National Register of Historic Places, uptown Jackson was named a state historic district and several projects designed to renovate historic buildings for reuse were completed or commenced.
The most visible rehabilitation project underway to preserve a historic structure is the effort to remake the St. Vincent's Seminary site on Morgan Oak Street into the Southeast Missouri State University River Campus.
The seminary site was named to the National Register, as were Old Lorimier Cemetery, the Esquire Theater, Kage School and the Southeast Missourian building.
"What it means, for any town, when property owners put a building on the National Register, is revitalization, economic development and jobs," said Terri Foley, a historic preservation consultant working in Cape Girardeau. "You are saving your community's heritage."
In the past year, efforts promoting two of Cape Girardeau's most notable sites, the Civil War Fort D to the south of town and Old Lorimier Cemetery north of downtown, included campaigns to fight vandalism at those locations.
In late October, 69 headstones were broken or toppled in Old Lorimier Cemetery, the city's oldest site to be continuously used for the same purpose. It was established in 1808, just two years after Cape Girardeau was formed, when town founder Louis Lorimier buried his wife there and donated five acres for the cemetery.
The vandalism brought forth an effort to increase protection for the cemetery. And it highlighted the need to keep moving forward on historic preservation as the city celebrates its bicentennial.
"It is so important to maintain our history and sense of history," said Dr. Frank Nickell, director of Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Regional History. "We must maintain our connection to the past. It tells us who we are."
At Fort D, the Civil War Round Table is working to put up lights to discourage vandals and to place interpretative signs that help explain the significance of the location. It was one of four forts established to guard Union interests in the Civil War and protect Cape Girardeau as a port for shipping goods down the Mississippi River to soldiers.
The Civil War Round Table hopes its efforts will make the fort a prime tourist attraction.
The recognition of uptown Jackson as a historic district has a more practical effect. Property owners are now eligible for tax breaks for renovating historic properties, efforts that could attract tenants or potential buyers and raise property values.
Historic preservation efforts are also being touted as one of the community projects that could qualify Cape Girardeau for consideration as an All-American City. Old Town Cape, an organization with the support of more than 50 active volunteers, has numerous programs designed to teach the history of the area and encourage cultural activities such as Tunes at Twilight music shows, the Holiday of Lights parade and ArtsCape.
And while the efforts so far have been successful, a greater effort is needed.
More buildings in Cape Girardeau should be on the National Register, said Southeast associate professor of history Steve Hoffman in November.
"The more attention we can call to our historic places, the better off we are," he said. "These are the things that make Cape Girardeau unique and distinctive."
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