Southeast Ohio Locations Make List Of Most Endangered Historic Sites

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UPDATE 9:30 a.m. Yesterday, the Athens Asylum (The Ridges) was named as one of nine locations endangered on the 2013 Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites list issued by Preservation Ohio.

WOUB has received statements from two individuals who have been close to the preservation of The Ridges issue: Ron Luce, the Executive Director of the Athens Historic Society and Museum (AHSM) and Athens Third Ward Councilperson Michele Papai.

Luce mentioned that his organization was one group that nominated The Ridges to be put on the list.

“Having made the nomination, the Athens County Historical Society and Museum (ACHSM) is pleased to see that major preservationists in the state recognize the value of the buildings and grounds in their entirety and are keenly aware of the danger they face,” Luce said.

“This nomination creates an opportunity for Ohio University officials to come to terms with the great treasure they possess and the public’s concerns about its current state of disrepair.  We at the ACHSM wish to work cooperatively with the university; local, state and national preservationists; and others to preserve and restore the physical property (the Asylum and grounds), and make its art, its architecture and its history available to future generations,” Luce added.

Papai echoed some of Luce’s sentiments.

“As a council person, the fact that the Ohio group has identified The Ridges as endangered is in my opinion a recognition to our local community and preservationists that a 'solid plan' is needed to historically preserve the 'essence' that exists in the 'place' and in the 'minds' of so many,” Papai said.

“The university and local community should feel pride in wanting to preserve such a national treasure for current and future generations. Where there is a will there is a way,” Papai noted.

Preservation Ohio, the oldest statewide non-profit preservation organization, released Wednesday its 2013 List of Ohio’s Most Endangered Historic Sites, which includes three sites within southeast Ohio.

The Athens Asylum in Athens County, the Zoar Historic District in Tuscarawas County, and the Memorial Hall in Ironton, Lawrence County comprise one-third of the nine Ohio properties included in the 20th edition of the list of endangered sites.

Preservation Ohio noted that the Athens Asylum is a “complex of buildings and grounds” and it is the “last of its kind.”  The organization said the Athens Asylum is on the National Register of Historic Places and is “of state and national significance not only because of its architectural beauty and contributions to the study of psychiatry, but also because many such sites have been lost over the past 20 years.”

In its press release announcing the 2013 listing, the organization said that the “site is threatened with demolition.” 

However, late in March, Ohio University President Roderick McDavis announced that an advisory group is going to be established regarding The Ridges (Athens Asylum).  He had an initial meeting with representatives from the City of Athens, Athens County and Athens Township.  The meeting included Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl, Athens City Council President Jim Sands, Athens Twp. Trustee Ted Linscott, Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, and Athens County Commissioner Charlie Adkins, as well as various representatives from the university.

During that meeting, President McDavis recognized the university’s responsibility to develop The Ridges and the Athens Asylum grounds as a university and community asset, and stated his intention to work with the representatives and citizens.

This meeting followed Athens City Council unanimously passing an ordinance on March 18 to promote historic and architectural preservation in the city.

Both the ordinance and the meeting by President McDavis followed the university demolishing the former tuberculosis ward at The Ridges over the opposition from Athens residents and the Athens County Historical Society.

Preservation Ohio sings the praises of the Zoar Historic District, but also notes that this significant area is endangered by a levee that is in need of repair. 

The Zoar District was an 1817 settlement of German religious dissenters.  The buildings have been preserved and have distinctive architectural and historic features, according to the organization.  The levee holding back potential flood waters is 75 years olds and it is in need of repair, according to the group.

Memorial Hall, in Ironton, was constructed in 1892 as a memorial to Civil War soldiers by the Grand Army of the Republic.  The structure has been abandoned since 1996 and is in danger of destruction, according to the group.

Preservation Ohio issues the annual list of endangered historic sites selected from nominations from citizens.  The final selections are made by the group’s board of trustees.  The annual list is to “raise awareness and save properties with uncertain futures,” Preservation Ohio says.

The group claims success in saving some of “Ohio’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage.”

Preservation Ohio was created in 1982 “to enhance the understanding and appreciation for Ohio’s historic resources and serve as a focal point for Ohio organizations, municipalities, corporations and individual who care about those resources and are concerned about preservation for future generations.”