As a responsible society, we are way too quick to tear down and demolish. We seem to be continuously looking ahead, rarely glancing back.
That rare old Victorian home down the street, long vacant and fading, will make a splendid parking lot for the dollar store next to it.
This seems to be our mentality here in the U.S. — a forward progress that excludes nostalgia.
Yet, there are tens of thousands of structures in England, France and Italy, to name a few old world countries, which are hundreds of years old and still standing, with many still in everyday use.
The push in those European countries is to preserve, at whatever cost. Here in America, it is to tear down and save on costs.
Much of the pushback to save old structures in our country has come in the past few decades, following years of out with the old and in with the new.
So, we owe a sincere debt of gratitude to our wise citizens who have a mind and a will to save and preserve our architectural history, especially at the local level.
These old homes and buildings collectively tell the stories and histories of our towns and village.
My boyhood home, for example, was torn down years ago to make way for a dry cleaner. Another house I grew up in — and which I left to attend college — is marked by the town and faces demolition in the coming months.
Many of the architectural gems I grew up walking past have been swept away to make way for shopping centers, parking lots and road widenings.
It’s a sad reality that most towns don’t really know where they’re headed. Each zoning and planning decision seems to be based on the here and now and not the future.
Quite frankly, if you’ve seen one shopping center and one parking lot you’ve seen them all. But houses and structures, even in mill villages and college towns, were different and inviting to the sight. Each one had its particular story to tell.
That’s why we need to praise the people in our communities who are willing to step forward and record the historic structures and homes that play a significant role in our local history.
Four of these fine folks were brought to light last week in an article in The Villager. What Delos Hughes, Ralph Draughon Jr., Emily Amason Sparrow and Ann Pearson are doing for Auburn deserves a big pat on the back.
Their book, “No Place Like Home: An Architectural Study of Auburn, Alabama, the First 150 Years,” was to them and us more than a labor of love. It was a serious effort to put together an historical document that captures the heart and soul of the town they love.
They put a solid chunk of their time and effort into this book during the past five years. Other towns and cities can surely learn from them.
Without a record of the past, it’s pretty hard to determine where things are headed in the future. Their book on the architectural history of Auburn is a factual account of the past that can serve as a pattern for the future.
It can certainly encourage more people to join their effort. In her article about the four and their work, reporter Sydney Sims wrote: “The mission of the book was to show the change Auburn has gone through over time — a change that has come at the cost of historical homes and buildings mentioned in the book.”
Sometimes it’s impossible to halt progress or even slow it down, but when you have evidence of the past in front of you, it can force decision-makers to consider alternatives.
Auburn is a rare gem. It has kept its beautiful small town image in the midst of sweeping and dynamic change during the past couple of decades.
Keeping that image aglow may be easier when it’s captured in a book and reflected for all to see.
I read someplace not long ago that towns replace themselves every century or so. But Auburn, as the loveliest village on the Plains, perhaps can slow down that kind of renewal with a record of what once was, is and always can be.
Kudos to the four pathlighters. Their achievement was well worth their time and effort.
They have given Auburn an important resource — a guide, if you will — to help the town and its people navigate the path from the past and the present into the future.
Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is email@example.com.