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City hears breakdown of historic district survey

By Jefferson Weaver

jeffersonweaver@nrcolumbus.com

Whiteville is a prime location for several historic districts, according to a State Historic Preservation Office specialist.

Beth King and Claudia Brown briefed the Whiteville City Council April 24 on the recently completed survey of 1,000 potential historic district properties in the city. Of the 1,000, more than two-thirds are in concentrated areas that could benefit from historic district status, while others are scattered and could gain the recognition on their own.

 Whiteville is a prime location for several historic districts, according to a State Historic Preservation Office specialist.

Whiteville is a prime location for several historic districts, according to a State Historic Preservation Office specialist.

Properties in federally-recognized historic districts are eligible for tax credits as well as protection and consideration in any federally funded development project, such as highways.

King surprised several members of the council with details about what the SHPO calls “Principal’s Row,” a neighborhood of late 19th and early 20th century homes owned by school principals and educators in the Central Middle School area. Several of the properties display classic architectural details as well as some unusual craftsman touches, King said, and the neighborhood itself is unusual because it attracted so many educators over an extended period of time.

“That’s fascinating,” Councilman Justin Smith said. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I had no idea.”

The “historic core” of Whiteville, King said, stretches from beyond Pinckney to Soules Swamp. The outline of the areas in question roughly follows an area bounded by Pinckney, Washington Street to the 701 Bypass, Franklin Street, and Lee, and contains more than 600 structures that could qualify. Multiple structures in that area meet the requirements of being a minimum of 50 years old, with significant historic merit or architecture. Other properties in the city could qualify, but lie outside the concentrated zones that could become historic districts. Those homeowners would have to seek recognition individually, King explained.

While most of the properties that could qualify for historic district status are along Pinckney and Madison, city officials have been focused on gaining recognition for the downtown business district in hopes of attracting redevelopment. The major tax credits involved in reusing both commercial buildings and residential structures is a big incentive to seek the National Historic District status, King said.

An initial survey of the area brought a negative review from the SHPO, but the office agreed to take another look at the request of city leaders and Gene Merritt of the Whiteville Downtown Development Commission.

King said 150 buildings were surveyed downtown, and while the potential is there, the “material integrity” of much of the area is lacking, due to mid- to late-20th century renovations such as painted brick, metal siding and other changes.

“This isn’t to say it can’t be done,” she said. “We just have to be able to see what’s underneath some of the modifications.”

While several structures have been modified past the point of no return, she said a number of others are surprisingly intact. She also noted that some property owners are already working to return their storefronts to the National Registry “ideal” appearance of the original early 20th century design.

King explained that with the completion of the survey, the city’s next step will be to hire a consultant to help property owners who wish to seek registry status for their buildings. Applications will then be submitted to the SHPO and forwarded to the National Park Service, which has the final decision on whether properties meet the requirements for historic district status.

Mayor Terry Mann thanked King and Brown, and noted that there is support for the effort in the city.

“We’re in the budget process right now,” he said, referring to the need to hire a consultant. “I’m confident we’ll be in touch.”

Stuart Rogers