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Most Hoosiers recognize the need to maintain our grandest public landmarks, but there is also growing appreciation for the value of the vernacular and the more humble and ephemeral places of everyday life. There is now a meaningful interest in preserving the imprint of human activity on the landscape in all of its different forms. As Hoosiers participate in these efforts in growing numbers, they recognize that looking to the future involves looking back to the history and values that are the foundation of our heritage.
Cultural resources are the vestiges of an extremely diverse heritage of human occupation, such as buildings, structures, sites, objects, and landscape features. They are reminders of and physical connections to our common past, and they tell us about who we are as Hoosiers. Most people recognize county courthouses, mansions, and Native American mounds as culturally significant, but there are so many more resources that together tell the story of Indiana.
It would be impossible to list all of our state’s cultural resources, so they are often considered by groups or categories. Resource types tell a lot about specific periods in history – like early statehood or the Civil War era, or about specific themes – like industrial technology or transportation. Some of the better-known resource types include Native American village sites, one-room schoolhouses, covered bridges, Carnegie Libraries, historic downtowns, and railroad depots. Less recognized resource types include small archaeological sites dating back thousands of years, neighborhoods of workers’ cottages, African-American settlements, cemeteries, farmsteads and barns, formally designed parks and boulevards, Art Deco movie theaters, and many others.
Cultural resource management requires consideration of the wide-ranging needs of all types of sites and structures, both above and below ground. This includes identifying resource types and individual resources, recognizing threats to resources, working with constituent groups and property owners, engaging in public education initiatives, developing programs to meet preservation needs, and working together as partners to protect and preserve our heritage.
Preservation is more than saving single sites or buildings; preservation maintains features of our environment and communities that contribute to our overall quality of life. Although part of a larger American history, Indiana has its own unique heritage of early peoples, settlement, development, and culture.
If preserving a sense of place sounds too philosophical, there is the demonstrated tangible effect of preservation to consider. Preservation is a significant economic tool in the revitalization of blighted neighborhoods and declining commercial downtowns. Stabilizing properties in neighborhoods and business districts reduces vacancy, vandalism, and crime. Economic development through preservation slows urban sprawl, conserves prime agricultural land, promotes job creation, and increases the local tax base. In short, preservation also contributes to sustaining the economic lifeblood of our communities.