Vevay considers inclusion on National Historic Register


After two delays caused by winter weather, residents and officials from the town of Vevay met last Thursday to discuss the possibility of the town’s historic district applying for inclusion on the “National Register of Historic Places.”

The town is already listed on the state register, but last week’s meeting focused on whether or not to pursue national designation.

The National Register of Historic Places recognizes properties worthy of preservation because of their significance in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, or culture. National Register recognition is primarily an honor, a way to raise awareness of our heritage.

A program of the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Register is administered on the state level by the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA) of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

“It’s basically the entire downtown district,” Martha Bladen of the Switzerland County Historical Society said. “It’s the business district, but also encompasses some private homes.”

Martha Bladen said that being a part of the national register can provide tax incentives that are helpful to people who are doing restoration work on their buildings. She said that some Vevay structures are already on the national register, including the Schenck Mansion; so including the entire historic district in Vevay would bring even more incentives to the community.

Martha Bladen said that being a part of the national register is an honorary designation in many aspects, and stated that it doesn’t change anything about what people can do to their properties.

That’s a big misconception that Martha Bladen and others want to make sure that people living in and working in the proposed national register zone understand.

Property owners will not be told what they can and cannot do to their homes and businesses.

“That’s what’s been a big concern for people,” Martha Bladen said. “They think that if on the national register, that means you can’t put in the type of windows that you want, or someone’s going to tell you what color you can paint your house. It’s not that at all.”

Martha Bladen said that inclusion on the national register places no restrictions on the homeowner at all, noting that a homeowner even has the option of tearing down the structure if they desired to.

“It is an honorary designation,” Martha Bladen said. “What people confuse it with is a Historic Review Board, which is what Madison has. With that, that’s a locally mandated list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that you can do with your property. The national register does not do that. There’s no restrictions whatsoever.”

Martha Bladen said that Paul Diebold, who is the Senior Architectural Historian with the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology and the person who led Thursday’s meeting, stressed to those in attendance that inclusion on the national register doesn’t mean that homeowners have to have their property open to the public or that anyone has any control over what you do with your property.

“Paul Diebold says that we have such a rich fabric of buildings still here, that it’s just a natural for us to be approved for this,” Martha Bladen said.

Martha Bladen said that inclusion on the national register would place Vevay on a state listing, which will raise awareness of the historic significance of this community around the state, and it has also been shown to improve the economic development of certain areas.

“For some people, that’s the kind of neighborhood that they look for,” Martha Bladen said. “It’s something that shows historic preservation where historic structures are still there. So we do have that, so why not take advantage of it?

Martha Bladen said that the Switzerland County Courthouse most recently went through the process of being added to the national register, and she noted that the courthouse gained inclusion even though the annex had been added to the back of the building.

“But the annex did not detract from the original structure still having enough original historic fabric because they did a nice annex by having a walkway through rather than attaching it to the original structure, so it was eligible.”

Martha Bladen said that there are also some federal preservation grants available to communities that are on the national register.

“It’s not a scary thing, afterall. It won’t change anything. Within a historic district, there are homes that aren’t historic, and that’s okay, too,” Martha Bladen said. “It’s just designating an area where you have enough buildings to be identified.”


So what’s next?

Martha Bladen said that the next step will be to hire someone to do the application, which will be reviewed by the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. After that gains approval, then it has to be reviewed and approved at the national level.

She said that the group hopes to have the national register designation approved by the town’s Bicentennial in 2013.