The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Jennie Dickinson
The Times 

Guest Comment: Historic Districts Are Important for Our Community


I am writing to express my concern regarding the proposed action to dissolve the residential historic districts in the City of Dayton and to ask my fellow homeowners in these districts to reconsider this decision.

I am wearing two hats while writing this – one as the owner of a home in the Southside Historic District, and one as a person who has attempted to promote tourism and business development in Columbia County for the last 17 years.

Historic Preservation has been a huge catalyst in the economic diversification of our community and the revitalization of our town. Prior to the big town meeting in 1983, Columbia County’s unemployment rate was 23%, our downtown had many boarded up storefronts, and our population was declining.

When the community came together and made a decision to focus on what we already had – an amazing history and a stock of historic buildings – things began to turn around. The subsequent Main Street Revitalization effort (which included many historic preservation elements), the restoration of the courthouse, the development of festivals and events, and the restoration of the theater have all contributed to make Dayton a vibrant community once again.

Walking tours of our three historic districts are very popular activities by visitors to our community. The annual Historic Home Tours sponsored by the Depot Society brings many tourists to town. These are the people that stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores.

Our unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in decades, our downtown is beautiful, and we are held up as a model by other rural communities on how to do things right.

It’s never easy in a small town – we still fight every day to stay relevant and keep our business sector healthy. Dissolving our residential historic districts will not help our efforts.

My husband, Jay Ball, owned a home on Third Street when we met. Even though it hadn’t been restored yet, he said he was amazed at how many people came walking by with historic district walking tour guides in their hands. After we married and he moved to the North Touchet with me, we began a restoration on the Third Street house.

While it wasn’t an easy process to navigate earning a certificate of appropriateness from the Historic Preservation Commission, it was a very educational and worthwhile process. I learned so much about our 1880s house, its owners throughout history, how the lot was divided, and how we could put it back together again.

We get so many compliments on the house now, and we both feel very good about the investment we made. They just don’t build houses like that anymore! It is truly a treasure.

A new ballot will be going out to historic district homeowners this month with two options: dissolve the districts or make the Historic Preservation Commission’s actions advisory only.

Please note that neither of these options places any rules on the homeowner - they can still do whatever they wish with their property.

For the sake of valuing historic preservation in our community and continuing the efforts we’ve worked so hard on over the last 30 years, I respectfully ask my fellow homeowners and the City of Dayton to please choose the option that will continue to offer educational options and guidance from the Historic Preservation Commission.

We have a good, helpful commission. Please don’t remove this important element from our preservation efforts.

Jennie Dickinson is manager of the Port of Columbia and former director of the Dayton Chamber of Commerce.


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