Yes, my views on the topic of public money for the enhancement of church architecture are (shall we say) nuanced.
There may have been an excellent case to be made for contributions to the prominent Town Clock Church, but once a precedent is established, where does it start -- and more importantly, where does it end?
(Keep reading. There's a twist in this tale.)
ON THE AVENUES: Weeds, porch appliances and our civic Gospel of Appearances.
... According to the Gospel of Appearances, blessed are those who help tax-exempt organizations maintain their properties. According to this logic, the city of New Albany received a boost in the quality of life when the two church spires were repaired, and yet, wouldn’t both these churches still be able to function spiritually without steeples?
Wasn’t the combined expense somewhere in the neighborhood of $750,000 of someone else’s money?
Might the money have been invested in other ways, so as to lift humans, and not spires?
Speaking personally, I’ve no problem in both these instances accepting the argument from the utility of historic preservation. Furthermore, I support the notion that the greenest building is the one already standing, and urge building rehabilitation whenever possible.
And yet metaphors matter.
In the case of the Town Clock Church, one sure way that the city's steeple investment can pay future dividends is explained in this update from Indiana Landmarks (below). The Underground Railroad itself is a conceptual relic of history, but it remains vital even 150 years later because of the teachable topics proliferating from it.
It needs to become just such a teachable tool.
Understanding that what I'm about to suggest is unlikely, I'm not deterred at all from broaching it, because the best use I can envision for Bill Allen's dilapidated properties on Main Street facing the Town Clock Church is for them to be rehabbed into a cultural and educational center addressing the many manifestations of the Underground Railroad.
Expensive? You bet, but also a project of merit that might draw investment from a wide expanse of individuals and organizations. It might even be structured to give the slumlord Allen family a tax break, so as to wrest these properties from their cold, clueless hands.
You're free to steal this idea, Jeff Gahan, unless I've already (and inadvertently) stolen it from someone else. Then you can steal it from them.
Be forewarned: It might imply "reaching out" to African-Americans as part of the tourism branding effort you currently fail to possess, and doing so will offend certain Thurmondian portions of the "Let's Pretend We're Democrats" fundraising machine you spend most waking hours steering.
Think you're capable of that? If so, run with it.
Southern Indiana Church Joins Group of Elite Peers (Indiana Landmarks)
New Albany’s Second Baptist wins “Network to Freedom” designation recognizing the church’s historic role as part of the Underground Railroad.
Harriett Tubman’s home, the Levi Coffin House, and now, Second Baptist Church. At a ceremony in early July, the New Albany property won recognition as an official “Network to Freedom” site, honoring the role the church played in the Underground Railroad.
The National Park Service designation recognizes and promotes historic places, museums and interpretive programs associated with the Underground Railroad. Nationwide, more than 500 sites and programs have earned Network to Freedom status. About 20 other entities in Indiana share the honor, ranging from sites, Eleutherian College in Lancaster, for example, to educational projects like the Indiana Freedom Trails Educational and Research Program.
Second Baptist’s Network to Freedom status capped an initiative led by local historian Pamela Peters, informed by her years of research on the history of Floyd County’s African-American residents. While oral tradition long held that freedom seekers were hidden in the basement of the church, Peters uncovered no specific documentation to verify the claim. However, she was able to document that church members were vocal advocates who created a support system not only for escaping slaves but for New Albany’s African American community as a whole ...