By Henri Gendreau
History thats not remembered is history that is lost, said Associate Professor of Philosophy Juan De Pascuale. Its easy to neglect history, and when historys lost, its really hard to reclaim it.
One of Kenyons historic buildings, and an important piece of Gambiers history, is in danger of just that.
The newly founded Gambier Historical Society must soon decide what to do in response to the Colleges proposal to demolish the former Craft Center. The Kenyon Reviews founder, John Crowe Ransom, lived there from 1945 until 1958, after coming to Kenyon in 1937 as a professor of poetry.
Originally located on the corner of Wiggin Street and Chase Avenue, Ransoms house moved to its current location in 1885. The house became the Craft Center in 1972 and remained so until this year, when all craft activities moved to the nearby Mayer Art Building.
According to records obtained by the Collegian, the College submitted an application for a demolition permit to the Village of Gambier on Dec. 18, 2012. In early January, the Villages Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously delayed approval of the Colleges request, earning 120 days to seek alternatives to the proposed Action, according to the Revised Planning and Zoning Code.
Thats the strongest statement we can make, said Tom Stamp, College historian and keeper of Kenyoniana, who serves on the Planning and Zoning Commission. We wish we could say something stronger, but at this point we dont have recourse to anything beyond the form of delay.
Though the building is not on any historical record, Stamp says it should be because of its 50-year tenure in the Gambier Historic District.
Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman, however, emphasized the big distinction between official recognition as a historic landmark and location in a historic place. [The house is] not registered as an historic landmark, Kohlman said. The rules and regulations for property owners within an historic place are very wide open.
But Stamp and several Village Council members believe strongly that the house should be preserved. I and a number of other people think that its definitely worth saving, not only because its a historic property, but also because it has space that can be used by any number of departments, programs and offices, Stamp said. He hopes to persuade the College that the building is worthy of being made usable again, and that it is an important part of the areas history.
Those who wish to save Ransoms former house have until May 15 to propose an alternative to demolition, and they are wasting no time.
On Feb. 24, Steven McQuillin, founder of consulting firm Steven McQuillin & Associates, which specializes in the preservation of historic buildings, toured the house to offer his professional opinion.
The Ransom House is located within the Gambier Historic District [Stamp] verified that and years ago I worked to nominate that district to the National Register of Historic Places, McQuillin said. With over 27 years of experience in the field, McQuillin has worked to save and renovate numerous buildings in the Ohio area.
It appears that the Ransom House does contribute to the character of that [historic district] and it is worthy of preservation, said McQuillin. McQuillin estimated that even a relatively minimal renovation could be over $100,000.
Stamps ultimate conclusion was that the house is worth restoring. Theres a lot of cosmetic work to be done but overall the building seems pretty solid, he said.
Since the first meeting of the Gambier Historic Society in January, a number of ideas have been floated regarding what use the building could serve. According to De Pascuale, it could house the new historical society, display relevant area artifacts or become a living museum of Gambiers history and Kenyons history.
De Pascuale was surprised to learn that Ransom had once occupied the home Society members are intent on saving. He called the writer the most significant name in [Kenyons] modern history.
His house, as far as I can tell, has no designation and I think thats a form of forgetfulness, a form of neglect, De Pascuale said.
But the College has other ideas. Theres nothing inside that building that is worth saving, said Kohlman, who estimates the cost of demolition would be $20,000. He described the house as unsafe and beyond restoration.
Kohlman said the College would be willing to sell the house, as it has done with other old buildings in the past, but that it would have to be moved. Stamp, however, argued that theres really no place to move this building.
Theres not much we can do, Stamp said. The more people who know about the College plans and have suggestions about how the building can be used, the better.
The Gambier Historical Society encourages community members to attend their meeting on Monday, March 4 from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at the Gambier Community Center.