Opinion Columns & Blogs

ERICKSON: Connecting to history

I took my daughter to New York two weeks ago. We stayed beside Central Park. Our room looked out over the park with all the leaves changing color. We went to Battery Park. We went to the 9/11 Memorial. She has no memory of the events,having been born several years later. It was emotional and hard to explain to her why it was so emotional.

Throughout New York City there are historic plaques and monuments. On this street corner the Dutch did something. Over there is where George Washington ate. It’s now a skyscraper with a deli at the bottom. New York has marked its history, but has not saved everything. Those things that were saved had historic significance, public appeal -- and funding.

Macon is losing the idols of its history. The word choice is intentional. Tremont Temple Baptist Church may be gone, but that does not take away that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on that spot. The Douglass House may be gone, but the Douglass family is represented at the theater that bears their name.

I read through some of the comments on one of The Telegraph’s articles about the Douglass House. One of the commenters, enraged, attacked other commenters for daring to treat history lightly. She was absolutely beside herself that the Douglass House had been torn down.

Where was she before now? In fact, where were all the now outraged people? There had been numerous efforts to save the house, but none of them came through. The money was not there. The property was for sale, it was purchased, and only then did people care enough to try to deny the property owner his use and enjoyment of his property. To be clear, it was and is his property.

Others had a chance to buy it. Others had a chance to save it. Others had a chance to preserve the history they now so clearly care about. But they did not. They waited until someone bought the property and wanted to do with it what they did not like. Then they tried to stop him. Thankfully, they lost. The precedent would have been terrible.

If people care so much about historic properties, they should fund Historic Macon as much as possible. But there is only so much that can be preserved. The city and its property owners do have a right to tear down the old. Whether or not they should is a much more subjective question, but one best asked and answered before a property is acquired for business purposes.

This raises another issue. The area around the Medical Center really is ripe for further development. The Dunkin’ Donuts that is going up is one of very few food options outside the hospital. Likewise, with the exception of the Ronald McDonald House, there are few options nearby for people with loved ones in the Medical Center. As the area grows, it is only a matter of time before someone wants to build a small hotel nearby.

What properties will be consumed then? In the alternative, what properties will be bought and preserved to prevent further development? Is that sustainable? I suspect all these questions are going to creep into more political conversations. They are best answered sooner rather than later.

Historic preservationists had an opportunity to save the Douglass House. In fact, they had repeated opportunities to save both the house and church. They declined to do so until someone else decided to tear them down. Both needed to be torn down given their condition. Hopefully more foresight can be used to save other properties.

Erick Erickson is a Fox News contributor and radio talk show host in Atlanta.