Loyalist Township ultimately made the right decision Monday evening to keep the Jeptha Hawley House on its register of properties with cultural heritage significance.
Given the only restriction it places on a homeowner is the requirement to give 60 days notice of an impending demolition, it really should have been a no-brainer. One gets the sense, though, that had the new owners of the property not wanted the longest continuously occupied home in Ontario on that list, that councillors may have relented to those wishes. Then, the home may have been on the path to becoming another of those images pulled from dusty books or shared on the web, inviting people to “remember when” it was part of the local landscape. While historians and publications play a valuable role in documenting our past, photographs and stories always pale in comparison to a real, physical property.
To be fair, ownership of historic assets is not necessarily an easy endeavour, particularly when that property has been formally designated. Repairs cost more and considerable red tape awaits the homeowner. It’s not uncommon for insurance to be difficult to obtain and there will always be a sense that the community has a vested interest in any small thing an owner wants to do on his or her property.
There are definitely people who see the value in that proposition, but often they must have deep pockets and a sense of community involvement that trumps their individual interest. In fortunate instances, those individuals do get their hands on heritage properties and their stewardship offers benefit for the community at large. After all, according to the Travel Activities and Motivations Survey in 2007, some 43.4 per cent of adult Canadians reported visiting a site associated with heritage on an out-of-town, overnight trip in a two-year period. Nearly half said that was the main purpose for their trip. It stands to reason, then, that Lennox and Addington County would be wise to market its unique ties to the United Empire Loyalists to potential visitors and investors.
Sometimes, these properties don’t fall into the hands of proper stewards and they fall into disrepair or destruction. Nearby Prince Edward County had an awakening in 2010 when an early Methodist Church on Picton’s Main Street prematurely met the wrecking ball. Other times, the public has been able to step forward and salvage sites, though it should be noted that volunteer groups and dollars are often spread thin and are facing an uphill battle to preserve the past.
Those who have recognized this region’s early built heritage are to be commended. Indeed, it is a worthy of celebrating the Allan Macpherson House has reached 50 years since its restoration as a museum and it will be an equally exciting time when the trustees of the Old Hay Bay Church complete a $300,000 drive for new siding, foundation work and other improvements. These buildings, like the Hawley House, offer a glimpse into the generations that built the communities we are today. They’re worthy of our support as once they’re gone, they will never be brought back.
It is hoped that through a concerted effort to educate on the value of history, and a thorough plan involving public and private interests to leverage that value that all concerned will see this benefit. Then, hopefully, there will be no more panic about the onerous rigours of conservation, but rather a collective effort to promote, to preserve, and to document these gems that define our region. May Hawley House and the other examples above serve as motivation to reach that end.