Friday, May 31, 2013

Highlighting Three Historic Districts in Greencastle

As we close out May, which is National Historic Preservation Month, here’s another guest blog post submitted by Phil Gick from the Heritage Preservation Society (HPS) of Putnam County.  HPS works to promote and encourage interest in the historic structures, history and heritage of the county, as well as facilitate the identification, preservation and restoration of the area’s structural heritage. 

The City of Greencastle’s architecture reflects over 175 years of changing American and Midwestern patterns, with ready evidence of general prosperity, cultural attainment and imaginative design from the early pioneer cabin to the new facilities at DePauw. 

Recently, the Heritage Preservation Society completed walking brochures (pictured) that highlight this architecture in three of the city’s Historic Districts that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  These districts contain over 400 structures that contribute to their historic beauty, and each of the areas have clear, recognizable themes or “settings” that convey the cultural landscapes of their times. 

The Northwood Historic District, with its collection of early to mid-20th century residential resources, and extremely high degree of integrity, provides a window into the period immediately following World War I through the period immediately following World War II.  It beckons you to a time you can only read about in history books now – a time of American innocence.  Driving through the area can be very nostalgic, particularly to those of the “greatest generation” and their children. 

The Eastern Enlargement Historic District, with its large stock of late-19th to early 20th century residences, also retains a lot of integrity.  In this district, one can see a wide variety of American architectural styles featured in mansions and small cottages.  This area is still “home” to many of the most prominent residences built in the community during any era.  Beautifully shaded East Washington, Seminary, Anderson and Bloomington streets lead to the homes of the most prosperous Greencastle citizens of the late-19th and early 20th centuries.  The substantial number of “high society” Italianate, Queen Anne, Tudor Gothic Revival and Eastlake structures convey the feel of a quintessential “turn of the century” affluent neighborhood. 

As you travel through this district on Seminary Street – the residential “main street” – you will see multiple National Register-listed structures, such as the stately Franklin P. Nelson House and the University President’s official residence, the Elms.  Walk across the district via almost any route and you will fully appreciate the large collection of beautiful turn of the century homes within its footprint.  

While majestic homes certainly draw significant attention, it’s important to remember that Greencastle began as a small and humble pioneer village.   
Of course, as the seat of county government and home to a college, its population soon grew.  From an early time, stores, shops and mills were located around or near the square, and the area to the west was where homes sprung up.   This is what comprises the residential area now known as the Old Greencastle Historic District.  Here, Carpenter-Builder style homes, with a significant complement of Stick and Bungalow structures, dominate.  They speak to the modest means of the city’s early businessmen and workers. 

The character and visual elements of these historic residential districts have not changed dramatically from their original settings.  During the summer months, when trees and flowers are in full bloom, and the university is on summer schedule, a walk along many of these districts’ streets quickly returns you to a time when homeowners cut their grass with push lawnmowers…when cars with loud blaring music did not travel the thoroughfares…and when sitting on your front porch, with a radio tuned to a baseball game, was still THE thing to do on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

The Old Greencastle, Eastern Enlargement and Northwood Historic Districts are special – they’re an architectural road map of the community’s existence.  They’re a symbol of the past, but also reflect the pride of the present owners who have taken up the mantle of preserving the physical and visible images of these beautiful places.

What is your favorite historic building or area in Greencastle?  Let us know in the comments below!

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