Mentoring visits

Last week, Jeff and I had the opportunity to visit the preservation statewides in Indiana and Michigan—Indiana Landmarks and Michigan Historic Preservation Network. We were able to travel thanks to a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through its Brink Fund. This fund provides mentoring dollars to cover travel costs so preservation organizations such as Heritage Ohio can learn about successful programs in other states.

For Heritage Ohio, we’ve established our Save Ohio’s Treasures program with seed funding from the Turner Foundation and from the 1772 Foundation, and we’re in the “gathering information” phase. Visits to neighboring statewides will help prepare us as we investigate how best to create and formally launch Save Ohio’s Treasures.

In many ways, Indiana has the statewide organization that many other statewides aspire to become. With a multi-use headquarters, 40+ full-time staff stationed throughout the state, and an endangered fund program that has saved hundreds of historic buildings over the fund’s 40 years of existence, Indiana Landmarks shows what top-notch staff paired with generous donors can achieve. Their Efroymson Family Endangered Places Fund operates throughout the state, and Landmarks uses fund dollars to make strategic investments.

Michigan’s statewide has taken an innovative approach to raising funds by creating a subsidiary company to serve as a tax credit syndicator. They have used the fees generated from syndicating to capitalize their Intervention Loan Fund.

While their respective programs represent different ends of the endangered properties fund spectrum, we came away with critical insights from each that we can apply to our unique situation in Ohio. Here are some of the highlights of what we learned:

-Mission-related investments, unlike business-related investments, aren’t necessarily designed as much to make money as they are to save buildings (hence, we may invest in a project to save a building, when we know from the start that we’ll lose a portion of that investment)

-Making grants from an endangered fund, while attractive to the recipient, mean that once the money is disbursed, it’s gone, while loans from a fund (theoretically) come back to the fund and replenish the fund, making fund dollars go further

-Accepting program dollars with strings attached, when raising funds to build the corpus of the endangered places fund, may be ok (depending on what those strings are)

-It’s critical to think through the approach of how funds are loaned: do you spread a lot of minimal dollar amounts, or do you target larger dollar amounts for focused efforts, at the expense of overall impact

-It’s also critical to establish benchmarks about just how “historic” a building has to be to qualify for funding help (for example, should we consider strategic investment to help preserve properties not listed in the National Register of Historic Places?)

It has been exciting to work on building Save Ohio’s Treasures from the ground up for us, especially since we see the need and the potential for a fund devoted to helping to save our heritage.

As we sift through these important topics, we’re working with a team of consultants to complete an implementation plan toward the end of the year. We’ll take the lessons learned and insights gained from Indiana and Michigan to help us create a plan that sets up Save Ohio’s Treasures for success.

Announcing Growing a Culinary Community Training


9:00am    Registration and Refreshments
9:30am    Welcome Remarks – Dennis Murray – Ex-Officio Mayor
9:45am    Leslie Schaller – Appalachian Center for Economic Networks
11:15am  Robert Welcher – Restaurant Consulting Inc. 
11:45am  Lunch On Your Own Downtown 
1:30pm    Robert Welcher – Restaurant Consulting Inc.
2:00pm    Eric Wobser – Past Director, Ohio City Inc.
3:00pm    Sandusky Culinary Panel
4:00pm    Training Concludes



Local Accommodations: 

Kalahari Resort
7000 Kalahari Drive Sandusky, Ohio 44870
Request Heritage Ohio Main Street Room Rate of $79


My intense week of learning

In June I was in Newport, Rhode Island, on the campus of Salve Regina University, to complete the second part of the Historic Real Estate Finance class put on by the National Development Council, with support from the 1772 Foundation and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (you can see pretty pictures of the Newport homes here and here).

The first class was intense. We spent the week learning developer math (calculating debt service, net operating income, market caps, and debt coverage ratios), cranking out pro forma sheets for actual projects, and plugging incentives such as the rehabilitation tax credits into project problems. What we learned early on as a class is that development, especially when it comes to historic buildings, carries a great deal of risk. While one project that goes right means positive cash flow to a developer, a project that goes wrong can put a developer under.

We also learned that revenues post-rehabilitation rarely match expenses going in pre-rehabilitation; hence, the need for incentives to help close the financing gap.

The first class was intense. The second class was brain damage, as the instructors mixed the math and story problems with a generous helping of New Markets Tax Credits learning (although, to the instructors’ credit, I left this class truly understanding, for the first time, how NMTCs work and why they can be so powerful to make projects go) *and* case studies that took problem solving to new heights of depth and complexity. (Here’s Dartmoor. I had an especially good time with the Dartmoor case study, as we tried to translate subjective qualities of the players into objective dollars and cents outputs.)

Going through these two classes, I have a new-found appreciation for the tough job of being a developer of historic properties, no matter how big or small the project, and just how big a risk people take sometimes to preserve the heritage that makes all of our lives richer for having it. Thank you to the National Development Council, the 1772 Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for making such a valuable learning experience accessible, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable!

Dollars and Sense of Building Rehabilitation Findlay Ohio August 8, 2014

Heritage Ohio will bring their popular Building Rehabilitation Workshop to Findlay, Ohio August 8th. Historic commercial centers are seeing a strong resurgence in economic activity, as walk-able communities and urban living become more prevalent. This workshop is a good opportunity for building owners to learn more about successful  financial strategies and  how tools such as historic tax credits are used to renovate historic commercial structures.  To view the agenda and register click HERE.

Main Street Troy Seeks Executive Director



1. Work Objective

The Troy Main Street Director coordinates activity within a downtown revitalization program which utilizes historic preservation an integral foundation for downtown economic development.
The Director is the principal on-site staff person responsible for coordinating all project activities locally as well as for representing the community regionally and nationally as appropriate.


National Trust Releases 2014 Annual Federal Historic Tax Credit Report

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s publication, “The Federal Historic Tax Credit: Transforming Communities” which focuses on the federal historic tax credit being a catalyst for change, was released today. The report discusses the importance of the federal historic tax credit, and its effectiveness in revitalization of communities. While the Trust provided case studies on success stories in Maryland, Utah, and Georgia (focusing on 2001-2013), they also provided an update on the United States’ success using the federal historic tax credit. In two words, it works!

The case studies provided by the Trust provide a more in-depth look at how the historic tax credit has benefited the state and local economies. In Maryland, for example, it was shown that every $1 million invested in historic preservation tax credit projects, 2,500 tons of demolition debris avoided landfills. The 397 projects have created 19,803 jobs and generated $753,773,100 in household income. In Georgia, every $1million invested in historic preservation added $558,000 to state tax revenues and creates 16.3 construction jobs. Of their 349 projects, 7047 jobs have been created and generated $253,672,900 in household income. The case studies also reveal the true catalytic effect of the federal historic tax credit. The number of building permits issued, particularly for alteration, conversion, and repair has skyrocketed, the numbers show that people are moving back to areas where these projects have been completed, and property values have increased. One of the case studies discussed is the American Can Company, where surrounding property values in 2005 were $1,626,069. Eight years later, that same property is valued at $24,368,347.

Since its inception into the tax code over 30 years ago, $21 billion of tax credits have generated over $26.6 billion in federal tax revenue. With 75% of the revenue benefiting the state and local economies, this is a program which has proven itself time and time again. Since the first tax credit in 1978, $109 billion in private monies spurred by the federal tax credit have created 2.4 million jobs (generating $91.5 billion of income), 39,600 historic buildings have been rehabilitated, which includes 450,000 housing units. So how does Ohio compare? Between 2001 and 2013, 9799 projects were completed using $4,002,259,567 of tax credits across the country. Ohio contributed 775 projects, with $328,632,836 in tax credits, roughly 8%. Way to go, Ohio!

You can read more about the study and download a copy here.

Visual clues at the Fairfield County Infirmary Pt II

Yesterday we started reviewing a site visit to the Fairfield County Infirmary. Today we’ll take a look at a sandstone outbuilding on the property.

When I mentioned my excitement yesterday about the outbuildings, these pictured below were a big source of the excitement. Too often, unfortunately, these buildings are lost.

The outbuildings on a site can provide a richer detail of the day-to-day existence of the residents. Whether they were constructed with inferior materials or techniques, or decisions about ongoing maintenance focused on the main building to the detriment of the other buildings on the site, outbuildings can be too quickly and too easily lost to demolition.

The building in the foreground was well-constructed (obviously) with sandstone block composing the walls. But even a building material as sturdy as sandstone block can fall prey to the dangers of moisture. During the summer we may have hot and humid air just outside of this building, while the air temperature inside could be significantly cooler. Just like a cup of cold water will “sweat” in the hot summer air as water vapor condenses on its surface, water vapor in the air will condense on the cooler sandstone. While sandstone is an incredibly strong stone, its strength is compromised when wet, allowing deterioration to occur. In winter, when the warmer, wetter air in the interior of the building hits the colder, drier air, we have condensation, and ice.

The condensation and freeze/thaw cycles on the building contribute to an almost constant deterioration cycle. The moisture will attack the inherently weaker areas in the sandstone, and given 150+ years, the sandstone will show the pockmarked appearance, as the sandstone loses its binder. Working to equalize humidity and temperature levels between the outside and inside of the building will help to slow the deterioration. Otherwise, the owner of the building will have a large repair bill in the future, having to replace or restore the sandstone.

Given the location of the road and its proximity to the sandstone outbuilding, it’s also possible that salt-laden snow has been repeatedly piled against the lower wall. Any dissolved salt that penetrates the stone and refreezes will certainly speed deterioration of the stone. It’s important to try to keep all the possibilities in mind when assessing buildings and the site.

I’ll finish today’s post with a couple site photos, since the setting of the infirmary seemed very peaceful, especially on the day we visited.

With these two images of the back elevation and front facade of the building, you can get a sense of the topography of the site. Add active springs into the mix, and site drainage becomes an even more critical issue. There are places in the main building where you can hear the rush of the underground springs as they channel the water through the property.

The front lawn in this image is actually on the other side of Route 37. The county owned nearly 2,000 acres, I think, at its height for the infirmary site, but most of the land has been parceled off and sold. The lawn in this picture is part of OU’s Lancaster branch site.

We’re keeping close tabs on the fate of the complex and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we learn new information. Thanks to Jon Slater, Fairfield County Auditor, and Dennis Keller, Facilities Manager, for hosting us and giving us a peek into an important piece of Fairfield County history!

Visual clues at the Fairfield County Infirmary Pt I

Back in early May, Jeff and I visited the Fairfield County Infirmary. The main building is commonly known as the Miller Building. The campus is located on State Route 37, north and east of downtown Lancaster. The site is hilly and very picturesque, with underground springs that originally provided the water needs for the campus.

Jeff and I visited that day to tour the site with Fairfield County officials. The campus is nearly 100% vacant currently, and commissioners have sought ideas for redevelopment (thankfully, they are entertaining redevelopment options that include the preservation and continued use of some, if not all, of the buildings located on the site).

It was a thrill to tour through buildings dating to the 1820s, and to see so many of the site’s outbuildings that had survived, some in continued use even today. As we toured I paid special attention to what was happening with the buildings and the site. I kept in mind questions such as: how do the locations of buildings on the site (and the grading on the site) contribute to the protection of buildings and materials, or contribute to their deterioration; how have alterations and repairs protected buildings or sped their deterioration; and how have differences with temperature and humidity affected building materials. I’ll report on what I found over the next couple posts.

While it was initially puzzling to see this distinct two-toned appearance on the sandstone retaining wall, a closer investigation of the individual blocks points to a probable cause.

The two detail shots show what appears to be an intact stone crust, but a deteriorated interior structure. This means that water or water vapor was likely trapped within the stone. In other words, the surface of the stone became impermeable, not allowing trapped water or water vapor to pass through. Typically, if a stone or brick is coated with an impermeable sealer, the water or vapor collects against the inside face of the stone. The sustained wetness, not to mention freeze-thaw cycles, will cause the continual deterioration of the stone, as the water cannot escape, while the outside face of the stone appears relatively sound.

The sealed or “protected” face of the stone remains relatively deterioration-free, until the complete disintegration of the interior structure of the stone causes the crust to flake off, due to a lack of any internal support.

These images provide a perfect example of why I get nervous any time I hear someone talking about the need to “waterproof” or “seal” a masonry surface. While there are sealers that work well with masonry when there is a true need, so many times we see the sealer doing more damage than good because: 1) the masonry wall does not actually need to be sealed, and, 2) the sealer does not allow water vapor to pass through, trapping interior moisture within the masonry, speeding up deterioration.

There’s no mistaking that masonry can be a very strong building component, when used the right way. When masonry is stacked, such as the brick used in the building in this image, its ability to hold up the structure and work against gravity is impressive. However, masonry is no match for forces pushing against a wall (as opposed to forces such as gravity, which pushes down through the wall, not against it). Here, a single thickness concrete block retaining wall shows a visible bow as the pressure exerted by the earthen hill exceeds the strength of the bond between the block and the mortar in the retaining wall.

What I really like about this image is the well-worn sandstone door sill. On the day this sill was placed, the plane across the top of the stone was level and straight. The wear we see in the image is the tangible evidence of the people that came before us, thousands of steps coming into or out of the building, crossing the threshold.

Also interesting to note is the lower rail of the screen door. Instead of fabricating the typical rectangular shape, someone accounted for the gap created by the wear and cut a custom fitted rail, conforming to the dip in the stone.

I’ll be back tomorrow with more visuals from our visit, and more thoughts about the different forces acting upon the buildings.

Preservation trades annual conference coming back to St Clairsville!

I’m so excited to let you know that the Preservation Trades Network is bringing its annual conference (the International Preservation Trades Workshop, or IPTW) back to Ohio, specifically to St Clairsville! On September 12 and 13, Belmont College’s campus will become an unparalleled learning center for attendees to watch countless demonstrations related to the building trades. Promising 30+ traditional trade demonstrations in 10 different tracks, PTN’s workshop will truly have something for everyone.

However, it won’t just be about learning. There’s a Wheeling Pub & History Crawl, awards dinner and auction, *and* Trades Olympics! (I suppose I better get those chisels sharpened.)

So, it’s one thing to be excited about this year’s IPTW and the great opportunities to watch demonstrations, but I’m doubly excited because Belmont College is my alma mater. It’s where I first learned the finer points on reconstructing a sandstone foundation wall, learned how to recondition old wood windows to function like new, learned how to repair plaster, how to create new stained glass and restore historic stained glass, learned stone carving. Oh, and learned how systems like plumbing and electrical work in a house.

Preservation and the trades have become so intertwined both in my personal and professional life, that the campus of Belmont is like hallowed ground for me…where it all started for me, if you will. Although it’s been almost 20 years since I was a student at Belmont, to this day I’m still actively putting into practice what I learned there, so coming back to brush up on the trades, learn new tips and techniques, or to just be amazed by the talent and ability on display will be an amazing privilege to experience.

Online registration is open now. Just go to and click on IPTW 2014. I hope to see you there!

What do you geek out over?

We all have something we geek out over, something we could spend hours looking at or studying. Maybe for you it is house colors, baseball statistics, the next way you might design your garden. For me, I regularly have what I call nerd nights where I pick a city and look at the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. Sanborn maps are probably my favorite historic resource to consult and for this blog post, I am going to share why I get so excited when I find Sanborn maps.

Sandusky Sanborn Example

A Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Sandusky

Sanborn maps were created as a risk analysis tool for insurance underwriters. The maps were produced from 1866 through 1970. Population growth, demographic shifts, and urban sprawl all necessitated the need for regularly updated maps. A new map was created approximately every 10 years. The maps were created for towns and cities, but are generally not available for country properties. For the bigger cities, like Columbus or Cleveland, multiple volumes were needed to show the entire city. New York City reportedly has 39 volumes.

What’s so special about these maps? The wealth of detail and information which can be gained about a building for which there are no photographs can often be found in these maps. Each map was created on a piece of paper measuring 21” x 25” and was drawn at a scale of 50 feet to 1 inch. Everything was measured by tapeline, including the buildings, streets, sidewalks, and other utility features like distance to fire hydrants, gas lines, and water lines. The last part was particularly important for the fire insurance aspect of the maps. While the maps were created across the country, all maps are set up the same; all keyed the same, and demonstrate the same level of detail. Each volume was set up in the following order: a decorative title page, index of streets and “specials” which included schools, churches, and bigger businesses, a master key for the map (a map of the entire city color coded and numbered showing which map you would need to look up for your particular address), and some general information on population, geography, geology, economy, etc. In the case where multiple volumes were needed for a city, the master map would also let you know the volume number you needed if the area was adjoining the map you were currently using. Many states, including Ohio, have indexed digitized copies of the maps. If you have a library card, you can access this database (yes, even from your home in your comfy clothes). Here’s the link unfortunately, most of the digitized maps are black and white, but a lot of information can still be gained.

For this example, we will look at Heritage Ohio’s location. If you’ve never been to our office, feel free to do a quick Google maps street view search so you can get a 2014 idea of what the neighborhood looks like today. Our address is 846 East Main Street, Columbus. Click on the sanborn.ohioweblibrary link from above and type in Columbus on the search box. Now we have a list of the maps which have been digitized for the city. Notice that the first two years only have a single volume, then in 1901 there are 3 volumes, 1921 there are 6, and then in 1951 there are 9 volumes.


Go ahead and click on 1887. This will bring up a hyperlink for each map and also lists the “specials” and the streets (including the street numbers represented on that map). We want the street titled, Main, E which includes 846.


One of the first pages (usually page 0a or something similar) will always be the index, which if there were multiple volumes for the map would let us know if we were in the correct volume. In this case, the index is the first link. Clicking on the link, we find that there was a gap in the mapping between 824 and 893 East Main Street. Rather irksome knowing they cut off right where you need the map! So, click the red ‘x’ next to the Date: Feb, 1887 on the left side of the screen and it will bring you back to the list of maps.

1891 Map


Let’s try 1891. The index tells us that we need sheet number 70. On the right side of the screen, you can “jump to” a specific page. Go ahead and type in 70 and check it out. You should be able to zoom in to read the tiny details. If you had a chance to drive by our office or street viewed the neighborhood, you would know there is a square block of nothingness across the street from us. However, now you know what used to be there….an orphan asylum, and a large campus at that! The next map available is from 1901. I’ll save you the time and let you know you that our address is in Volume 3, sheet 320. Compared to the last map, we can see there has been a lot of development on our block. Our building is at the bottom of the sheet, where 844 and 848 are labeled. Yes, the one with the attached bowling alley. Focusing on this parcel of land, this map shows us that the building was 2 stories, with an opening to get between 844 and 848 in the middle, as well as access to the bowling alley. Keep going and find out what else became of the block. What became of the orphan asylum?

1891 Street

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1891

The color coded maps, in my opinion, are well worth the trip to the library or historical society. Here are the links for the keys so you can decipher the map. For the black and white maps, like the digitized maps mentioned in this blog, use this key:

Here is a color coded key:

Here is a link for the many of the abbreviations found on the maps:



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