Although the future of the 18th and vine Historic District is optimistic (see cover story), the fate of other black history sites in the state is not as bright. Indeed, the history and significance of many of these sites is only recognized by a handful of local citizens.
The birthplace of Coleman Hawkins, famed black jazz saxophonist, was demolished in St. Joseph with little fanfare. No property associated with Hiram Young, a black wagon maker whose wagons were considered a "must" for travel on the Santa Fe Trail, remains in Independence. The significance of a stable associated with Tom Bass, the internationally known black saddle horse trainer from Mexico, Missouri, who is credited with creating Kansas City's American Royal Horse Show in 1907, is not widely recognized.
Only three percent of Missouri National Register listings (28) represent black history. Eighteen of these 28 listings are located in one of three cities (Columbia, Kansas City, and St. Louis), yet a number of Missouri's communities at one time possessed a significant black population. Interestingly, 17 of Missouri's 28 black history listings are either churches or schools, properties that are usually easily identifiable as community landmarks.
One of the greatest difficulties to overcome in drawing attention to the need to preserve black history sites is the lack of historical documentation on the existence of many of these sites. As a result, many sites sit forgotten and overlooked, easily susceptible to destruction.
The Historic Preservation Program funded a statewide survey of black history sites in 1980 and currently possesses information on some 353 individual properties in the state associated with black history, in addition to the 699 buildings located in the Santa Fe Place Historic District, a black neighborhood in Kansas City (Listed on National Register, 1986). However, very few of these properties are documented to the level that a National Register nomination could be prepared for them; many others go unidentified. Recognizing the need to draw attention to our state's black history sites, the Historic Preservation Program prioritized the funding of projects related to black history in our two most recent grant cycles. (See funding story below. Page 4 in the printed edition)
The Historic Preservation Revolving Fund works to protect endangered historic properties statewide. The fund has aided properties threatened by commercial and residential development, severe neglect, potential demolition, long-term vacancy, and sale for inappropriate use. Through intervention by the Revolving Fund, these properties are now protected by covenants placed in the property's deed, assuring preservation into the future.
Not all properties are so lucky. Sometimes, when we are finally notified by local preservationists that there is a serious threat, it is too late for the Fund to intervene. Once developers have made a serious offer, for example, it is difficult to convince property owners to consider an offer from the Fund, even for the same amount. Or, once a property has been condemned due to severe neglect, pressure from local officials may demand demolition before an agreement can be reached.
A property may be owned by someone who is elderly and who has no heirs interested in its future preservation. A property that is vacant, or that is about to become vacant, may be a target for demolition or inappropriate alteration. Neglected properties may or may not be vacant.
The "silent killer" in many areas is inflation of property values. If a property is to be inherited, or has been owned by one family for a very long time, it may stand on land that may be worth many times its original cost. That makes sale to a developer a tempting way to take advantage of this potential gain. Farm land is often more valuable than an old, vacant house standing on it; this has caused the demise of many historic rural properties.
We are often asked by the legislature and many other officials to
describe the need for preservation funding. With your help, we
can begin to compile a list of these properties. To notify us of
an endangered property, please call Jane Beetem, Revolving Fund
Coordinator, at (314) 751-5373.