Courthouse square district named to National Register of Historic Places



Assisting the town’s business owners is at the forefront of every conversation between members of the Brownstown/Ewing Main Street board of directors.

In the fall of 2018, the nonprofit organization was a part of the start of a process to help those who own businesses and buildings on the Jackson County Courthouse square.

If the area was named to the National Register of Historic Places, those owners could reap the benefits from possible tax credits and cost savings as they make improvements to their buildings.

On March 4, Brownstown/Ewing Main Street received word that the Brownstown Courthouse Square Historic District has been added to the list.

Conner Barnette, vice president of Brownstown/Ewing Main Street, said although it was an involved process, the designation came at a minimal cost to the organization.

“After meeting with the town board, we decided that with the possible tax credits and cost savings this could open up to our building owners, it was well worth the work and associated fees,” he said.

The organization was glad to have Indiana Landmarks accept its nomination and then have Kurt West Garner of Plymouth help fill out the application and see the project all the way through.

“Kurt was instrumental in getting this done,” Barnette said. “Any time we can offer another resource for our community business and building owners, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Along with tax credits, the designation will allow building owners to access grants administered through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.

“The stipulations that are required to be met may not be feasible for every project, but we encourage everyone in the district to look into the possibilities and reach out to us with any questions,” Barnette said.

He said there is some common misconception that being designated as a historic district limits what a building owner is permitted to do, but that’s not the case with this particular designation.

“We have absolutely no intention on limiting what a building owner can do, but rather giving them opportunity to leverage their investment dollars to create an even greater impact,” Barnette said.

Brownstown/Ewing Main Street is really excited about what’s happening around the square right now, Barnette said. On the heels of the new Jackson County Judicial Center, one building on the square has been renovated in the past year, and another currently is under renovation.

The National Register listing, Barnette said, “is just another tool in their toolbox when looking to make improvements on their existing investment.”

The district was eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under commerce and politics/government as areas of significance.

It’s roughly bounded by Walnut Street between Sugar and Poplar streets and Main Street between Cross and Spring streets and was developed around the courthouse square during the 1800s into the mid- 1900s as the town’s commercial core, said Laura Renwick, community preservation specialist for the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office in New Albany.

Brownstown was selected as the seat of government for Jackson County in 1816, and the courthouse is the continual reminder of that designation, she said.

The district also was eligible under architecture as an area of significance because it includes examples of architectural styles popular between 1880 and 1910, including Italianate, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival. All of these are commercial in nature except for the most prominent building, the courthouse, which is an example of Classical Revival architecture.

Greg Sekula, director of the Southern Regional Office, said Indiana Landmarks advocated for the listing of Brownstown’s district to recognize the history and architecture of the courthouse square area and downtown.

“And it’s important to the history of Jackson County,” he said.

The nomination was prepared by K.W. Garner Consulting and Design of Plymouth and submitted in early 2019.

Garner said the nomination included listing every building in the district, defining the boundary and providing a sampling of the architectural description and history. Another section included describing the historical significance of the area.

Once he had all of that together, he submitted it to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology for the technical review.

“That just takes four to six weeks for them to respond once it has been submitted,” Garner said.

Then there was a long holding pattern before moving to the substantive review.

“That has nothing to do with the nomination itself,” Garner said. “They just go in the order of the ones they receive, and right now, that’s taking somewhere between 12 and 16 months from the time it passes technical review to substantive review.”

After the substantive review, he made a few edits and sent it to the Indiana Historic Preservation Review Board.

“They only meet quarterly, so then you have to hit that time slot,” he said.

Once that was approved, the paperwork was submitted to the National Park Service, which does the official listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

While it’s a long process, Garner said it’s fulfilling to see property added to the list. Brownstown is among 186 he has helped since his first one in 1998. About a dozen of them are courthouse square districts, he said.

In Jackson County, Garner also helped get the Westside Historic District and Walnut Street Historic District in Seymour on the National Register of Historic Places in 2020.

“I wrote my first one for my hometown of Plymouth,” he said. “Really, it wasn’t until I started my own business in 2008 that I started to do a lot of these.”

Garner’s background is in architecture, and he was a project manager for his first 12 years out of college. The firm had a focus on historic preservation.

“I think that’s what kind of started my interest,” he said. “Then when I went out on my own, a number of people were asking me to do these nominations, and so it just kind of snowballed from there.”

So why is he drawn to help places make the list?

“I love Indiana history. I just do,” Garner said. “To be able to do this, really, it’s almost more like a hobby. Imagine getting paid to do something that you love. It’s a pretty rare thing, so I feel very blessed.”

He also likes being a part of the process because through his business, he gets to help communities with grant applications and grant administration to access tax credits to restore buildings or put them into service.

“I get both sides of it,” he said. “That’s a very rewarding part about getting it listed, but then people have to take advantage of it. A lot of times, even in my hometown, people are completely unaware that it’s listed, so you don’t have people taking advantage of that designation as much as they should.”

In the Jackson County seat, Brownstown Hardware at 110 S. Main St. has been in business for 111 years.

Owner Kim Lucas said it’s great to see her family’s longtime business be a part of the area added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“I’m glad there are people that are working in that direction trying to help Brownstown,” she said. “If getting that title helps Brownstown, then I’m glad for those people that are hardworking that are trying to do that, that have the time to do that.”

She said the designation gives current building and business owners a mental boost knowing good things are happening in town and more good things are to come.

“It might draw more people to town because they are curious. Maybe they never knew anything about it, so now, they do,” she said. “It’s a big step in the right direction.”

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Property owners in the Brownstown Courthouse Square Historic District interested in learning more about the rehabilitation tax credits may visit or contact the Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Office at 812-284-4534 or [email protected].


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