Historic Palestine, Inc.’s effort to gain national recognition and tax incentives for the oldest section of the Main Street District, which began a year ago, is still on track. The local nonprofit is sponsoring the preparation of a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the New Town Commercial Historic District, at a cost of roughly $20,000.
Historic Palestine’s leaders say they hope the listing will spur investment and compatible rehabilitation projects, assisting the area in becoming a thriving commercial district that draws tourists and boosts the local economy — as do other historic Main Street towns benefitting from the state’s $2 billion heritage tourism industry.
“We have the real Main Street America in Palestine, and that’s a terrific asset,” said Timothy Triplett, Historic Palestine’s president. “Historic tourism is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the economy for Palestine.”
The National Park Service administers the National Register program, and lists them online at nps.gov. The listing will draw attention to Palestine’s historic and architectural significance while offering financial incentives to owners willing to rehabilitate their buildings.
“Rehabilitation of historic commercial buildings supports and enhances economic development, increases tourism, boosts civic pride, and creates regional visibility,” said Dr. Carolyn Salter, a founding member of Historic Palestine, former Palestine mayor, and democratic candidate for Texas’ Fifth Congressional District.
Last year, Historic Palestine held a public meeting at City Hall to formally announce the project’s intent and generate interest among property owners. Though some proposals take just one year to complete, the COVID-19 crisis and some unexpected findings are extending the project at least six more months.
Diane Williams of San Antonio, an architectural historian, is researching, surveying, and preparing the nomination. Despite the unforeseen delays, she remains undaunted.
“The project is still, and always has been, on track,” Williams said.
The proposed New Town Historic District includes more than 10 blocks of historic commercial buildings originally platted in 1872 in anticipation of the arrival of the International & Great Northern Railroad. A thriving commercial center from the 1870s to the 1960s, Palestine served as an important rail shipping hub for Anderson County and surrounding areas, and brought new residents and businesses.
Some historic commercial buildings, such as The Redlands Hotel, the G.E. Dilley Building, the Carnegie Library, the Old Palestine Post Office and Federal Building, and the Robinson Bros. Bank Building, have already been added to the National Register as individually listed properties.
For decades, Historic Palestine has worked behind the scenes to encourage restoration and rehabilitation of the city’s historic buildings. The National Register already recognizes four of Palestine’s historic neighborhoods.
The Northside and Southside Residential Historic Districts have been on the register since 1998. Michaux Park and Old Town Residential Historic Districts were listed in 2004 and 2006. Williams participated in preparations for all four successful proposals. Grants from the Texas Historical Commission and matching funds from the City of Palestine provided funding for the nominations.
Triplett, who is restoring the three-story Gregg-Link building at the corner of Spring and North Sycamore streets, said acceptance of the proposal will contribute to an upcoming “chain reaction” that will draw thousands more tourists each year.
“People with resources are moving into downtown Palestine,” Triplett said. “We’re building toward a chain reaction to where things really explode in a good way.”