Historic Palestine presents a town hall mmeeting

Residents hear details about the proposed New Town Historic District at a town hall meeting Wednesday at City Hall. Historic Palestine, Inc., has contracted with architectural historian Diane Williams (front, center) to apply to have the New Town Historic District added to the National Register of Historic Places, the official national registry.

Historic Palestine Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation, wants a bigger piece of the state's $2.26-billion heritage tourism industry.

Adding a proposed New Town District, maybe in a year, to the National Historic Register would enable some downtown property owners to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars from state and federal grants and tax credits to help rebuild their historic buildings — if they follow specific guidelines.

With a thriving Main Street district and dozens of sites already on the National Historic Register, Palestine appears poised to draw more money from a growing industry — heritage tourism.

First, however, an area of downtown, encompassing a concentration of historic buildings over several square blocks in the Main Street area, needs to make the National Register, the federal government's official list of historic sites.

To that end, Historic Palestine has hired historian Diane Williams of San Antonio to prepare an application to the Texas Historical Commission, which annually recommends additions to the National Register. Williams has successfully prepared other historic district applications for Palestine and other cities.

Palestine's four historic residential districts are examples of previously successful additions to the Historic Register. THC's Texas Heritage Travel Guide states Palestine has more than 1,800 historic sites.

Williams is updating a 2014 survey completed by Jacob Morris, the city's former preservation officer. Her research will continue for up to nine months, followed by a presentation in Austin to a nine-member review board, which could then recommend the district for the National Register.

Williams said the proposed New Town District is historically significant as a commercial hub for the railroad. “When the railroad arrived in the 1870's, it was a game-changer,” she said. “The downtown area reflects the growth of the railroad near downtown.”

At a town hall meeting Wednesday at City Hall, Timothy Triplett, a Main Street property owner and president of Historic Palestine, told roughly 50 residents that Palestine stood a good chance of making the register.

The town hall meeting and a survey completed this weekend by an architectural historian represent the first step in the application process.

Even if the proposed New Town district makes the National Register, a preservation architect would have to review each building's restoration plans before rehabilitation begins. Not all buildings in the district would qualify as contributing properties — buildings with architectural details that contribute to the district's historic character or significance.

The Texas Historic Commission states tourism to historic districts and preserved or restored sites draws 10 percent of all Texas travel (https://tinyurl.com/y3n3uc3f). Anderson County is one of 35 counties in the Forest Trail Region, one of 10 historic regions in Texas.

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