There are lots of questions about preservation. What does preservation mean? What role does it play in a community? How is preservation viewed by government and private developers? Why aren’t historic resources more included in the planning process? All too often we choose to tear things down or otherwise destroy them rather than view them as assets. Preservation can and should play a role in supporting and sustaining strong and resilient communities. The positive sense of stewardship that comes from valuing an area’s unique legacy reflects the strength of its culture and the significant part that culture plays in creating and maintaining a healthy urban fabric.
With the recent announcement by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls of a reprieve for Hurrle Hall, there is an opportunity to take a new and more comprehensive look at the structure and how it can fit in with community needs. Hurrle Hall is one of the oldest buildings in Little Falls, Minnesota. Built in 1891, it was identified as a landmark in 2004 by the Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission. Listing as a local landmark conveys a sense of the building’s importance to the community, a distinction that is shared by both the Franciscan Sisters and the City of Little Falls. That demonstrated support alone brings enough recognition that renovation and rehabilitation for such an important and unique structure should be considered in any future planning process.
There is a common belief that all structures wear out. While building elements wear out, the foundations, walls and floors of well-built structures may never need to be replaced. Many who work in the construction and planning industry are not familiar with the renovation options and building code provisions that can make rehabilitation more feasible and less expensive then is generally thought. Broad, well-informed public involvement and careful, well-documented studies to determine if an existing facility can be upgraded to meet current standards for equal or less cost than building new are important to include in the planning and development process. Looking to successful examples found throughout Morrison County will provide inspiration. Our Lady of Angels in Belle Prairie and the Buckman Hotel in downtown Little Falls are excellent examples of structures that have been rehabilitated for new housing options.
Cultural resources are essential to a community’s health and vitality. They are the foundation of a successful and productive environment, they serve as proven economic assets and catalysts for growth, they give a strong and unique sense of place, and they help provide an awareness of multiple perspectives in an increasingly intercultural world. They are one piece, one critical and often neglected piece, of the community puzzle. Work to ensure that significant cultural resources continue to be prized and well-utilized community assets shows the positive impact preservation makes in supporting a thriving local environment and a strong cultural legacy.
~ Ann Marie Johnson, MCHS Curator
This article was originally published in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2016.