Indiana City, County Battle Over House

Posted on: October 11th, 2007 by Preservation magazine

Barnard House, Martinsville, Ind.A historic house in Martinsville, Ind., 30 miles south of Indianapolis, is at the center of a preservation battle that has pitted the city, which wants to save the building, against Morgan County, which has demolished four of the city's historic houses in the past eight years.

Preservationists rallied to meet an August deadline to save the 1870s Barnard House, but the county hasn't yet decided the fate of the two-story brick house, which it bought last October.

Morgan County announced plans to demolish the Barnard House, located just next door to the county administration building, to make way for parking and "future needs that come up,” according to Norman Voyles, county commissioner.

Built by a Civil War veteran and entrepreneur who started the town's 19th-century sanatorium spa industry, the Barnard House is not a local landmark.

The Morgan County Historic Preservation Society worked to persuade the county against the demolition, and county commissioners agreed to hear a proposal to relocate the Barnard House if it could submit a proposal by Aug. 31 showing that the society could finance the $100,000 move.

The society is still waiting for the county's decision. "They didn't outright say no, and that was promising,” says Joe Mills, president of the society.

Joanne Stuttgen of the city's planning commission says saving the Barnard House is a city priority and that there is a plan in the works to leave the house in situ and confine the parking expansion to half a block.

"[The county] is kind of piecemeal, all over the place, which is what's alarming to the city,” Stuttgen says. "If they're going to build a new building, what more are they going to go for?”

In an effort to discourage the county's demolition of the Barnard House, Martinsville city officials, concerned by what they consider the county's aggressive policy of acquiring properties near its facilities, warned the county that it may not approve any zoning changes for the parking lot. The city is also working on a historic preservation ordinance that would protect other buildings in town from demolition.

The county demolished two historic houses in 1995 to build its offices and has demolished two others in the past two years. If lost, the Barnard House would be the seventh historic building in Martinsville that the county has demolished.

Voyles declined to comment on any plans for the Barnard House, but said that all options are still on the table and that there is no deadline for a decision.

- Stephanie Smith, Preservation magazine

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