Written by Jennifer Sandy
When I first saw the Fuchs House more than four years ago, its potential for a getaway retreat seemed obvious. Though vacant and abandoned, the beautiful stone building was in remarkably good condition, and its location overlooking a small mill house and pond with the Mark Twain National Forest as a backdrop was ideal. With staff from the Forest and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), I walked through the empty house and imagined visitors to the forest settling in for a cozy evening before the fireplace after having spent the day exploring southeast Missouri's natural and cultural heritage.
It turns out I wasn't the only one with that dream. When the Mark Twain National Forest and the Heritage Stewardship Group (HSG) sent out an advertisement for creative re-use proposals for several surplus properties including the Fuchs House, a team from Rolla, Missouri, came back with an unusual proposal: 16 teams, each led by skilled professionals in the construction trade, would rehab the house at no cost to the forest, in exchange for use of the property for two weeks each year.
This is a great deal for both the volunteers and the forest, which recognized the Fuchs House's historic significance but did not have the funds to rehab it. HSG, a Forest Service Enterprise Team created to help the agency manage and protect its valuable cultural resources, worked closely with the volunteers during the proposal and planning stages. Forest and SHPO staff will oversee the rehab work to ensure that it meets federal standards, and each volunteer team will have the benefit of two weeks every year to enjoy the Mark Twain's amenities. The house will also be available for rental a few weeks annually to help cover ongoing maintenance costs.
When historic resources in the Mark Twain National Forest were listed on America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2007, the future of the Fuchs House and other forest properties was very uncertain. Thanks to the willingness of the forest to seek new partners, the 1939 house built from local stone will become an attraction instead of a liability. Projects like this are exactly what a new Presidential initiative, America's Great Outdoors, has in mind. America's Great Outdoors is designed to promote and support innovative community-level efforts to conserve outdoor spaces and to reconnect Americans to the outdoors, and the National Trust is urging people to join the conversation. The restoration of the Fuchs House attests to the power of partnerships to save historic resources on America's public lands.
Jennifer Sandy is a program officer in the Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.