Members of the county-appointed board responsible for researching historic properties say they might as well go out of business if the Henderson County Board of Commissioners continues to withhold approval of its work.
Without the commissioners' OK, the Historic Resources Commission can't move forward with its plans to recognize historic properties in the county, make them eligible for tax breaks and potentially publicize the properties for a windshield tour.
"We're trying to save six years of work that we've put in," said Don Wilson, a retired architect who is also a historic preservation researcher.
Created by the Board of Commissioners in 2007, the Historic Resources Commission has spent those years identifying and researching historic homes, farms and other properties. Without an official blessing of its work from the elected board, the Historic Commission can't move forward with the process that could give historic homes landmark status.
"We won't cost the county anything," said Sue Shepherd Sneeringer, the commission chair. "In fact, we're anticipating once we get these guidelines approved we could help the county tourism."
The board members reviewed 160 homes more than 100 years old, culled the list to 20 and narrowed that list to eight:
• Bryn Avon farm (David Mallett home), River Road, Etowah.
• Solomon Jones house, 161 Mt. Hebron Road, Laurel Park.
• White Pine house, 1109 White Pine, Laurel Park.
• The 1860s Blake house, known as the Meadows, in Fletcher.
• The 1888 House of Seven Gables, 1164 Macedonia Road.
• St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 1910, Edneyville.
• Poplar Lodge, Laurel Park.
• A vacant 1850 house at 32 School House Road, Mills River.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Messer said he was aware of the frustration of the historic board and hopes to smooth things out with its members.
The historic board's Fletcher representative, Ronald Schultz, has visited Messer several times at his store and appealed for his help, he said. Messer said scheduling conflicts have prevented him from meeting with the board. The last meeting was at the same time as the commissioners' budget retreat, he said, and the next one is on a day when he is driving to Raleigh.
"They're kind of irate at the county commissioners" for not taking up their request, Messer said.
He said former Commissioner Bill O'Connor was the liaison for the historic panel. "I don't reckon he ever went to one of them," he said.
Messer said he is not aware of any opposition on the board to the Historic Resource Commission's plans.
"To give them the leeway to do what they think they need to do, I don't have a problem with it and I don't think the rest of the board will," he said. If property owners object, he said, he would not want the Historic Commission to nominate their homes for landmark status.
"You got to be careful," he said. "Some of these old-timers think you're trying to put something over on them."
SUNHED Colorful history
David Mallett, who lives in the 1884 house his grandparents bought in 1902 from Morgan J. Evans, said he was aware of the Historic Commission's work.
"I don't mind them coming but I don't want them in the house," he said. "You're talking about the general public coming? I don't know about that."
He said he would not object to historic landmark status that would make the property eligible for a property tax reduction. "How could you say no to that?" he said.
Oscar Harbin, who has owned the 1888 House of Seven Gables on Macedonia Road for 25 years, is also willing to pursue landmark status for the house. The house was built, he said, by an Englishman named Hewett Leonard "who came here with his new bride. They had read about Saluda in the newspaper being a healthy place to live."
"I worked a couple of years ago with a gentleman who collected a lot of information about this and I told him I certainly would be willing to have the house listed on historic register," he said.
He said he does not want the house open to the public; already he gets lots of calls and visits from people researching their ancestry. A large English cottage, two and three stories tall, the building once was covered with ivy that they owner brought from Alfred Lord Tennyson's grave on the Isle of Wight.
It's history tidbits like that whet the appetite of the Historic Resources Commission, which wants to recognize the homes and publicize their colorful history. The commission won't force homeowners to pursue a landmark listing, said Sneeringer, the board chair,
"They have to be completely in agreement," she said.
If the Board of Commissioners doesn't act, the historic commission members say, they're at a dead end.
"We're just dead in the water right now and everybody's frustrated," Wilson said. "We don't want six years to go down the drain. They've stonewalled us. They haven't shown any interest whatsoever."