By Nicholas Dekker
It’s easy to take for granted that Old Worthington is an historic district.
Residents and regular visitors are used to its architecture, historical buildings, and the plaques and markers lining the neighborhood. But it takes a lot of work to get a neighborhood, building, or site listed on the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
Fortunately, the hard work of three Old Worthington Association board members – Greg Browning, Emily Baker, and Jim Ventresca – helped secure historic status for the district. Take a look at the work involved to make it happen!
Nick: What is your involvement in establishing the Worthington Historic District?
In 1999, a joint effort began by the Old Worthington Association (OWA) and the Worthington Historical Society to work with the City of Worthington and other local stakeholders to do the research necessary to complete an application for the Worthington Historic District – bordered by Morning Street, Evening Street, North Street, and South Street – to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Jim Ventresca, who was a member of both of these local groups, was selected as the chairman of the group, which was formally known as the Worthington Historic District Committee.
Nick: What was the impetus behind creating the district?
The primary impetus behind the creation of the district was threefold:
Awareness that Worthington’s 2003 bicentennial was approaching and that it was thus a particularly important time to honor and celebrate Worthington’s past
National recognition would help preserve local history, which has been and continues to be a central community characteristic that helps give Worthington its unique identity
Placement on the National Register would be important in keeping the past alive in the present and relevant to contemporary decision-making
Nick: What were the steps you had to take to get the district established? How long did it take and what were the biggest challenges?
The process of gaining placement on the National Register is significant. A great deal of research was required in documenting Worthington’s history, including the significance of buildings and architecture within the historic district.
For instance, reference was made to houses that were part of the Underground Railroad that helped enslaved people escape to freedom. Old Worthington also has a house that used to be the home of President Woodrow Wilson’s grandfather, who was a Presbyterian minister in Worthington. Additionally, on High Street in Old Worthington is the first commercial building in all of Franklin County. And it’s still in use as a business today.
The entire process took over 10 years. The steps ran from initial organizational efforts to working with historical consultants hired by the City of Worthington to winning the support of Ohio’s historic preservation office, which is part of the Ohio History Connection, to final approval by the U.S. Park Service, which is part of the U.S. Department of Interior. A brief summary of this process can be found on the historic marker located on the southeast quadrant of Worthington’s historic village green.
Nick: When was the district finally established and what has that meant to you and the community?
The 2010 designation is a significant and ongoing reminder that Worthington’s history is unique and nationally important and that it should be passed on from generation to generation. Small, positive steps have been taken to build on the designation. For instance, there are now street signs in Old Worthington that mention that these streets are in the “historic district.”
But much more can and should be done to keep our history alive and relevant as Worthington makes future decisions. The district is at the heart of our local identity, but it’s much more than 19th century homes and commercial structures. It goes to community values and character. As such, the Worthington Historic District remains vitally important to our future, including how we make development and preservation decisions.
Thanks to Greg, Emily, Jim, and all the members of the Old Worthington Association for their work in preserving our historic city center!
Learn more about the Old Worthington Association at oldworthington.org
Learn more about the Worthington Historical Society at worthingtonhistory.org