Ashland Times Gazette
Ashland’s Historic District
By Jim Konkoly
Ashland – On June 18 a board in Washington designated a half mile section of Center St. as a national historic district. It became the first and only place in the News Journal’s eight county circulation area to be so designated.
The six blocks of stately old houses and tall shade trees were listed in the National Register of Historic Places due to the efforts of a South Zanesville woman who says she “loves beauty, a rare commodity these days,” and “the quality of life.”
The woman is Mrs. Alta Sims, a graduate of Ashland High School and Ashland College who married a man who took her off to live in South Zanesville. It was on one of her frequent trips home to visit her parents that she happened into a summer’s work that resulted in the formation of the historic district.
Thursday of Easter week last year, she remembers, was a beautiful spring day. Like they had done so often before, the Sims went for a walk around town.
At the time Mrs. Sims had never heard of the National Register of Historic Places. She was very familiar, though, with the old F.E. Myers mansion at the corner of Center St. and College Ave. She had taken classes there during her college days.
As they walked past the unique old house Mrs. Sims noted that it was in bad shape. She remembered, “I couldn’t help thinking that they were probably going to tear it down, and I thought that would be a real shame because it was such a beautiful building.
Two days later the Sims happened to make a long awaited visit to the Ohio Historical Museum in Columbus. Still thinking about the Myers mansion, Mrs. Sims asked a guard if there was anybody there who studied or did anything with old buildings.
Mrs. Sims was surprised when she found that indeed there was somebody like that. She was introduced to Jeff Darbee, historian of the Ohio Historical Society’s preservation office.
His curiosity whetted by Mrs. Sims description of the Myers building, Darbee came up to Ashland two months later. As Mrs. Sims had guessed, a wrecking ball smashed down the mansion a few weeks after Darbee’s visit.
But Darbee, the one who talks about “historic preservation” and “the quality of life,” was so impressed with the street that he suggested it become and historic district.
“As preservationists,” Darbee said, “we’re trying to get people to think about what aesthetics, beautiful buildings and areas, mean to the quality of life in a community .”
Center St., he said, has “tremendous visual quality. It is very pleasant, and it is one of the important things that makes Ashland what it is. It makes Ashland ‘Ashland,’ if you know what I mean.”
Darbee said he wanted to see the street preserved the way it is because, as he travels around the state, “I see street after street like Center Street turned into a Claremont Avenue.” The Miracle Mile.
Besides having “visual quality,” Darbee said Center St. is “a textbook on fine residential architectural styles of the late [eighteen hundreds and the early nineteen hundreds].” He added, “You also have historic value, which is less tangible but still important. Many of Ashland’s most important historic people built those houses.”