Restore Old Town Greenwood Founder Talks Preserving History, Promoting Small Business & More
Photographer: Brian Brosmer
History is a gateway to the past and a link to our future. As communities grow and modernize, the word revitalization gets tossed around. In their haste to modernize an area, civic planners make plans to remove decaying buildings, often removing that critical link to the past, instead of building on it and preserving it for the future. One Greenwood resident heard about the mayor’s plans to revitalize and remove some historic buildings in old town Greenwood and decided to launch a plan that would change the meaning of the popular buzzword for residents.
Jennifer Hollingshead, sixth generation resident of old town Greenwood, didn’t want to see the history of her ancestors erased through the then-Mayor Charles Henderson’s plan to tear down a third of the remaining buildings in downtown Greenwood. So, in 2010, she reached out to Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Main Street (A program that encourages and supports the revitalization and restoration of downtown areas in Indiana cities and towns) to find out what she could do to hatch a plan to stop the demolition plans.
“I was raised in the area, my grandparents lived in old town Greenwood, and my great grandparents owned a grocery store,” Hollingshead says. “I’m raising my family here. You lose a path to the future when you erase a link to the past. I don’t want that to happen.”
So, Hollingshead started by creating a Facebook page called “Restore Old Town Greenwood (don’t tear it down)” to educate the public and create awareness about the plans. In 2011, Indiana Landmarks and Indiana Main Street helped form a board of Greenwood residents to advocate for restoring the downtown area. Restore Old Town Greenwood became a state non-profit organization in 2012, and an official Main Street community later that year.
Hollingshead is by far not the only board member or committee member with a passion for preserving Greenwood’s history.
“I’ve been involved with the group over the years, and many others have been involved,” says Design Committee Chair, Brad Nemeth. “We’ve been successful because our members have been able to be part of various civic committees like the city council, economic commission and the redevelopment commission. We’re taking our passion and extending it to the city. We owe a lot to the late Dr. Chuck Landon who was involved in the Economic Development commission. Through his tireless efforts, we were able to accomplish a lot. We will carry on our efforts in his memory.”
Despite not being a Greenwood native, former Chicago area resident and committee member Matt Koehling became involved with Restore Old Town Greenwood after he and his family moved to the community and fell in love with it.
“As different as it is from Naperville, I love it here,” Koehling says. “I love the feeling you get when you come to Greenwood, the friendly, smiling people. You don’t get that in other areas. We feel safe here in the community and surrounding area. We want to help improve it and make it a better place to live.”
The major catalyst getting the project off the ground was receiving a $400,000 grant from the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs, followed by another $600,000 grant from the city. With that funding, the Restore Old Town Greenwood organization launched the Façade Project. Within a year, 22 of 33 buildings identified as historic received new, modern facades. One such building was a Civil War era building, last known to be used in the 1900s as a department store.
The Restore Old Town Greenwood organization doesn’t currently have plans to restore additional building facades, but they’re hoping to receive funding from a grant to cover expansion of the historic district. In the meantime, they’re working to support the city of Greenwood’s efforts to improve city streetscapes, completely renovate Greenwood Middle School and add new shopping, housing and parks. Through their Restore Old Town Greenwood Facebook page, the organization is surveying residents, asking them what they’d like to see for signage, design and more.
Whatever comes next for the historic area, there’s plenty of buzz about how old town Greenwood has already morphed into an exciting hub.
“I live in old town now with my family of six children, and I love it,” says committee member, Craig DeBoor. “We can walk to the park, the library, to the shops. I understand first-hand how important it is to maintain and support a vibrant district. It’s really neat to have that sense of community. It’s a good place to live.”
Board member Candace Myers who has ancestral ties to the old town area already sees the positive changes of the revitalization.
“I grew up in old town Greenwood and have recently moved back,” she says. “My family has been involved in the Greenwood community and its politics since the 60s. My grandfather was the mayor of Greenwood in the 1960s and he (and my dad) lived in old town a block away from my current home. I love the sense of community I feel living in old town. Having the ability to walk to restaurants, parks, the library and shops promotes community involvement and a sense of belonging. Old town businesses are booming once again, and Greenwood is becoming a trendy hot spot to live. Old town neighbors have created a welcoming and family-focused environment. It’s a great place to be.”
To restore Greenwood’s historic district to its former glory and share a piece of the past with the future, the organization needs your help. Volunteers are needed for beautification events like the community clean-up that was held September 29.
Restore Old Town Greenwood is working on organizing a holiday event in partnership with the Greenwood Public Library set for November. They’ll also be hosting a Small Business Saturday open house in Old Town on November 24 to support shopping local in Old Town.
Look for news on a brand-new community event to take place in 2019. Visit restoreoldtowngreenwood.org for more information on potential volunteer opportunities or to make a tax-deductible donation. You can reach out to the organization via their Facebook page, or send them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.