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  • Last modified 2610 days ago (Aug. 3, 2011)

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An endangered species

No one wants higher taxes, but Marion County Commission’s decision to remove from next year’s budget money earmarked for the county Health Department building could be the latest sign of wrongheaded false economy imperiling Marion’s vitality.

The 1887 J. Bowron Building that houses the department is one of Marion’s few remaining examples of utilitarian, prairie-style Victorian limestone architecture — the quaint yet stately style that once dominated Main Street.

If Marion is to have any hope of transforming its economy into one that revolves around arts, crafts, and tourism dollars — perhaps its best hope for the future — Main Street can scarcely afford to see any of its few remaining pieces of classic architecture continue to rot away like decaying teeth falling out from the mouth of an aging derelict.

Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove, and other nearby communities have done a masterful job of preserving their architectural history, both as a legacy to future generations and as a potent tool for commercial development.

Commissioners already are too eager to talk of replacing rather than renovating the Bowron Building. Take away money being set aside now to find a solution and, when the building’s problems reach a crisis point, there will be no alternative. The Health Department will end up in some cheap new pre-fabricated blue metal structure or a renovated less-worthy structure like the current jail — a building without any of the class the Bowron Building exudes.

The fact that the Bowron Building is 125 years old — as old as the entire city of Hillsboro — is a plus not a minus. We seriously doubt that whatever the county might do to replace it will survive nearly as long.

People continually lament how Main Street has lost such grand structures as the former Wolf Creamery and the eclectically quaint former Marion Hardware and Gift Shop. Many claim they tried to do something but were powerless to stop the decay.

With the Bowron Building, you can do something. Tell your commissioner that 50 cents a month — the cost in property tax to the owner of a $75,000 home to maintain the building fund — is not at all too high a price to pay to help preserve a landmark that has graced Main Street for a century and a quarter.

Older buildings, like older people, require a bit of tender loving care. They also provide great memories.

Fifty or so years ago, on a sweltering day much like today, the Bowron Building tantalized a certain now-much-older editorial writer, en route from claiming cash for pop bottles found beneath ballpark bleachers, with the false hope that a long-abandoned antique vending machine in its wall might actually deliver on its promise of an ice cream cone in exchange for a nickel.

It wouldn’t. But that searingly etched memory of anticipation makes the 50 cents a month it would cost to begin to save the building seem a very worthy investment indeed.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Aug. 3, 2011

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