WHEATLAND – There are more than 2300 historic districts in the United States and as the list continues to grow, the town of Wheatland is hoping to become recognized and added to that list as an Historic Downtown.
According to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, “The historic district movement in the United States began in 1931, when Charleston, South Carolina, adopted a local ordinance designating an Old and Historic District. A local historic district is an area where historic buildings and their surroundings are protected from modification or demolition by public review. According to the National Park Service, “Local legislation is one of the best ways to protect the historic character of buildings, streetscapes, neighborhoods, and special landmarks from inappropriate alterations, new construction and other poorly conceived work, as well as outright demolition.
“Many people assume that a historic building is “protected” if it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In fact, federal historic preservation law only applies to projects that involve federal grants or tax credits. As a result, local historic preservation ordinances are extremely important. They can be used across an entire district to control inappropriate exterior remodeling, and demolition.”
The DVRPC sites many success stories as a result of towns having the distinction of being recognized as “historic.” Their website is a plethora of information about the advantages and success stories and could give the people in Wheatland some ideas and momentum as this local project goes forward. (The DVRPC information is at: https://www.dvrpc.org/HistoricPreservation/Success/HistoricDistricts.htm)
“This is an effort of love,” said Linda Fabian who is the executive secretary of the Wyoming State Historical Society. “In 2018 the town of Wheatland appointed us to the Wheatland Historic Preservation Commission. It’s kind of an unfunded mandate for anything you want to accomplish as far as historic buildings are concerned.”
Fabian, who’s Wyoming State Historical Society nonprofit is a completely separate entity from the Wheatland Historic Preservation Commission, was selected as the chairperson for the commission and Dan Brecht is the vice-chairperson and they, along with others in the commission have been relentless and driving in the campaign to have Wheatland recognized as an Historical Downtown.
Others in the commission are Joan McKee, Rick Robbins and Amy Clark. They are all the “starting-five” pushing to bring a great victory to Wheatland. As noted through research and study, the economic benefits to becoming a recognized historic downtown are endless and the success stories from other areas are impressive.
“We applied for a grant through the Wyoming State Historic Preservation office,” Fabian said. “And of course, grants go to the municipality. So the town of Wheatland and the Historic Preservation commission applied for this grant and we were able to get a little over $7,000. It required a match, and our match was made through private donations but we also contributed more than 2,000 hours of volunteer work.”
The volunteer work went into research and putting together a master survey book and property history and designation.
“The grant allowed us to hire a professional historical consultant, Robert Rosenberg (Rosenberg Historical Consultants) out of Cheyenne,” Fabian said. “What he’s been very successful in doing is writing nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.”
Fabian said that almost all of Rosenberg’s nominations are approved. The research done in Wheatland since 2018 has been exhaustive and ongoing. A master binder was created by the commission that contains all the research that has been done on more than 121 buildings in downtown Wheatland and a portion of the surrounding downtown area. It has turned out to be, for all intents and purposes, the history of the buildings in downtown Wheatland. Copies of the binder are used by the city planner.
“It’s our brick and mortar history,” Fabian said. “From it, we could eventually produce a downtown walking tour brochure using some of this information. We try to make sure that everybody within the boundary gets one so that they understand the value of what their building is.”
Brecht added that the people who own buildings within the designated boundary of what is the proposed district would only get their specific section of the master binder made available to them.
“Everyone that we’ve given a copy to has just been thrilled,” Fabian said. “Knowing a little bit more about the history of their building. Our volunteers put the book together.”
Although the volunteers worked tirelessly to put together the binder which has almost 1,000 pages, the information was provided by the resident expert.
“Rosenberg put the information together in a format that would be approved by the State Historic Preservation Office,” Brecht said.
After the nomination was made final, the next steps toward historic status began. The original 121 buildings that were first initially included in the study and research were eventually narrowed down to 71 buildings within the boundary area that will be in the distinction of the “Historic Downtown.” The project scaled back due to a lack of funding.
“We had to reduce our boundaries a little bit in order to qualify,” Fabian said. “So, what happened is, Robert Rosenberg created the nomination based on this historical research. Then we submitted it to the State Historic Preservation Office who in turn gave it to their state review board for nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.”
The state review board includes 9-11 people from all over the state of Wyoming. They are comprised of architects, historians and other professionals who reviewed the nomination in July.
“We had a Zoom meeting with them so we could answer any questions,” Fabian said. “And they said that our nomination was one of the best they’d ever seen for a downtown historic district. They already approved it unanimously at the state level.”
There was then a time period which each owner of the buildings within the boundary got a letter from the State Historic Preservation Office explain what was happening and asking for any discussion, questions or dispute about the project. The owners had until Aug. 14 to respond.
“On Sept. 10, the state review board meets one more time just to see if there are any comments and to answer any concerns that they need to be aware of,” Fabian said. “And then it will go to Washington.”
The nomination goes to the Keeper of the National Register, according to Fabian and she did not know the waiting period for how long it would take to either accept or deny the nomination.
“Once it is approved and once we become a Downtown Historic District, we can purchase signage out on the interstate that says, ‘Downtown Historic District.’” Fabian said. “People that travel, love to go to historic downtowns. And so, we think that we will be able to get people off the highway and to bring them around that curve and into the community.”
As more develops with the nomination, Fabian and Brecht will keep the public well informed. For more information on the status or if you have any questions or comments, please contact Linda Fabian at (307) 322-3014.