COMMERCIAL TOWNSHIP — Michael Emmons is embarking on the difficult task of getting the little community of Mauricetown here on the National Register of historic places.
The process involves a lot of work, including selling Mauricetown residents — such as Irene Ferguson, of the local historical society — on the project.
Ferguson took one look at the preliminary historic district proposed by Emmons during a community meeting about the project Thursday and quickly made her feelings known: Either include all of Mauricetown, or none at all.
“I don’t like this map,” Ferguson said firmly.
“I gathered that,” Emmons responded, drawing laughter from the 25 people who gathered at the volunteer fire company hall for the meeting.
Emmons, 36, is seeking his master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Delaware. He and other university students have been in Mauricetown at various times since August, gathering information on everything from the community’s history to its architecture. Emmons’ decision to nominate Mauricetown for the National Register is essentially part of his master’s thesis.
Emmons said his decision to pick the National Register project was born in part because of something he found surprising: Mauricetown is not officially designated as any kind of historic area.
“I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a district,” Emmons said. “It has such an amazing sense of place, such a unique character and the architecture is amazing.”
There was one attempt in the 1990s to get Mauricetown on the National Register. That effort failed, apparently because of a lack of communication with local residents, who did not understand what the designation would mean and felt they were left out of the application process.
Emmons is making sure that does not happen this time. Emmons said the meeting at the fire company hall was one of a several steps to garner support from residents and make them part of the process.
One of the main things stressed by Emmons is that being on the National Register is an honor that does not come with regulations on what residents can and cannot do with their properties. He was quick to point that out, quoting from the National Register’s website that “owners of private property listed in the National Register are free to maintain, manage or dispose of their property as they choose, provided no federal monies are involved.”
“One could literally tear down a house that is on the National Register,” Emmons said. “There is nothing to fear here.”
There is still a lot work to be done before Emmons makes the formal application to the National Register. The historic district’s boundaries must be set, decisions must be made on which homes would be in the district, Mauricetown’s peak historic time must be selected, and state historic preservation officials must review the application. The process could take years.
However, Emmons presentation on Thursday seemed to win over the residents who attended the meeting.
Kathy Alcox lives in a home on Highland Street that was built in the 1850s. She supports the notion of having Mauricetown honored by a listing on the National Register.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Alcox said. “We really should preserve our history.”
Alcox said there are stories about her home being part of the Underground Railroad, the network of routes and safe houses used to help runaway slaves.
Libby Truitt’s home was on Highland Avenue was built in 1796, and may be too far on the outskirts of Mauricetown to be included in the historic district. She still favors Emmons’ project.
“I love our town,” she said.
Emmons said he thought Thursday’s meeting went well, and that he was encouraged to continue his work.
“I’m definitely going to go through with it,” he said.
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