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Preservation options vary
By Don Ward
December 2005 – Preserving historic property in Kentucky is not difficult because of the various options that exist and the many experts available to help one navigate through the process.
The issue of where to begin such a preservation effort surfaced during RoundAbout’s reporting of Payne Hollow, which appeared as our November 2005 cover story featuring owner Paul Hassfurder. The Madison, Ind., resident and artist had befriended Harlan and Anna Hubbard in the late 1970s and early 1980s, then stayed on to help care for Harlan the last two years of his life, after his wife, Anna died in 1986. Upon his death, Harlan left his 61-acre property, which included his house and art studio, to Hassfurder.
Over the past 17 years, Hassfurder, 56, has retained the integrity of the property much as it was when the Hubbards lived there. He has done little to alter the house and art studio, and has greeted hundreds of visitors who still journey to the remote spot along the Ohio River, just a few miles downriver from Madison, Ind.
Now that the structures are slightly older than 50 years – the house was built in 1952 – it meets the primary qualification for consideration on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation as recognized and administered by the National Park Service and authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. In fact, officials with the Kentucky Heritage Council, the state agency in Frankfort, Ky., that oversees the application process, say the property in Trimble County likely would meet all four qualifications for Register status.
“When I asked around the department about Payne Hollow, no one had ever heard of Harlan Hubbard. But that doesn’t mean that he isn’t important. We didn’t even know that the place still existed,” said Rachel Kennedy, research and planning coordinator with the Kentucky Heritage Council.
But the Council’s survey coordinator Bill Macintire is an artist himself who is familiar with Hubbard’s work, she added.
A check of the Council’s database of 70,000 properties showed that no historical survey had ever been conducted on Payne Hollow. Kennedy said officials there are eager to conduct one and that, although the department is small, as a result of their efforts Kentucky ranks third in the nation in the number of National Registered listings.
A historical survey does not hamper an owner’s property rights in any way but simply assesses whether the property qualifies for National Register status with regard to its historical, cultural and architectural significance, she explained.
Joanne Weeter, 47, a historic preservation officer for Louisville Metro Goverment, took several trips to Payne Hollow with her family by houseboat as a child. She owns three Hubbard paintings and even had the unique opportunity, at age 29, to interview Harlan in over a dozen meetings in the last year of his life, 1987. Those interviews have been transcribed and recently became available online at a University of Louisville website and within this site found here.
Weeter’s job of 22 years has included assisting property owners in assessing their homes and buildings for possible National Register status and in applying for investment tax credit rehabilitation incentives.
Both Weeter and Kennedy say surveying a property to assess National Register eligibility is easy – “We conduct thousands of surveys each year,” Kennedy says – but the process must start with the property owner himself.
“We aren’t going to just show up or call a property owner and ask to survey his land,” Kennedy said. “They have to contact us and ask for us to come and do it.”
Conservation Easement is a popular option
National Register status isn’t the only option for historic property owners. Weeter suggested that a conservation easement agreement could also protect the property from future development.
Property owners often choose to sell or donate conservation easements to a state agency, such as the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, the Kentucky Heritage Council or a nature conservancy, to ensure that the property is protected in perpetuity against timbering, mining or construction interest so that its fundamental agricultural or forested quality be preserved.
These legal documents allow the owner to stipulate what activities and changes may take place on his property. Terms are tailored to suit the character of a particular property and the interests of the owner. Such agreements may be written in a variety of ways. The easement is recorded with the deed for the property and is perpetual, thus it binds future buyers of the land as well as the owner who entered into the agreement.
When entering into a conservation easement agreement, property owners retain the title to their land. They can sell it when they wish to, and they do not give up any rights that they wish to keep.
“It’s primarily a way for property owners to preserve the inherent character of their property through monitoring. One benefit might be forfeiting their development rights in exchange for a tax write-off (which comes in the form of a charitable contribution on the income tax statement). It spells out how a property can be used in agreement with some organization, such as a nature conservancy or state agency, which would then have a say in how the property could or could not be developed,” Weeter explained. “The agreement can be as specific or vague as the owner wants it to be. Retention of the overall integrity of the historic resource and land is of paramount importance.”
Regardless of which option selected, Weeter believes Payne Hollow is easily worthy of conservation or National Register status. She and some friends spent a day at Payne Hollow on Nov. 12. It was the first time she had visited the property since 1987, when at age 29 when she spent several days there interviewing Harlan Hubbard for an oral history project that is on file at the University of Louisville’s Archives and Records Center. Harlan died the following year.
During her visits to interview Harlan, Weeter met Hassfurder. “I had a sense that Harlan trusted Paul and liked him enough to have him around to do work at Payne Hollow,” she said. “He needed the help, and I sensed they were friends.”
Weeter sympathizes with Hassfurder’s situation today as owner of Payne Hollow, considering its attachment to the Hubbard legend in the minds of so many people. “I’m in no way advocating one option over other, but there are tools out there, and the National Register is a key tool because it evaluates assets and helps in planning and preserving the cultural integrity of the property and its significance.”
Not everyone associated with the Hubbard legacy is encouraged that anything will happen toward preserving Payne Hollow because of the interest expressed by the Kentucky Heritage Council.
“I’m not very hopeful about that,” said Dr. Marcella Modisett, 88, a retired physician from Madison who cared for Harlan up until his death in 1988. “It’s been 17 years and nothing has happened with it. I knew the place would change. Paul took his stuff down there, and he’s supposed to do that because it’s his place now. But when I visited there several years ago, it just wasn’t the same to me.”
Modisett is among the original “Friends of the Hubbards,” a list of nearly 600 people who joined forces two years after the Hubbards’ deaths to stay in touch via an infrequent newsletter produced by Hanover College philosophy professor Robert Rosenthal.
The group also organized a handful of Hubbard-related events, the latest being a “Hubbard Centennial Celebration” conference in January 2000 to mark what would have been Harlan Hubbard’s 100th birthday. The event attracted a large crowd at Hanover College who came to hear lectures by authors such as Port Royal, Ky.’s Wendell Berry, Ohio organic farmer Gene Logsdon and Lawrenceburg, Ky.’s Judith Moffett, plus a slide presentation by University of Kentucky art librarian Meg Shaw, a keynote address by Western Oregon University art history professor Judy Bullington, and a presentation on tools by Hassfurder himself.
During an October interview, Rosenthal said he had been considering the formation of a nonprofit organization that could serve as a fund raising entity so that money could be generated to help repair and maintain the buildings at Payne Hollow. He has talked with Hassfurder and officials at the newly createad Rivers Institute at Hanover College about the idea.
Modisett, who owns five Hubbard paintings, said she would support such an organization but had reservations about whether Hassfurder would go along with it. “In the past, he has not wanted anyone’s help. I don’t know where he stands today. I think he would like to have help, but I think he’s worried about giving up some control.”
Today, Harlan’s art studio still stands but the back side of the building is leaning. Hassfurder said it was not safe for visitors to go upstairs to see the loft where Harlan once worked. The house is in good shape, but Hassfurder said the roof leaks and the walls are not sealed against the wind and cold.
“It’s sort of like camping out when you stay overnight here,” he said.
That’s exactly what Hassfurder does when he stays overnight there. He has a tent and sleeping bag set up in the upper level room of the house to guard against the cold.
Legend “larger than life”
Wade Hall, a Louisville author and retired Bellarmine College professor, in 1996 published an interview he conducted with Harlan after Anna’s death. The booklet, titled, “A Visit With Harlan Hubbard,” was one of the “Occasional Papers Series” published by the University Press of Kentucky. Hall said during an October telephone interview that he had fond memories of his trips to Payne Hollow. He believes the property is worth preserving but wrestles with “how one would go about doing that without destroying the very thing you are trying to save.
“If you start letting people go down there in droves, that’s going to change the nature of the place, and nobody wants that,” said Hall, who has met Hassfurder but has not visited Payne Hollow since Hubbard’s death. “It cannot ever be what Harlan and Anna designed it to be. They made it what is was and you cannot separate them from Payne Hollow.”
“The Hubbards had visitors all the time. They were hospitable to their guests, but it wasn’t easy to get to their place, and they didn’t want to make it easy.”
Hall says Hubbard remains “a romantic figure, who is still popular regionally.” In October, Hall released a new book on Kentucky authors titled, “The Kentucky Anthology: 200 Years of Writing in the Bluegrass State,” that includes a section on Harlan Hubbard. “I put Harlan in that book because he was larger than life – althought he may not agree with me.”
Moffett, 63, befriended the Hubbards while a student at Hanover College in the early 1960s. She divides her time between her Lawrenceburg, Ky., farm and Swarthmore, Pa. Moffett helped plan the “Hubbard Centennial Celebration” and has written two books in which Payne Hollow plays a significant role. She also presents “homestead” lectures when asked. She owns five Hubbard paintings and a box of memorabilia, including letters.
Two years ago, Moffett placed a conservation easement on her own 100-acre farm in Anderson County. For years, she has advocated the formation of a nonprofit organization that could financially support Payne Hollow’s maintenance and upkeep. During a November visit to Madison and Hanover, Moffett met with several people to discuss the idea.
“Almost a year ago, I was suddenly seized with a sense of panic about Payne Hollow,” Moffett said during a November interview. “Every time I give a homestead lecture, I get fired up again and get frantic to try to preserve the legacy. Without Bob Rosenthal, there would be no Friends of the Hubbards, but Bob has other things going on in his life, and I’m not sure he can, or should, be expected to do it all by himself.”
Moffett wants to help mobilize those interested in getting an organization formed soon. She cites the “Hubbard Fund” that was created years ago at Hanover College into which Harlan declared that proceeds from his books would be deposited. Money from the fund was used to finance the “Centennial Celebration” as well as two previous Friends of the Hubbards events.
“Those of us who knew the Hubbards well and were changed by them have a special mandate to keep the legacy alive,” said Moffett, a Louisville native. “If we want to keep it viable and the buildings from falling in and keep people from forgetting, we’ve got to do something. We know what Payne Hollow was like, but the young people coming up don’t know.”
Rivers Institute shows interest in a conference
Moffett’s dream of preserving both the legacy and the property may receive support from another source.
“We are interested in exploring what role Rivers Institute might play in any effort to preserve and interpret Payne Hollow,” said Molly Dodge, Rivers Institute’s director of external relations. “After some preliminary discussions, we think our role might be more in developing programming – a conference, lectures, that sort of thing – that may serve to educate people about the Hubbard legacy and preserve their memory. We would leave the forming of a nonprofit group or applying for National Register status up to someone else more qualifed in those areas.
“But Hanover College has always had a strong connection to the Hubbards and Payne Hollow, and we certainly would want to explore ways to continue that relationship.”
Such an event could not only help preserve the Hubbard legacy but foster additional discussion about how to preserve Payne Hollow itself.
“In the future, Payne Hollow might be more important than it is now,” said Hall, who now regrets having sold the two paintings he bought from Harlan years ago. “We’re becoming more urbanized, and you could use it as an educational attraction as a living museum. I admire them for the way they lived, and I hope Payne Hollow can be preserved as a vision of a different kind of life that is still attainable.”