Four years ago, my partner and I moved to the Village of Oregon, into a historic 1905 four-square on South Main Street. After living in Madison for over 20 years in an 1936 bungalow, we knew we wanted to live in a small town with great character and charm. We’d noticed some older homes in our Madison neighborhood, but Oregon’s neighborhoods were full of them. Shortly after we moved here, I mentioned I was a Master Gardener to a new neighbor, and she suggested I could help out with the 1899 Pump House building downtown. Having been abandoned and used by the village as a storage shed, she said, it could use some planting of perennials around the building. This is how I ended up getting involved in community-wide historic preservation efforts that have led to the restoration of both the Pump House and the water tower above it.
This experience showed me how lucky we are to be living in a community that appreciates and embraces its history. We have a great Historical Society, a great historic downtown and neighborhoods full of older homes with character and charm. We also have a community that was surprisingly responsive to this opportunity to cherish its history.
After I took on the task of improving the aesthetics around the Pump House, I met with local nursery owners and asked for donations of plants. Everyone kindly said yes. They all had a connection to Oregon and wanted to help preserve a piece of Oregon history. I also met with the Historic Preservation Commission, another new experience for me. I was excited, but scared while working on the Pump House.After the landscaping project was completed successfully, community residents encouraged me to take on the restoration of the Pump House.
I quickly learned about Joan Gefke and her attempt to save the Pump House and “Tin Man” water tower. As I read about Joan, I was inspired to try to save the Pump House.
I had many sleepless nights worrying about fundraising, wondering if I could do this. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. But as things progressed, the community stepped up with funds and more encouragement. This gave me confidence, and we dedicated the Pump House in May of 2016 as the new Oregon Welcome Center. I knew then that the residents of the Village appreciated and supported historic preservation, and this experience made me proud to be part of this community. We accomplished this as a community. The village received an award for Best Historic Preservation from the Madison Trust for Historic Preservation.
The one comment we hear often at the Welcome Center, is how much visitors enjoy looking at the historic photos of the Village, which are on display. Parents bring their kids to show them and teach them about Village history. They say “Thank you for saving this village treasure.” Each time I walk into the Welcome Center, I smile because we saved this important piece of history. The Welcome Center gives off a sense of place, of community.
After we finished the Pump House came our grand finale, the restoration, repainting and lighting of the “Tin Man.” We’ll celebrate the success of this effort next week, after the community band concert Tuesday, June 6. I’ve seen the Tin Man illuminated at night, and he looks awesome.
There’s something special about restoring historic buildings. Maybe it’s the warmth of the materials used, the quarter-sawn oak wood floors, the single pane-double hung windows, the locally made Cream City bricks, the stained glass windows. It’s also the scratches on the back door from the dog trying to come in from the cold, the old glass door knobs and skeleton keys and even the cast-iron radiators, the old-fashioned peonies and lilac trees in the yard. You can’t build this type of character anymore.
I see many young families embracing the idea of historic preservation in our village, they want us to continue the historic uniqueness in Oregon. We have to always remind ourselves about what makes the Village of Oregon special; it’s the appreciation for historic preservation and its past history.
As we prepare for the future, we should make a commitment to remember our past. Historic Preservation can mean patriotic, homey, warm or reassuring. It’s about respect for our past, it’s about paying homage to those before us, who built our village. The heart and soul of Oregon can be seen in its historic buildings and homes, and we must continue our historic preservation efforts. We must preserve our historic buildings and homes for future generations and honor the work of those who lived here before us.
Randy Glysch is a member of the Oregon’s Historic Preservation Commission.