Cultural Resource Management and Why It Is Important for Cornelius

The Stough-Cornelius Store once stood at the corner of Main St and Catawba Ave. Due to RJ Stough's decision to re-locate his cotton weighing scales in 1885, the area developed to be what we now call home, Cornelius.

Introducing Gerard Thomas, our guest contributor on matters of heritage, history and preservation efforts.

At Eye Level

I have been a resident in Cornelius for the past 12 years and now consider it my home town. When I moved here 12 years ago along with my wife and four children we had a newborn who is now a teenager. My family and I are deeply embeded in the local community. I, as well as two of my children work for a local businesses. Much of our connection to the local community occurred because for eight years from 2007 until 2017 our sole form of transportation was by bicycle. Imagine a family of 6 riding bicycles to shop, socialize. church etc... that was our family. You get to know a community intimately by bicycle in a way that automobile travel does not allow. The natural and the built landscape becomes etched in your mind. Any alterations to trees buildings or people is noteworthy. Most residents, even those who travel by car feel a sense of ownership of this shared community space, particularly in a small town, like Cornelius where the lost of significant landmark like a building can be traumatic.

A Town's Heritage

Last year, Cornelius residents awoke on Sunday morning to discover that a Cornelius landmark building had been unceremoniously torn down. (See related story on oldtowncornelius.com: Gone, But not Forgotten here) Many residents may not have been aware that the building 20017 North Main Street was slated for demolition. The building at the corner of Catawba and Old Statesville Avenue (NC 115/Main St) had played a significant role in town history housing the Cornelius Mill Store and later the Cornelius Bank and then a general hardware store according to local historian Jack Conard Jr.
Although the building played a significant role in town history and served as a cultural architectural landmark it was torn down without any input from the community. Unfortunately, like most of Cornelius historic buildings, it had not been designated as a local Historic Landmark or recommended as eligible to be listed on the National Register for Historic Places. If a local building receives that designation it is protected from significant alterations. Property owners must then work with local authorities and the State Historic Preservation office to insure community input.

Mitigation and Cultural Resource Management Defined

Even when buildings are eligible to be on the National Register, at times total demolition can be approved. In this case, property owners are responsible for mitigation.
Mitigation simply means that some type of cultural resource management occurs which might include archaeological excavations and monitoring of the demolition to recover historic artifacts and significant architectural features.
If Mitigation had occurred at the Old Cornelius Bank Building a Cultural Resource Management company would have taken extensive photographs of the interior and exterior of the building noting significant architectural features. Property records would have been studied and the site mapped and shovel testing done around the building in order to determine if the need for archaeological excavations. Often older buildings had privies or outhouses where artifact recovery is possible. Finally, during the demolition, monitoring occurs to recover significant building features and artifacts.
During my college years at the University of Buffalo I was trained as a Historic Archaeologist and worked for a cultural resource management company that was involved in mitigation projects at historic sites.
Many people are surprised that archaeologist are involved in historic sites from the recent past. When most people think about archaeology they imagine the archaeologist excavating ancient civilizations or prehistoric sites. However, archaeologists are involved in the more recent past working at colonial sites like historic Jamestown in addition to historically significant sites that may only date back about one hundred years. Surprisingly there is quite of bit of useful information located, underneath and around historic buildings.

In college I helped excavating 19th century boarding houses adjacent to the terminus of the Erie Canal in Buffalo. The sites dated from the late 1840s until the 1890s. Many of the working class people who resided at the bordering houses did not leave written records but they did leave behind artifacts that gave insight into their daily lives. We recovered everything from brass knuckles to glass syringes from the prives (out houses) that were located behind the boarding houses. These artifacts helped to give insight into the daily lives of these of the Irish working men who resided along the canal. Archaeologists can also uncover building episodes and structures at a site that are not documented by historic records which can sometimes be scanty.

The Future of Historic Landmarks is Now

Currently there are only four buildings in Cornelius that have been designated eligible for listing on the National Register for Historic Places. None of those designated buildings are within the old town business district.
There are six structures which the Town of Cornelius and Mecklenburg County have designated as local Historic Landmarks. The number of these endangered structures is decreasing and the town is rapidly changing with many speculators buying property as investments. Without designation these buildings could be torn down without any community input or mitigation done. We might wake up one morning to find part of Cornelius heritage swept away by a bulldozer.

Editors Note: The subject of responsible Cultural Resource Management is paramount to a thriving community. Our shared experiences in a given time period define the culture we live in and are in essence a part of who we are. The preservation of an area's heritage through structures is one way to tell the story of how we got here.
If you are interested in an active pursuit of learning more about, educating others, and playing a role in heritage preservation through cultural resource management, please reach out at: events@oldtowncornelius.com.

-Jessica L. Boye, editor

Introducing Gerard Thomas, our guest contributor on matters of heritage, history and preservation efforts.


Gerard Thomas
Gerard Thomas
I am originally from Buffalo NY where I attended the University of Buffalo. I have lived in Cornelius since 2007 working for local business and riding my bike around town.

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