LITTLE HOCKING-Although it’s currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Walter Curtis Home on Newbury Road, south of Little Hocking, has seen much better days.
“The porches and roof have fallen in. I’m afraid it’s too far gone. It’s certainly not safe to go inside,” said Charlotte Powell with the Belpre Historical Society.
Working with the Ohio Historical Society, the Belpre group was able to get the now 187-year-old structure placed on the national register in the late 1970s.
In 1827 Walter Curtis built the massive two-story brick house overlooking the Ohio River on his family farm about three miles south of the present-day village of Little Hocking.
A state legislator, associate judge, county commissioner and prominent businessman from Belpre Township, Walter Curtis was born in Connecticut and moved to Ohio with his family in 1791. According to late local historian Henry Burke’s records, Walter Curtis was also a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
His father, Eleazer Curtis, originally constructed a two-story log home on the property where the family resided until Walter built his Federal-style brick house just east of the log structure.
“The bricks for the home were fired on the premises, and native yellow pine was used for the woodwork. And lime to form mortar for the bricks was obtained by burning mussel shells collected from Mustapha Island on the Ohio River near the house,” Powell said.
The structure had a slate roof with two chimneys and first- and second story porches on the front and back of the house.
Descendants of the Curtis family lived in the home until the 1920s.
Freda McGirr, 92, of Little Hocking resided on the property from 1939 to 1977 when it was sold to the Ohio Power Company for construction of a power plant in that area. But the project never came to fruition.
“I was 15 when my parents bought the old Curtis farm,” McGirr said. “My husband (Franklin) and I sold it to the power company in 1977, and the house was in good shape at that time. It was a beautiful place with a fireplace in every room and a fantastic view of the Ohio River.”
She said the house has been vacant and has deteriorated since the power company bought it 37 years ago, although the company has reportedly had some offers from people interested in preserving the property.
“It’s in ruin now,” McGirr said. “The roof is caved in and vines are growing all over it. I think it’s a little late to have it restored.”
“When the power company bought the property it was believed that they would preserve the house,” she said. “They can’t tear it down, so it looks like they’re just letting it fall apart.”
American Electric Power of Ohio spokeswoman Terri Flora confirmed the power company still owns the property, but she was unable to determine why the Walter Curtis House had not been preserved after the property transaction took place in 1977.
“That property was originally purchased by Ohio Power, which is now a deregulated utility,” she said. “AEP tries to recognize the historic value of such properties and we try to work with communities that want to preserve them on a case-by-case basis.”
Flora added that AEP is currently considering what will be done with the property obtained by Ohio Power in the 1970s, but no decision has been made at this time.
Contrary to popular belief, having a property like the Walter Curtis House listed on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t guarantee preservation of the facility, according to Tom Wolf, a spokesman for the Ohio Historical Society’s Historic Preservation Office in Columbus.
“It’s really up to the property owner if they want to restore or preserve a building,” he said. “And listing it on the register doesn’t affect an owner’s right to do whatever he wants with the property.”
Wolf said some communities may enact local legislation governing what can and cannot be done with historic properties, which can be confusing for property owners who may believe those regulations are set by the National Register of Historic Places.
“But having a home listed on the register can be of some benefit for income-producing properties like rentals or other businesses,” he said. “There’s a federal reinvestment tax credit that basically rewards people for preserving historic properties that generate income.”
There’s no such benefit for owners of non-income-generating historic properties.
“We wish there could be more grant money available for preservation of properties listed on the national historic register,” said Barbara Powers, department head of inventory and registration for the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.
She said her office encourages preservation of historic districts and individual properties across the state.
“And our office does provide people with technical guidance for historic preservation,” Powers added. “Information and other guidance resources are available through the Ohio Historical Society.”
She said the process of listing a property on the national register is generally “public generated” because the preservation office doesn’t have the resources to seek out properties, and the agency doesn’t inspect properties listed on the register to see if they’re being maintained.
“Basically we leave it up to the owners to determine if their properties on the national register are preserved,” Powers said.
Having a property placed on the National Register of Historic Places requires an in-depth application and review process at the state and federal levels.
Powers said research and documentation has to be presented proving that the property is worthy of historic preservation and that it has significant historical significance.
She said there are four basic standards needed before a property or district can be considered for registration.
The property must have a connection to events that have made a significant contribution to history; it must have an association with lives of significant people from the past; the property or district must have a distinctive characteristic of a type, period or method of construction or architecture; and the property must have provided or be likely to provide information important to history or prehistory.