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Business restores home, enjoys life along the river

March 29, 2013
The Marietta Times

While many homes and other structures were lost to the 1913 floodwaters, others are still standing.

Among them is the three-story structure at 521 Fort St. in the Historic Harmar Village. Built in 1895 by the Pattin family, it served as a residence for nearly a century before it was bought in the late 1980s by Offenberger and White Inc., a local digital marketing company.

Owner and co-founder Bill White said it was a year before they moved in, as interior and exterior work was done. They did not, however, alter the basic architecture of the building, and their work in, as White puts it, bringing the structure back to life resulted in an award of merit from the Ohio Historical Society's preservation office in 1990.

Article Photos

EVAN BEVINS The Marietta Times
Offenberger & White Inc. President and CEO Bill White stands outside the 521 Fort St., Marietta, office his company has occupied for more than 20 years. The sandstone structure survived the 1913 flood and has dealt with numerous high-water events since that time.

Dealing with flooding is simply a part of doing business along the river, White said.

"It's a fact of life," he said. "Marietta is so unique in that we embrace the rivers in a way that many communities don't."

Not much is located in the basement, and what is can be moved quickly, White said. Once the water recedes, the basement is cleaned and de-humidifiers put in place

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"And in a couple of weeks, it's like it never happened," he said.

Question: How did the 1913 flood affect this building?

Answer: In many of those photographs (of the destroyed Putnam Street Bridge), you can see this building, and if you look closely, you can see where the water is about six to eight inches below what appears to be the maximum crest, and that maximum crest appeared to put it well on the ... second floor.

Fact Box

Bill White

Residence: Marietta.

Family: Wife, Diane; daughter, Jessica; son, John.

Occupation: CEO, president, co-founder and owner of Offenberger & White Inc.

And the front porch was torn off, and then, it was ultimately reattached because those pillars that support the front porch are original. And all of the pillars in this building are steel. And of course the sandstone building itself is unlikely to be phased by a flood, 'cause ... it's like a fort.

Q: Did the proximity to the river and knowing that history, did that weigh on you at all when you guys were deciding whether to purchase the building?

A: No. ... My partner at the time, Warren Offenberger, grew up right up the street next to the Marietta College boathouse and had been through numerous floods. ... We are not naive enough to think that the water won't impact our business or our lives. We live in a river town. The difference between Marietta and many towns is that, first of all, there's no floodwall here. I suppose that could be a good or bad thing, but with the exception of the 2004 flood, which was - the damage was mostly caused by inappropriate information moreso than the water itself - the people of Marietta are uncommonly acceptable to high water, and many of the buildings are outfitted in a way that permits quick preparation and quick cleanup.

Q: Did you have to make any changes or do anything when you bought the building, to be better prepared?

A: Well, first of all we had to have flood insurance. And we are in the floodplain and there are special rules that banks have to address with respect to financing any properties in the floodplain. So we had to be very careful about what we invested and where, so that we would maintain compliance with those formulas.

We did not remodel the building, we did not restore it, because it's cost-prohibitive and remodeling would have been architecturally inconsistent with our objectives. This building is pretty much like it was when it was built. So we did a rehab, which essentially put new wiring and plumbing in here, and of course cosmetic things like paint and all. ... We did some special things like putting our breaker boxes and all up high so that we can tolerate several feet of water in the basement here without losing functional utilities.

Q: Staying so close with the historical nature of the building, was that a practical matter or was that something that was just important to you all to maintain?

A: This building has not been altered at all. So the imperfections that exist in this building right now that were caused by the flood are still here. ... It's part of the character. In fact, there's river mud still in the pocket doors. ... The chandelier that hangs in our entranceway had mud, river mud, in it. It's very fine, almost like talcum powder.

At this point, White walked through the building, indicating places where the wood floors were bowed after being underwater, along with warped door frames and windows. He even produced some Muskingum River mud dust from within the latch of a downstairs pocket door. The issues are cosmetic, not functional, and White said he sees no need to spend capital to repair them.

Q: To you, it's just part of the character of the building.

A: Yeah, the building talks to you. It's almost like you can walk through here and it's talking to you.

Evan Bevins conducted this interview.



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