Historic buildings are endangered

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Cassville Ranger Station and the Lohmer Firetower have made a list of endangered landmarks compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The nonprofit organization is devoted to preserving historic sites across the country and now has turned its attention to several buildings in the Mark Twain National Forest.

The 2007 "List of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places" was released on June 14. Historic structures in Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest was one of 11 sites to make the list.

Specifically, the report mentions the New Deal-era fire lookouts and ranger stations that have become familiar landmarks to Barry County residents. Due to U.S. Forest Service budget constraints, many of the Mark Twain facilities are vacant, unsecured, deteriorating and threatened with demolition.

A total of 161 structures on Mark Twain Forest land have been identified as historically valuable and potentially endangered.

The Cassville Ranger Station on Highway 248 in Cassville is a perfect example of the historic significance of Mark Twain National Forest properties.

The site includes five?stone buildings that were constructed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the late 1930s. One of the buildings is used as offices for U.S. Forest Service personnel who serve the Cassville Ranger Station, and the old ranger's house is utilized as offices for Barry County Missouri Department of Conservation agents. The remaining three buildings serve as storage facilities for supplies, equipment and vehicles.

The Cassville Ranger Station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. According to Chuck Miner, U.S. Forest Service recreation technician based in Cassville, the ranger station was built by the CCC crew based in Shell Knob. The stone used in the construction was quarried from Rock Creek.

Some of the furnishings in the Cassville Ranger Station, such as desks and filing cabinets, are restored originals, and there are still some CCC-stamped tools in the warehouse that are also usable, according to Miner.

Mark Twain National Forest is also home to a number of firetowers. There are three fire lookout towers located in Barry County. These include Sugar Camp tower, Piney Creek tower and the Lohmer tower on Highway 76 between Cassville and Shell Knob.

The towers were also built by the Shell Knob-based CCC crews, and at one time, there were homes located at each site. Two of these original houses still exist but were moved to their current location on Highway 86 just south of Bates Corner.

Miner said the lookout towers provided the means for the first communication in the area. The rangers at these towers were the first people in the area to have telephones in the 1930s and 1940s.

The three towers in the Cassville Ranger District are no longer used and have become rickety and rusted. Several years ago, U.S. Forest Service personnel took off the first flight of steps on each tower to keep the public from climbing the structures.

In addition to constructing ranger stations and fire lookouts like the ones in the Cassville area, hundreds of young men at over 50 CCC sites built roads and planted acres of pine to create the Mark Twain National Forest.

The National Trust believes the Forest's historic structures are threatened, because historic significance was not a criteria used in the Forest's Facilities Master Plan, which the Forest Service depends upon to make budget decisions about its facilities.

The plan, according to the Trust, favors new construction over retention of existing historic structures and could lead to the sale or demolition of historic buildings located within the 1.5 million-acre forest. A lack of Forest Service funding also makes restoration and maintenance on the buildings more difficult.

According to Charlotte Wiggins, spokesperson for the Mark Twain National Forest, said they have been working with the National Trust and the Missouri Historical Society to consider alternatives to demolishing or removing the historic buildings from federal ownership. Wiggins said the Forest's master facilities plan was also amended to include historic significance as a decision-making factor.

"We're not funded for the rehabilitation of historic buildings so we look for creative ways to work with communities who are committed to keeping these historic buildings," Wiggins said.

Most recently, the Forest Service partnered with the City of Rolla to preserve an historic ranger station there. Rolla is assuming ownership of the facility and will maintain it as a visitors center.

According to the National Trust, the list has identified 189 endangered sites across the country in the past 20 years and 52 percent of the sites have been saved and rehabilitated. Only six sites have been lost since the program began.

The 2007 America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places are currently being featured on 30-second spots that will air on the History Channel, History International and Biography through mid-July.

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