Historic City of Jefferson works to identify and award JCMO’s historic buildings.
photos by Jenny and Tony Smith
When Laura Ward moved to Jefferson City with her family 17 years ago, they settled into a historic 1903 American Foursquare home on the west end of town. After restoring that property and enjoying the fruits of their labor, they again took the leap into restoration; five years ago, Ward and her family purchased and restored a vacant Italianate home from 1868.
“I grew up in an 1852 house in St. Louis and I’ve always had a passion for historic homes,” Ward says. “And when I moved here, I got involved in the preservation movement due to the demolitions that were occurring.”
After joining Historic City of Jefferson, a nonprofit organization that seeks to make preservation a viable focus for the future of Jefferson City, Ward served as both vice president and secretary of the organization. She also served on Jefferson City’s Historic Preservation Commission for six years before becoming a city councilperson, where she could take a more active role in city affairs and Jefferson City’s historic preservation movement. Today, with the support of the city and Historic City of Jefferson, Jefferson City’s preservation movement has taken off. Renovated and repurposed structures have sprouted in historic neighborhoods and business districts throughout Jefferson City.
Since 2008, Historic City of Jefferson has recognized 53 properties with The Golden Hammer Award, which recognizes structures that are at least 50 years old, are within city limits, and have had exterior work completed in the past five years that does not detract from the structure’s historic integrity.
“We’ve recognized all types of structures, from businesses that were once thriving, or are still thriving, to more stately homes to modest homes, like little bungalows,” Ward says. “We believe it’s unique that all these types of structures exist in the city.”
From May through October of each year, the Golden Hammer Award committee, composed of Ward and six other members, names a monthly Golden Hammer Award winner. During a special recognition ceremony, Historic City of Jefferson presents each winner with a certificate, a business card holder with a golden hammer and engraved brass plate, and a sign for the front lawn that designates the property as a Golden Hammer Award winner. The property owner typically opens the property for a tour following the ceremony, and the News Tribune features each winner in a monthly story. In addition, the Golden Hammer committee’s historian presents each property owner with extensive background research on the property compiled from the review of old records and phone directories from the state archives, a project that requires hours of meticulous research.
“For a lot of our recipients, that’s very beneficial to them and that’s what they like,” Ward says. “They’ve restored a property but might not know all the historical background, and it takes a lot of time to research.”
Since she first moved to Jefferson City, Ward says residents and business owners have developed a strong awareness of what historic preservation can provide to a city, as well as the negative impact that vacant and abandoned structures have on the economy.
“Vacant and abandoned properties have presented a difficult challenge in our community,” Ward says. “Evidence shows that neglected, abandoned properties lower surrounding property values, increase crime, impede population growth, and impose cost burdens on local governments. We have witnessed these outcomes in our community. So anytime one of these abandoned properties is restored, it not only protects our history, but it also revitalizes our neighborhoods, helps our economy, increases property values, and improves residents’ quality of life.”
The Golden Hammer Award has also honored historic buildings for adaptive reuse, a trend that Ward says is becoming attractive across the country and is starting to catch on locally. Through adaptive reuse, a developer can give, say, an old factory building renewed life by converting it to things like apartments or condo units.
“It’s a change in the original use of the building by adapting to meet current needs,” Ward says. “We currently have a historic structure on the riverfront that was originally built to house trollies and then became a power plant. After being vacant for years, a group of individuals restored it and created a beautiful events center along with a bike shop.”
As she gears up for another exciting Golden Hammer Award season, Ward says that the work of preserving and enhancing the architectural character of downtown Jefferson City shows the pride that the city and its residents have for the past as well as the future.
“Bringing these historic structures back, which are soaked in history for the unique roles that they have had in our community, displays that we’re respectful of our city’s humble beginnings,” Ward says. “Our historic city has so much going for it. Our downtown’s beautiful architecture has been gracing High Street for over 100 years, which helps to make it a beautiful destination and a thriving historic business district. The vitality of our downtown and east end business district makes a big statement about our community’s pride, values, and overall quality of life.”
The Golden Hammer Award committee actively searches for nominations but also accepts nominations from neighbors, property owners, and the community-at-large. A nomination form can be found at historiccityofjefferson.org.