News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 20, 2012

FLASHPOINT: Historic hotel demolition was shameful day for Terre Haute

The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — In an April 13 article on the potential demolition of historic buildings at Fifth and Wabash for student housing, Mike Ellis says, “I love the old historic buildings and have always had a passion to see them saved and restored. I was an opponent of seeing the Terre Haute House come down and the new hotel go up,” he said. “I have been proven wrong with what that would do for Terre Haute.”

I think that Mr. Ellis is encouraging us to take the wrong lesson from the demolition of that historic site. The decision to demolish the Terre Haute House was one of the hardest, most heart-wrenching decisions this city has ever made. The loss of such a foundational part of our city’s history has wounded us, that we were not able to salvage and revitalize part of what once made our city great. That it may have been the right decision, that the building really was beyond reasonable repair, does not change the fact that this decision was seriously undertaken. The results, however good, have left a scar on our city.

The very last lesson we should take from this event is the cavalier attitude toward the destruction of our city’s past that Mr. Ellis currently displays. The demolition of the Terre Haute House should serve to us all as a warning that we are in very real danger of losing our city’s history. We cannot rebuild that history in new construction, or make “likenesses” of it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

The demolition of the Terre Haute House was a shameful day for our city, when we realized how badly we’d failed in preserving and maintaining those things that make us who we are. By continuing this trend and demolishing more of our own history, we are tacitly saying, “We have failed. Our past is not worth saving. We would rather take the easy path of destruction, turn our backs on our own history, and become another rudderless Midwestern town, no grounding in our past, no vision for our future, no identity of our own.”

We try to teach our children the value of learning our history, understanding where we come from, and letting this guide where we can go in the future. We need to learn the same lesson. Someday our children will judge us a ship of fools if the only experience that remains for them of their city’s history comes not from actually living in that city, but from reading about it in their school textbooks.

— Robyn Morton

Terre Haute