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Charlestown’s Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood gains historical status via Indiana Landmarks

Charlestown’s long embattled Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood announced this week that they have officially been added to the National Registry of Historic Places – an honorific designation, they hope, that will solidify efforts to preserve their neighborhood in an ongoing battle with the City of Charlestown over property rights and the City’s plan to redevelop the aging neighborhood and surrounding area.

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Photo Courtesy the Indiana Memory Project, Clark County Collection

“The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of our country’s historic buildings, districts, sites, structures, and objects worthy of preservation. It was established as part of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966 and is overseen by the National Park Service. The National Register recognizes more than 90,000 properties for their significance in American history, architecture, art, archeology, engineering, and culture.” – National Register of Historic Places

In a joint press conference with Indiana Landmarks, the group claimed a victory in what they refer to as a “process” in conserving the historic value of their neighborhood and solidifying their efforts to remain in their homes.

While many neighbors and rental property owners say they have been edged out via failure to comply to fines, or have sold their property to developers – roughly 140 of 350 homes remain occupied.

Many owners are steadily committed to staying in the neighborhood despite the increasing number of boarded-up properties lining the streets of Pleasant Ridge.

The Pleasant Ridge neighborhood began as a 1942 government housing project of roughly 740 prefabricated homes to be built by the Gunnison Housing Corporation. These prefabricated homes were intended to provide residence for the workers of the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant.

A 1943 tornado laid destruction to 249 of the homes – just three days after the government paid the bill for the construction of Pleasant Ridge. Many of the homes were later sold to residents through the government’s G.I. bill, which laid a path for this Charlestown housing area to potentially develop into a more permanent residential neighborhood of Charlestown.

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Pleasant Ridge homeowners stand in solidarity at a press conference with Indiana Landmarks

The Pleasant Ridge neighborhood has long been a combination of both owner-occupied and rental properties. Many of the properties are home to long-standing families with generations raised in the neighborhood.

“It’s a history thing,” says Josh Craven of the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association, “the stories go back as long as you can look – my Grandpa, my Dad.”

Craven recognizes that many of the neighborhoods areas of Pleasant Ridge are in need of redevelopment, but says he also intends to fight for the homeowners who wish to stay.

“We didn’t ask for this [designation] , we just asked to preserve our neighborhood,” Craven says, “and that’s what we’re trying to do. We hope this sends the message to the City that we’re trying, we’re not just living here and fighting – we are working to preserve our neighborhood.”

Craven and other neighborhood association homeowners hope to be left alone to remain in their homes despite the ongoing and planned development. By investing in their properties, they hope to solidify their presence in the Pleasant Ridge community, come what may.

After the ammunition plant closed, many Pleasant Ridge owners sold out to landlords – subsequently, properties speckled throughout the community ultimately became low-budget rental homes, but with little upkeep, leading to the decay of areas of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood.

Greg Sekula of Indiana Landmarks states that the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood’s addition to the registry solidifies and recognizes the historic element of the neighborhood.  “This designation,” he says,  “offers official validation that their neighborhood is historically important and worthy of preservation.”

Sekula argues that the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood presents a compelling story about the economic impact of the WWII war effort right here in Charlestown – and that the Indiana Army Ammunition Plant nearby helped to fuel the economy and growth here in the region in the mid 21st century. The neighborhood, Sekula states, “presents the earliest example of manufactured housing in the U.S.”

Many of these manufactured homes have given way to decay over decades, but some remain intact and are preserved by the care of their owners.

The question that remains seems to be – will these cared for and owner-redeveloped homes survive the City of Charlestown’s redevelopment efforts – and is their room in the City’s development plan to incorporate these longstanding homeowners.

Sekula of Indiana Landmarks believes there is some middle ground to be found with the preservation of this core group of homes among new development, with respect to the area’s history, and the City of Charlestown’s need to move forward.

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City of Charlestown plans for Redevelopment in Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood

Charlestown officials believe that despite its history, it’s time for a redevelopment of the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood. A local developer has purchased many properties within the area, and city officials have begun to fine property owners for code violations in an effort to clean up the neighborhood. At more than 70 years old, the City of Charlestown claims that many of these homes were never meant to be permanent and are unsafe, or increasingly run-down. For many of these homes, this is an absolute fact. But for some, it’s a matter to work around in an effort to preserve the history of the neighborhood.

Many of these redevelopment efforts reach too far, according to some homeowners, who have taken issue in court regarding the legalities of such enforcement.

There are multiple tax credits that can be advantageous in terms of tax credits and national resignations that the affords, according to Sekula of Indiana Landmarks. A fact sheet regarding these credits can be found here.

“We’re certainly hopeful that the listing will give the city some pause to rethink their strategy here.” Sekula states. He claims that many neighborhoods fall prey to a culture of complacency or ambivalence – but that this is not the case with Pleasant Ridge.

“We had a problem here, and lets be honest – a lot of that was eradicated when John Neace bought up the properties,” he said, “and that changed the character of the neighborhood in many ways. One of the positives being that it eliminated some of the problem elements in this neighborhood.”

What you’re left with, Sekula states, is a neighborhood of residents with a lasting commitment to revitalizing Pleasant Ridge.

“The opportunity here now is to turn this neighborhood around, and you’ve got a core group of homeowners who care about this neighborhood and could be the foundation for something wonderful to happen here.”

Officials with the City of Charlestown began redevelopment efforts in late 2015, and local developers have steadily continued to buy properties in the neighborhood. Many abandoned and purchased homes remain standing in Pleasant Ridge, and the City of Charlestown states this is an ongoing process – steady progress will be made in the clearing of abandoned properties in the area.

At the same time, Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association members continue to develop properties in the area in an effort to show a commitment to cultivation of the neighborhood. The Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association has purchased property in the area in an effort to demonstrate its ability to be rehabilitated.

Indiana Landlmarks hopes that the Pleasant Ridge Historic designation affords some protections and incentives to homeowners and builders in the neighborhood.

The City of Charlestown states that the redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge is an ongoing project – one which they do not believe is incompatible with the implications of this new historical designation.

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