By Gery L. Deer
Deer In Headlines
As the last shovel full of bricks was removed from the site of the old Powers Marine building after its demolition, residents have been staring at yet another vacant lot in the downtown and wondering about Jamestown’s future. Founded on the southeastern edge of Greene Countyin 1816, the tiny village has seen its share of catastrophe.
In the late 1890’s, a devastating tornado leveled the entire town while a century later a fire destroyed most of the southwest side of W. Washington Street. But today, Jamestown may face a greater challenge than natural disasters – short shortsightedness.
What would have happened at the turn of the 20th Century if no one had decided to rebuild after the tornado? Within a few moments, homes and businesses lay in splintered wreckage; a town once poised to compete with Xenia for the county seat lay in ruins. Imagine if it had been left that way. That’s essentially what has been happening in Jamestown for the last couple of decades, with a few exceptions, particularly one structure that was snatched from in front of the bulldozers nearly in the nick of time.
Once again alive with the sounds of ongoing renovation efforts and music and laughter filling its auditorium, in the mid 1990’s the Jamestown Opera House was considered an eyesore and there were those who believed it should be torn down. Fortunately, thanks to the determination of a small number of residents who formed the Jamestown Area Historical Society, the historic theatre is without question a shining gemstone in the village’s tarnished crown.
Then again, if things keep going like they are it might be the only downtown building still standing and occupied ten years from now. How’s that for irony? But it’s not just lost history that is costing Jamestown, but the perception that it’s decaying – rapidly.
An informal survey posted on Facebook revealed some opinions as to why Jamestown has declined. Some people suggested that the village and township officials make it too difficult to establish new business, often rejecting proposals for new business and creating so many roadblocks that there would be no reward for the effort.
One comment said that rents of office and store front space in Jamestown cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per month. If true, one of the problems is obvious. With such outrageous expense just to keep the space, limited street side parking, nothing to draw people to town and an ever expanding sprawl away from the downtown area, there is no practical reason to set up shop there.
Another line of discussion from the survey suggested that Shawnee Hills should be annexed for tax revenue because there are higher property values and income levels than those found in the village proper. The extra money could be used to provide incentives for businesses to settle in town, thus drawing more visitors. Needless to say that drew angry responses from lake dwellers, some of whom commented that they don’t consider themselves as Jamestown residents, but merely living within the same postal district.
Of Course, real estate and financial issues are only part of the problem. People still create the biggest roadblock to regenerating a town’s vitality, regardless of its size. Those who hold the power in small towns still seem to believe that they are all-important.
Good old boy politics thrives and for those who have never been exposed to any other way of doing things, their ability to make forward-thinking decisions may be sharply limited. In addition, pointless and continual bickering between township and village officials over petty control issues only serves to drive the coffin nails deeper.
Trying to return Jamestown to the way it was is hopeless. Those days are gone and though this opinion probably won’t sit well with the powers that be, a new era for Jamestown means more creative thinking, some genuine business savvy and a fresh start. Jamestown may not be able to compete with larger communities, but more open minds must soon prevail or it will just end up a dot on a map and a footnote in the history of Greene County.