What better way to finish off Historic Preservation Month than to find out how to nominate a building to be designated a local historic landmark? I have been meaning to look into this since we bought our house two years ago, and I’m finally going to do it. Fort Collins has dozens of local landmarks, and I think that the home where photographer Mark Miller raised his family should be added to the list.
Submitting a nomination isn’t all that difficult. The first step is to determine why the building is significant. There are four standards: 1) The property is associated with significant historic events; 2) It is associated with the lives of significant persons; 3) The building itself is architecturally significant; or 4) The property may hold information important to prehistory or history (want to excavate your yard?).
My husband Bryan and I met with Karen McWilliams in the City’s historic preservation office to discuss the nomination process. In addition to being associated with Mark Miller, she feels that the property is architecturally significant as an example of late 19th/early 20th century vernacular domestic architecture. Not fancy, just typical of small agricultural towns of the time. I also discovered that our home is a “contributing element” to the Laurel School National Register Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Some research is required to complete the nomination form and adequately describe the history of the property. So I made a trip to the Local History Archive at the Discovery Museum. I had already downloaded from Ancestry.com the United States Census records for the Miller family from 1910 to 1940, so I knew that the Millers were living in the house by 1920. And I knew from cemetery records that Mark Miller died in 1970 and Effie Miller in 1974. I wanted to get a better idea of the years the family occupied the house, and these items helped me narrow my search.
Using City Directories, I was able to determine that the Millers moved into the house in 1918 or 1919. I was surprised to learn that Mark and Effie were living across the street in 1917. I suspect they were trying to live close to his parents, Amos and Mary Miller. When they moved into our house they were finally two doors down and on the same side of the street—perfect for raising their children. And the Millers were still listed in the directory in 1975, suggesting that their adult children sold the home once probate cleared a year after Effie’s death. So the family occupied the home for more than fifty years.
I also wanted to see if I could verify that the house was built in 1900. The nomination materials for the Laurel Historic District list our address as the M. Smith House (the original owner), c. 1900. The tax assessor records also indicate the house was built in 1900, but with a notation that this was the owner’s (Miller’s) estimate. City directories are useful because you can look up the address even if you don’t know the owner’s name. But the early directories didn’t have this feature. The first appearance of the house in the city directory was 1908 under the name of Milton Smith. I hoped early Sanborn Fire Insurance maps would help. But in 1901 and 1906, while all the streets were laid out, the mapmakers completed only a very small area of town in detail, and the buildings and addresses were not filled in on our street. We may never know for sure.
I learned a few other things about the house during my search. Building permit records indicate that Mark Miller added a front and back porch and an attached garage to the house in 1920. He remodeled the house in 1927, and again in 1942 (though the details of these projects are uncertain). Out buildings on the property included a tool shed and a chicken coop.
This historic research is pretty easy for anyone to do, with the help of the archivist. There’s even an online guide with information about how to do it. The nomination form also requires an architectural description of the home. I am not an architectural historian, so Karen McWilliams assigned one of her interns from CSU to help me. Diane Sanders, a CSU student getting her masters degree in historic preservation, came to our house to take all the necessary photos and will write the architectural description for the nomination. What a great resource!
So, why do this? The obvious reason is to officially document Mark Miller’s association with the home, contribute to what is known about the family, and preserve the historic structure. Designating our house as a local landmark doesn’t mean that we can’t renovate or add an addition. The City will need to approve any renovation plans, but that is true of any home fifty years or older in Fort Collins. Landmark designation will ensure that no one will be able to tear down the house.
To encourage owners of historic homes to preserve their properties, the City offers financial incentives for preservation, stabilization, and adaptive reuse. Once our house is designated, we will be able to apply for Landmark Rehabilitation Loans up to $7,500 per year for exterior work. These 0% loans don’t have to be paid back until the house is sold. There are also Colorado State 20% tax credits for both interior and exterior work. The City has a Design Assistance Program the pays up to $2,000 each year for the design of alterations or additions. The preservation staff will even help prepare the applications for financial incentives.
In the next week or so we will submit our nomination and wait to see what the Landmark Preservation Commission decides. It’s an exciting opportunity to get involved with historic preservation firsthand and share the experience with others!