Making a Difference for a Historic Place that Matters

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House History, Historic Preservation

I am a huge country music fan, so you can bet my interest was captured by a recent tweet from country singer and songwriter Roseanne Cash, the daughter of the late and great Johnny Cash. “Please, please vote for my dad’s boyhood home to receive grant from National Trust for restoration,” it read. Old houses and country music? Of course I had to investigate.

Cash Boyhood Home, courtesy Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is hosting the 2011 This Place Matters Community Challenge. The goal is to restore and preserve a historic structure that can in turn offer something good for the community that supports it. In the case of Cash’s boyhood home, the small town of Dyess hopes to receive the grant to restore the five-room shack, then open it to the public as a way to bring in revenue for the town’s slumping economy.

The prize is $25,000 for first place, $10,000 for second and $5,000 for third. Though restoration experts will be the first to say that kind of money won’t go very far in bringing a run-down property back from the brink, it will definitely provide the inspiration and seed money to get more donations and investments in the project.

For the City of Dyess, the restorations matters because it could be a shot at survival. “Dyess is a dying town - losing population and resources, with no chance of reviving the traditional economic driver, family farms,” the project page says. “The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home project has the potential to revive and revitalize the town, provide local entrepreneurs new opportunities, and once again instill pride in the folks who call Dyess home.”

The home has long been a mecca for music lovers. With its relatively close proximity to the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi and the Elvis Presley homeplace in Tupelo, Mississippi, the home could well prove to be a profitable draw for the town.

The house offers more than just the Johnny Cash name. It is one of the few remaining colony houses, sitting on what was once 20 acres of cotton fields. The restored home could show visitors what daily life was like in a rural home in the midst of the Great Depression. Arkansas State University has seen the potential in that, which is why the University purchased the home and has joined the City of Dyess in the push to win the contest.

There are dozens of other entries that are getting attention, including the forerunner thus far, the Wellington Ritz Theatre in Wellington, Texas and the OK Theatre in Enterprise, Oregon. From run-down old houses that deserve a second chance to entire main streets in need of serious renovation, the list is filled with worthy candidates. Reading through each entry offers a list of reasons why each place is deserving of restoration, but the theme is clear: old houses and historic structures often house the heart of the community, and that spirit deserves to be preserved.

If you want to vote, go the National Trust for Historic Preservation. There you can read the details of each entry and make a decision on which property matters most to you. Voting is open until June 30.