Demolishing a Downtown: The Logansport Bulldozing Tragedy from 1950-1979

About 2 years ago I documented the massive changes in Anderson, IN between 1940-1980 that turned that once beautiful city’s downtown into a sea of pavement. During these years of “progress,” Anderson city leaders decided to demolish their Courthouse in 1979 (once regarded as one of the most beautiful in northern Indiana). The replacement courthouse was a shameful, unnattractive monolith. Even prior to demolishing their courthouse, however, local citiznery stood by during the 1950s and 60s and allowed huge swaths of their square and the old Market Street District to be bulldozed and paved.

What was left of this once proud and beautiful city by the 1980s and 1990s was blocks of paved lots and parking garages. So much of what had made Anderson a charming city through the 1940s and into the early 1950s was now gone—and it won’t be coming back. It is not something a lot of old-timers in Anderson want to talk about, or are very proud of. Even the local History Museum’s website ignores the story behind why so many of their once historic structures are no longer with us; nor does the website reveal the demolition for what it was: a total disregard of local heritage, history and architecture, in favor of a tragic, short-sighted solution to “revitalize” downtown Anderson–all done by a single generation of local leaders. That revitalization never came, and what the citizens of Anderson are left with today is a mostly under-developed downtown, full of blocks and blocks of pavement.

After documenting Anderson’s demolition-fest through the “Urban Renewal Era” from 1949-1980, I was pretty sure it would be difficult to top such a tragic bulldozing-fest by another Indiana city. But I was wrong. After going through multiple Sanborn maps and photos of Logansport, IN, (once one of the most beautiful and flourishing cities in northern Indiana), it occurred to me that Logansport was just as sad a story as Anderson–and maybe worse.

From 1940-1979, local leaders in Cass County and Logansport demolished and paved more than 50% of its historic downtown structures.

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From Kevin Burkett’s book on Logansport called “But Not Forgotten,” this map shows the massive demolition evident by comparing 1911 and 2008 aerials using Google Earth.

Like Anderson, local Logansport leaders also decided to demolish their wonderful courthouse in 1979. The replacement building was also nothing to applaud at and was finished in 1981.

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The Cass County Courthouse in Logansport, Indiana at the turn of the century. It was demolished in 1979 and replaced with a “new” government building.

But most of the damage had already been done to downtown Logansport between 1949-1975. Numerous historic churches, business buildings, schools, libraries and beautiful homes that ran along the sides of Broadway and Market Streets in downtown Logansport were bulldozed. Almost nothing was sacred or deemed untouchable.

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Looking west on Market Street today is enough to bring an architectural historian to tears…

Comparing historic Sanborn maps with current aerial photos of downtown Logansport reveals a tragic addiciton to bulldozers, wrecking balls and pavement by local leadership during the Urban Renewal era.

Downtown Logansport Today Ouch 2

E Market Street: Once lined with grand old buildings, this is now a common scene near downtown Logansport: paved lots, deep set back, and a downtown that is anything but bustling.

The idea that the downtown could be preserved and restored and revitalized apparently never occurred to the citizens of Logansport. The simple answer to every challenge appeared to be demolition and cement.

Logansport Paved Downtown

An aerial photo from Google Earth shows all of the paved lots that now inhabit downtown Logansport, where once there were buildings, businesses, churches, schools, libraries and homes.

While not all the buildings that no longer stand today were bulldozed (some succumbed to fire in the 1960s or 1970s and were deemed beyond recovery), the general world of pavement we see today in downtown Logansport had more to do with with demolition and surrender to the “inevitable” than anything else.

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The new and much less inspiring Cass County Government Building (blah). Built in 1980-81, the new structure is deeply set back from the street–sticking a finger in the eye to the city planning design of its historic predecessor and adding injury to insult.

And while there are usually many factors that lead to a dip in the population of a city or town, I have found over and over again a strange correlation between the severity of demolition in a town during the 1950s-1970s, and an exodus of citizens from that town afterwards. The more severe the downtown demolition, it seems, the less people want to live there afterwards, and the more unlikely that downtown revitalization will be a success.

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Once a hopping place: Broadway Street looking east in better times. Very few of the structures seen in this postcard still stand today.

The correlation between mass demolition, and citizens no longer wanting to live in their town, and the lack of downtown revitalization (even by the 1990s and 2000s) seems to be less and less a coincidence as I move on to the next sad city demolition story. The numbers in Logansport are no different, with the population of the city continuing to grow until the worst of the bulldozing was completed in the 1950s and 60s. By 1970, the population drops by nearly 9%; 7% more by 1980; and 6% more by 1990. Meanwhile, through the same era, businesses downtown continued to struggle to survive and the very “revitalization” the demolition was meant to spark, never occurred. I should mention, that by 2000, the Logansport population showed a modest increase for the first time since 1960.

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Further down Broadway Street once stood the City Library, City High School and the First Baptist Church (all are gone). This photo is from the early 1900s.

 

In 2009, Logansport was designated a “Preserve America” Community by former First Lady Laura Bush. It was one of her last “unofficial duties” before leaving the White House. A “Preserve America Executive Order” was signed by President George W. Bush on March 3, 2003, but in reality much of old downtown Logansport was already gone. The Order was 30 years too late. Had only the post WW2 generation that made these short-sighted city planning decisions for all future citizens of Logansport been as thoughtful as the “Preserve America” tenets require today:

> protect and celebrate your heritage;
> use your historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and
> encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism program.

Logansport Sanborn Map Today 2

A few chunks (boxed in green) of old structures still standing today around the new Cass County Government Building.

The good news, (if there is any at all), is that there were so many wonderful historic buildings near downtown Logansport that the bulldozing “progress” generation couldn’t possibly have demolished and paved them all. So, thankfully, many buildings are still worth preserving–and hopefully this new, more respectful generation of local leaders will plan to do so.

“The vast majority of Logansport’s historic downtown architecture was lost decades ago. But since the early 2000s, activists and city leaders have taken steps to stave off this decline,” says “But Not Forgotten” author Kevin Burkett in an online post from 2013.

“One recent success story was the rescue of the old Greensfelder Men’s Store building at 315 Market St., one of only a few 19th-century structures remaining in the downtown area.”

Kevin Burkett’s book “But Not Forgotten,” documents many of the historical structures lost from downtown Logansport, and tells of his return to his hometown after being away for many years:
“It was as if the home town that brought so much joy to me as a child, encouraged me as an adolescent, and prepared me for my exploration into manhood was gone — nothing now but a memory, barely visible through a new, bleaker reality.”

Burkett’s book can be found here: http://mtpublishing.com/index.php/default/but-not-forgotten-group.html#.VoCro7YrJkg

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