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Greenfield chamber seeks funds to preserve historic building

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Less than 50 years after Hancock County was established in 1828, the building that now houses the Greater Greenfield Chamber of Commerce went up on the corner of State and South streets.

To help buttress the future for the historic, two-story brick structure fronting the Courthouse Plaza downtown, the chamber is on the first leg of a three-year, $154,000 fundraising campaign.

"It's important to preserve the historic value of that building," said Mary Gibble, Hancock County Community Foundation president and chamber board chair emeritus. "It's a beautiful part of the plaza."

Once a physician's office and residence after it was built in 1875, the building became the county's first funeral home, owned by Frank and Rose Lynam from 1911 to 1951, and then a similar establishment under different ownership until 1974.

That particular chapter of the building's history led to it becoming the subject of several ghost-hunting studies a few years ago, but the alleged hauntings have not scared off chamber president Retta Livengood, who can't think of a better headquarters for the organization.

"It's a landmark building in town," Livengood told the Daily Reporter. "It has wonderful significance, and the chamber sees itself more the caretaker of it."

In the stately structure, the chamber finally found a permanent home in the fall of 1997 after a capital campaign by the board raised the $50,000 purchase price along with $350,000 to cover renovation costs.

In 2005, however, a specter of another sort bored its way into the 138-year-old building, and the chamber had to get a loan and put a mortgage on the property to eradicate termites and make repairs.

In order to satisfy that obligation, and make sure the building's future remains solid, the chamber launched its three-year campaign early this year, and just over halfway through the first 12 months, the effort has already garnered $50,100 in donations and pledges.

"We're very excited," said current chamber board chair Philip Sheward. "It's a great start."

Sheward said the campaign was mounted to address three issues simultaneously: satisfying the mortgage, paying for currently needed repairs and establishing an endowment from which the chamber could maintain the building in the future.

Though the chamber owns the building, its mission to promote the area, its businesses and development doesn't provide a ready source for capital improvement funds.

"It's in the best interest of the community to establish an ongoing income stream to address those future needs," Gibble said.

Preserving, leveraging and capitalizing on the character of downtown's historic district are at the core of the effort, chamber members say.

"It's one of the reasons we were very keen on revitalizing the building," Sheward said. "It's one of the historic fixtures in the community and provides good visibility for the chamber."

"The role of the chamber has changed from being about business, business, business to more of a community organization," Livengood said.

Though still driven to support and develop the business community, the way the chamber promotes its core mission has expanded.

"Many times we're the first step for a lot of people when they're coming into the community," Livengood said.

Visitors come through the chamber's door looking for maps and other resources, asking questions about the area's offerings, dressed in both business suits and casual attire.

"People come in for a myriad of reasons, and you never know who you might be talking to," Livengood said. "We're one of the ultimate resources for the community."

The building is also home to several civic and cultural organizations, including United Way of Central Indiana, Hancock Economic Development Council, Youth as Resources and the Hancock County Arts Council.

In addition to covering past and future work, the funds will provide new carpet that was recently removed for repairs and reinstalled, exterior painting and repairs and a face-lift for exterior doors on the west side of the building.

Donations can be made in a lump sum or pledged over the 36-month life of the campaign.

"If enough people give a little, we'll be good," Livengood said.

The building is part of the Greenfield Courthouse Square Historic District that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since March 1985.

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