Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Op-Ed Columns

Ohio's future tied to its glorious past

Historian Arthur Schlesinger, an Ohio native, wrote that "history is to the nation as memory is to the individual." As Ohioans, we are blessed to live in a content-rich environment of state and local history that has national significance.

Consider these places in northwest Ohio alone: Fort Meigs in Perrysburg, Johnson's Island on Lake Erie, the Edison Birthplace in Milan, the Armstrong Air and Space Museum in Wapakoneta, Fort Recovery, and the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont. Then there are the stories, people, and objects from this abundant history, stretching over thousands of years, from Lake Erie south to the Ohio River.

Ohioans need only look back at their state's magnificent history to recognize the possibilities that lie ahead. Ohio's future is connected to this incredible past. The state's historic and cultural resources are valuable tools that help us place the present and the past in a fuller historic context.

Consider the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the important role Fort Meigs played in protecting the Northwest Territory, and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's naval victory on Lake Erie. Why does this matter 200 years later? Visit Fort Meigs and see for yourself.

As I travel the state, I keep hearing that Ohioans value history as an asset for making sense of our present, educating our youth, and developing our future. One of the most important duties of the Ohio Historical Society is to help create an environment in which history can flourish.

The society is a public-private partnership between the state of Ohio and its more than 11 million citizens. It is entrusted with helping to maintain our state's public historic sites and museums, operating the state archives, providing educational resources, and protecting Ohio's historic and prehistoric artifacts. The society also plays a vital role in rehabilitating historic properties through the Ohio Historic Preservation Office.

Ohio is the 38th largest state geographically, but we have the third most listings of any state -- nearly 3,900 -- on the National Register of Historic Places. Almost 100,000 historic properties are recorded in the Ohio Archaeological Inventory.

Ohioans have invested more than $2.4 billion in historic preservation projects through the efforts of private developers and individuals aided by historic tax credits. Federal and state credits have helped preserve some of Toledo's historic buildings, such as the Valentine Theatre and several buildings in the Vistula Historic District.

This summer, we are initiating a competitive program of matching grants that will enable Ohioans to designate a portion of their state tax returns for the society. We will use that pool of funds to make grants to state and local organizations to complete history-related projects.

We're excited to have an annual revenue stream to help boost Ohio history. We could not have done it without the leadership of state lawmakers from northwest Ohio.

There are other examples of Ohioans working together to create an environment in which history can flourish. In partnership with an advisory board of social-studies teachers and financial support from Honda Manufacturing of America LLC and Huntington Bank, the society has introduced an e-textbook for 4th graders called Ohio As America. This online resource is constantly updated and expanded, and will only get better.

During the Great Recession, the state has reduced funding to the society by more than 40 percent. Yet thanks to organizations and the communities where the society's more than 50 historic sites and museums reside, not a single site has had to close.

Sites such as Fort Meigs and the Armstrong Air and Space Museum adroitly changed their business models. Today, local partners operate them with limited financial support -- but also curatorial, marketing, and other specialized help -- from the society. These "win-win" management agreements have boosted local investment, led to increased attendance, and are heralded as innovative national models.

Preserving and learning from our state's history is not simply about remembering Ohio's past or the accomplishments of great individuals. It is about investing in Ohio's future, by skillfully making use of history for its prime function of looking forward.

By connecting to the past through history, we all can build a better future -- for ourselves, our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities -- as Ohioans and as Americans in an ever-changing world.

Burt Logan is executive director and CEO of the Ohio Historical Society.

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