AMONG RIPON COLLEGE’S more historic buildings is East Hall, built in 1851.				   Tim Lyke photo
AMONG RIPON COLLEGE’S more historic buildings is East Hall, built in 1851. Tim Lyke photo

     After retiring in 1981, Ripon College history professor George Miller devoted the final 30 years of his life to historical pursuits.

     He dedicated many ideas, hours and dollars to the Ripon Historical Society ... In 1990 he co-authored “Ripon College: A History,” and it was Miller who researched, wrote and organized the 150th anniversary of the founding of Ceresco, Ripon’s first settlement.

     In his later years Miller also served on Ripon’s Historic Preservation Commission and later was selected as the commissioner’s Person of the Year for historic preservation for 2010.

     The quiet, unassuming man was a champion of historic preservation as he believed to his bones that “the past is prologue.” ...

     So one has to wonder how Miller would feel about the college’s recent plea to have its historic buildings exempt from city oversight.

     During a public hearing on the downtown historic district last week, Ripon College representatives politely asked the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to not reinstate the campus historic district.

     Their argument is that at a time when colleges are struggling to maintain enrollment as the pool of prospective students shrink, they need the freedom to care for their buildings as they deem necessary “to bring the college forward.”

     Is Miller rolling in his grave?

     Yes and no.

     While certainly a proponent of historic preservation, Miller also was a champion of Ripon College.

     He likely would weigh the college’s need to be unencumbered by government oversight with the community’s desire for historical continuity through architectural integrity.

     But recognize this: The college’s arguments last week, which commission members seemed to accept, are no less valid for individual property owners. Simply substitute “residents” and “house” for “students” and “college” and this becomes clear.
Consider these assertions made at the meeting:

     “Our sense with respect to the [historical district] is that it’s really our property, and we want to have the largest license possible to take care of [it] and to create the space that we think is most pertinent to bringing the college forward.”
Comment: This private-property argument is as equally compelling on Lane Street as it is on Linley Lane.

     “We’re really putting a lot of emphasis on the property and making sure the property is in the best state possible for bringing in students.”
Comment: The same argument may be made by a homeowner who wants to ready his home for sale by replacing an old, wood facade with easy-to-maintain vinyl siding he believes a buyer may find desirable.

     “We’re working on it the best way possible, and we just don’t want our hands hampered.”
Comment: Any household on a budget knows the limits of what it can afford and likely resents Big Brother claiming otherwise.  

This is not to suggest Ripon shouldn’t have a historical preservation ordinance. To the contrary, what makes our city desirable is, in part, the care and pride property owners have shown in the way they repair and renovate their houses, landscape their lawns and care for their yards. ...

     But if the Historic Preservation Commission is going to start exempting properties based on owners’ preferences, it better start issuing numbers to the folks who will line up outside City Hall following Ripon College’s lead by saying “me too“ when asked why they should not have to receive a certificate of appropriateness before being issued a building permit. ...
                                                                    — Tim Lyke

     To read the entire editorial, see the May 17, 2018 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.