There can be little doubt that Columbia County's smallest city has had its share of bigger-than-normal challenges in recent years.
Harlem barely survived an attempt by county officials to slash the city's income by cutting back sales tax receipts, and Harlem had to weather a state environmental moratorium on new sewer hookups that stalled the city's growth. The city of barely 3,000 residents also had to face tough changes in fire services, and potential isolation that could have resulted from the county's consolidation talks.
Yet the city has done more than just survive. It has capitalized on its status as the birthplace of Oliver Hardy with a wildly successful festival each year, and this year also plays host to the late comic's international fan convention.
Now, city officials and volunteers are digging even deeper into the town's history with a recently completed survey chronicling old buildings.
Spearheaded by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, with assistance from a Savannah historical consultant and regional development officials, Harlem has completed an on-the-ground survey of the city's buildings that are at least 50 years old.
There are plenty of them; the older buildings, most near downtown, number more than 200. The survey's purpose is to identify those structures, a majority of which are private homes, and then establish guidelines for their preservation.
It is a welcome, admirable goal. While 216-year-old Columbia County has many buildings older than 136-year-old Harlem - or 125-year-old Grovetown, which also is a railroad town - the county's oldest surviving structures are scattered throughout the county.
Harlem, then, is uniquely suited for the establishment of a historic district.
But as this project moves forward, city officials should keep one cautionary word in mind:
Designated in 1933 as Augusta's first historical district, Bethlehem wore its protected status proudly. Unfortunately, sometimes things that are simply old aren't necessarily important or historic - yet the historical designation protects them all equally.
That meant a long struggle, finally ending in January, when Augusta officials rescinded the local historic protection. Why? Because the laws protecting historic structures also made it nearly impossible to tear down dilapidated buildings, leaving neighbors stuck alongside rotting eyesores.
There seems little danger in Harlem of such a future clash with the past, but the folks of Augusta probably didn't foresee such problems when Bethlehem received its historic protection more than 70 years ago, either.
That makes the writing of the historic guidelines a serious business. But if anyone in the area is up to it, it's Harlem.
The little city has weathered some pretty serious challenges lately. There's no reason to doubt their ability to protect the city's historic past while ensuring a picturesque future.
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