Jason Lloyd Clement is a digital marketer and self-described "professional place lover" for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a national nonprofit organization working to save America's historic places. His most recent project, the I Love Texas Courthouses campaign, not only brought him back to his old stomping ground, but also closer to understanding what really makes preservation work: good people with big hearts.
Dear Wilson County Courthouse,
This is probably hard to imagine as you sit vacant, structurally unsound and separated from the street you've been the focal point of since 1884 by a massive fence, but you've got to trust me on this: You're in good hands.
I know this because, just a few weeks ago, I saw those hands reach into a purse and wiggle loose a 3x5-inch spiral notepad and a freshly sharpened pencil. They were the hands of Monica Flores, a woman whose family helped found the town you tower over.
I sat next to her under the humming florescent lights of a beige building where the clerks and judges who once did business within your walls now report. With the lone star of the Texas flag swaying gently in the air conditioning, preservation experts from Austin thoughtfully and enthusiastically presented the ins and outs of the Texas Courthouse Preservation Program. Monica's pencil didn't miss a word. I saw her scribble and double-underline the names of contractors and architects, while important action items like "develop master plan" received both a circle and a star.
When she turned to her fourth or fifth blank page, it became clear to me that Monica was learning in that moment how to save a place. What she lacks in technical know-how, she more than makes up for with the most powerful tool in preservation today: love.
In my time as a professional place lover, I've met many Monicas, humble local fixtures invariably sporting regional accents and offering a little TLC to all and sundry. I've also fallen in love with enough historic buildings like you to know that preservation -- like all matters of the heart -- is complicated. And while all struggling structures need people with blueprints and big words, they also need folks whose main currency is hugs rather than handshakes.
Towns don't come together over updated mechanical systems and the methodical re-pointing of bricks. Towns join hands because of people, passion and their shared experiences with places. Nine times out of ten, it's a local Monica who facilitates that remarkable and critically important coalescence.
Later that afternoon, when the meeting was over and all her notes had been taken, Monica stood with a tear in her eye and said something that stuck to me like glue: "I can't tell you what it means to me -- to us -- for you to come here and tell us what we have is beautiful."
Wilson County Courthouse, you are beautiful; unbelievably and indisputably so. And now more than ever, Monica knows it and is empowered by her love for you. It could be months, maybe years, but that fence is coming down.
Jason Lloyd Clement