The Highland County Historical Society plans to use a tentative $110,000 grant to renovate the historic Scott House and find a way to make it self-supporting, John Kellis, a historical society trustee and finance chairman, said in a news release.
Depending upon a person’s age, the 175-year-old mansion may mean different things based upon their memories of the Scott House. Some people probably remember it as the Hillsboro Public Library. For many others it is the site of a massive project taken on by local citizens to renovate the Scott House in the early 1990s. Still others are convinced it was a stop along the Underground Railroad, with a tunnel traveling under West Main Street to the home across the street, the news release said.
“No matter the perspective, it is evident that the Scott House remains one of the most majestic homes in Hillsboro, particularly when you include the beautiful property surrounding the mansion,” Kellis said.
The Scott House is currently the property of the historical society. It was offered the house’s title by the Hillsboro City Schools in 2013. In an attempt to find a way to preserve it for future generations, the society accepted the building, knowing that it was not going to be an easy or a short-term project to find a permanent preserving use for the home, Kellis said.
The journey for the Scott House began as the Scott family emigrated from New Hampshire to Ohio in 1810. William Scott was educated in the law and moved to what then was called Hillsborough in 1832 to establish his law practice. The mansion’s construction was started in 1835 in what was referred to as “Log Cabin Country” on the west side of the town. It is not clear whether David Scott, William’s father, started the construction and left it in his estate to William, or if William Scott built it on his own. In any case, it was completed in 1844, according to Kellis.
Some surmise that Christopher Arthur, architect of the Highland County Courthouse, was also the architect of the mansion, also assisting with its construction. The Scotts’ son, Samuel, was born and educated in Hillsboro, attending Miami University before practicing law in the western U.S. territories, according to Kellis. He returned to Hillsboro in the late 1870s to assume his father’s law and financial businesses, and ownership of the Scott House.
Samuel Parsons Scott died in 1929, leaving most of his estate to Jefferson Medical College, proceeds from which were used to build a library in his name in Philadelphia. His estranged wife, Elizabeth, died in 1946, and having no children, the mansion was left to the Hillsboro schools. The school rented the first floor of the building to the Hillsboro library, which maintained it as such until 1970. That year the Highland County Library Association built a new library where it stands today on Willetsville Pike and West Main Street, as The Highland County Public Library, Kellis said.
The Hillsboro community embarked upon the restoration of the building in the early 1990s. Still visible in the Scott House are plaques recognizing some of the major donors to that effort: Vernon B. Fairley, Jim and Susan Gibbs, Fifth/Third Bank, Liberty Savings, Weastec, David and Kay Ayres, and Merchants Bank. Many others donated to the project and/or spent their time organizing and carrying out the renovation.
“We should all be grateful for those who headed up that effort to restore the structure,” Kellis said.
While the school retained its administration offices in the building for another 15 years or so, the building was vacated by the school as its offices moved, which eventually led to the acquisition of the Scott House by the historical society.
While the historical society is determined to find that ultimate use for the Scott House, it is not in a position to forever absorb the expenses that are being incurred. The society’s trustees do not want to see the Scott House become a detriment to other projects and goals of the society; rather, the society is striving to see the structure produce enough income to offset the expenses incurred by the operation of the building. The committee also sees opportunities for uses of the grounds for community events like the Highland County Chamber of Commerce’s annual picnic, Kellis said.
The society has appointed a Scott House Committee to manage the building and study options for its ultimate use. That committee has reviewed previous studies, proposals, and ideas for the Scott House, and is currently in the process of preparing a report for the board of trustees concerning the pros and cons of various options for its operation, according to Kellis.
More than a half a million dollars have been recommended for projects in Highland County through Ohio’s 2017 Capital Budget Bill, including $200,000 for a pedestrian walkway connecting uptown Hillsboro with Southern State Community College, $150,000 in assistance for KAMP Dovetail, and $110,000 in upgrades for the Scott House.
The announcement was made on April 13, according to Highland County Commission Board President Shane Wilkin. The items are subject to approval by the state legislature when it considers the budget bill, but their inclusion at this stage is usually an indication of final support.
“One opportunity the $110,000 state appropriation offers the society is the ability rent the spaces in the building to community-minded offices/businesses to generate enough income to cover operational expenses” Jim Rooney, the historical society project chairman, said. “The state project will allow the society to make improvements separately from the operational side of the equation, making the rentals more affordable. The Chamber of Commerce and The Ohio Valley RC&D Council are currently renting two of the four spaces. If the board can identify tenants for the available spaces together with the state funds, we think we can make it work.”
The application for the grant funds was submitted earlier this year by the historical society with the cooperation of Southern State Community College. The funds are designed to repair, treat and paint the homes’ wooden trim, upper landing railings, cupola and widow’s walk. They will also allow the society to replace the 25-year-old heating and air-conditioning units, and to improve the second story for office spaces. Other needs are improvements to the kitchenette, improvements to the drainage around the foundation, and improvements to the third floor for smaller space uses such as art studios, Kellis said.
“The society is so very grateful for the support of Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger and Senator Bob Peterson’s offices for the request,” Kellis said. “The society is searching for the right business model for the building so the society will be able to offset operational expenses, while at the same time developing the property as the ‘Front Door of Hillsboro.’ What a beautiful place for people to visit to get information about Hillsboro and Highland County.”
Justin Harsha, a historical society trustee and the Scott House manager, said, “The most daunting issue facing the society has been the needed repairs and improvements to the building. The costs associated with those repairs are simply beyond the finances of the society and are hard to build into a reasonable rent. These authorized state bond funds make the ultimate goals for the building much more likely. What an opportunity we have before us.
“My dad was the building chair for the project to restore the Scott House back in the early ’90s, and as he took me through it I saw how much time and effort they put into the restoration.”