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Historic St. Cloud: The Making of a National Register Historic District

By Christine Dalton, AICP

Historic Preservation is another tool in the planning toolbox that can help to revitalize city centers and convey a community’s sense of place. There is a value to historic designation, as is proven time and time again in historic communities across the state. When we observe communities that have wildly successful and thriving downtowns, we often find that these communities are some of the older places to be established in Florida, and likely have local and National Register historic district designation.

Listing in the National Register of Historic Places strengthens community identity and helps citizens and visitors experience a connection to the past. It also has its financial rewards – the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit provides up to a 20 percent income tax credit for certified historic, income-producing buildings. This can be a substantial economic benefit to property owners of commercial buildings and multifamily dwellings, as well as developers. Property values tend to be higher and more stable in historic districts. Additionally, local businesses benefit from increased tourism and jobs.

St. Cloud is currently in the process of seeking designation for a National Register Historic District. The project has been funded by a Historic Preservation Small-Matching Grant from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources, and the State of Florida.*

To obtain the prestigious National Register Historic District designation, a nomination form must be completed by a preparer on behalf of the community, then vetted by the State Historic Preservation Office, who forwards it for review and (hopefully!) approval by the National Park Service. Nominations are complex and delve into multiple aspects of a community’s development, from its social history, built environment, time periods and architectural styles, placement of buildings along the street, number of historic buildings that have been determined to be “contributing”, and much more. Research for nominations is thorough, requiring scouring through old newspapers, public records, and images. It is incredibly easy to find oneself “going down the rabbit hole” when working on a nomination because one interesting fact after another reveals itself about the community.

The history of St. Cloud is unique. It was created by the Grand Army Republic to serve as a retirement community for Union veterans of the Civil War. The downtown streets were named for Union states, such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. As the town expanded, streets were also named for former Confederate states such as Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Numerous architectural styles are represented in St. Cloud, including Frame Vernacular, Masonry Vernacular, Craftsman, Mediterranean Revival, Prairie, Colonial Revival, Folk Victorian, Minimal Traditional, Ranch, and Mid Century Modern. Within the proposed district, approximately 240 historic buildings contribute to its eligibility. Approximately 150 of those buildings were constructed between 1909 and 1929, and another 95 buildings were constructed between 1936 and 1970. St. Cloud’s history, variety in architecture, and quantity of contributing historic buildings establishes a solid foundation for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. It will be wonderful to watch this historic community grow and thrive in the coming years, as it realizes the benefits of historic district designation.

* Grant #22.h.sm.400.040 “St. Cloud National Register Historic District”, awarded to St. Cloud Mainstreet.

Christine Dalton, AICP, is an adjunct instructor at Seminole State College of Florida and Rollins College as well as a trustee for the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. She can be reached at christine@christinedalton.com.

Top photo: Unplanned stopover? Stay at the St. Cloud Hotel, circa 1915. Photo courtesy of the St. Cloud Heritage Museum.

Middle photo: Former home of the First National Bank located at 1200 New York Avenue. Photo by Christine Dalton.

Bottom photo: Just another day in St. Cloud, Feb. 16, 1911. Photo courtesy of the St. Cloud Heritage Museum.