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City eager to get started on a historic district
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Elizabeth Hursey points out some of the historic structures in a model of Springfield after SCAD students presented their survey of the city. - photo by Photo by Pat Donahue

Springfield’s quest for a historic district has taken a 21st century approach.

Jong-hyun Lim, a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Clarence Thomas Center for Historic Preservation, and his students presented their survey of Springfield’s buildings to a crowd Thursday night at the Historic Effingham Courthouse. The SCAD efforts also are expected to result in 3-D images of historic buildings and homes on Google Earth, and Springfield officials are enthusiastic about what it may mean for the city.

"You can look up historic sites and with a click, it will bring you to Springfield," said Mayor pro tem Jeff Ambrose. "Hopefully, it will mean more opportunity."

Springfield residents and leaders also were overwhelmed at what the SCAD students delivered for the investment of a few thousand dollars.

"It has blossomed into much more than we ever anticipated," said city manager Brett Bennett. "They have been a pleasure to work with."

The Jail Museum is already on Google Earth in 3-D, and the city hopes to be able to add more such historic structures to Google Earth soon.

Jamey Stancell, who leads the Springfield Merchants Association, said he thought what might result is a book that could be sold to raise money for historic preservation efforts. But the ability to put the city’s images in 3-D and put them on the Internet could bring more interest in the city’s history.

"I think this was more than our expectations," he said. "It will be in a preserved place forever."

SCAD’s work also could result in an historic district for the city, which has been a longstanding goal. Stancell also has been on the city’s historical advisory council, and said when they asked about grants, the city didn’t have a survey of its historic buildings.

"They wanted to know, ‘did you have a historic district?’" he said. "Every time we turned around, it came around to that we didn’t have a survey."

Stancell tried to take photos, figuring he would need 200 to 300.

"It didn’t work," he said.

The SCAD students took 3,274 photos and walked 5,000 miles through the town, Professor Lim said, the equivalent of six round trips from Savannah to Miami.

"Every community member we met on the street was willing to share their memories," Lim said.

A survey was completed of the city in the late 1990s, and students double-checked the information. They conducted their own inspection of the city in two phases, from September-November last year and January-March this year.

Students followed the National Register of Historic Places guidelines for taking photos, and they collaborated with SCAD’s architecture department to make the digital 3-D models. They also relied on Effingham County’s GIS department for information.

In the future, the 3-D images on Google Earth could be accessed through the city’s own Web site, Lim said.

"If we can collect all that information in one place, and that is a virtual place, like the Internet, that would be awesome," Lim said. "The information can be updated anytime, from anywhere."

What that could do — allowing potential tourists to see 3-D views of the city’s historic buildings — has city leaders excited about the possibilities.

"There’s two sides to history, and then there’s real history," Stancell said. "This is going to be big. For us to have 3-D images on Google Earth, that’s big. That’s important. That puts us miles ahead of all other cities. This is big for Springfield."

Stancell also expressed his thanks to the Historic Effingham Society "for keeping the fire lit," he said, and added that using Google Earth and 3-D images could help get younger people involved. He also said the city needs to get signs to show where its potential historic district and its historic buildings are for those visiting on the streets and not via the information superhighway.

"The next step is to grow this and to branch out in branding for the city," he said. "The city’s Web site needs to be the central hub of linking all of this. We need signs that identify the historic district. This gives us more opportunity to show how much pride we have here.

"At the end of the day, this is great," he said. "This is very exciting stuff."