If there’s one thing Milton takes pride in — other than small-town charm and the Blackwater River — it’s history. And between a new courthouse going up on Avalon Boulevard and the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans (as they stand now) to widen Highway 90 through downtown, perhaps it’s time to think more of this generation’s mark on history, not just preserving the past.
There has to be a balance.
In discussions of these two highly impactful projects, I noticed an interesting trend. I heard more opposition to moving the Fisher Hamilton building due to its historic significance than I did the courthouse. Maybe there was and I wasn’t aware. I’m certainly capable of being wrong.
The FDOT said on multiple occasions it would not tear down the century-old Fisher Hamilton building on the south side of Highway 90 at Willing Street, but move it approximately 60 feet down from where it is to accommodate the wider road.
The opposition to the plan often holds up the Fisher Hamilton building as a cornerstone of Milton’s history. The survivor of fires and hurricanes is reportedly “one of the oldest commercial brick buildings in the panhandle between Marianna and Pensacola, built in 1877 by one of the founding fathers of Milton, William Keyser.”
The Keysers were lumber barons and also helped build and support historic churches.
Still, it seems funny to preserve the memory of pioneering capitalists by wishing to halt FDOT’s plans and potentially slow economic growth by not alleviating traffic downtown.
Of course history is not the only concern in widening 90. Another is walkability. The fear is that, despite plans to post slow speeds through the downtown intersections, traffic speed will increase. Pedestrians — as well as businesses relying on curious cars stopping — may both be at risk.
This is where I think the soon-(ish)-to-be vacant courthouse can play a role.
When FDOT makes its next move with Highway 90, walkability should be considered, and I believe FDOT typically supports such roadway amenities. So what can occupy the old courthouse’s current space to keep people downtown and interested in wandering our historic streets? With the Imogene Theatre and museum across the street, pizza and gourmet food nearby, Brew Angels and Beardless Brewhaus within walking distance, what can replace the courthouse to draw locals and tourists downtown?
I don’t know — but I bet you might. What can be this town’s focal point?
Aaron Little is the editor of the Santa Rosa Press Gazette and the Crestview News Bulletin. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org