Thirty years ago, the village council created a historic preservation district and board. Its powers include approving environmental changes to properties in the district, such as construction and demolition.
Waynesville, a Warren County village of 2,834 residents about 40 miles northeast of downtown Cincinnati, touts tourism as an important part of its economy.
Since the 1970s, the village has been called “the antiques capital of the Midwest,” based on its high concentration of antiques stores. The preservation board is often credited with remaining true to downtown’s historic charm.
“(The board has) maintained the integrity of the historic district,” said Pam Bowman, owner of the historic Hammel House Inn since 2002. “There’s always
somebody that comes in that doesn’t get it. They want Wal-Mart down the street.”
The Hammel House dates to 1787 — 10 years before the village was founded — when it was a log tavern known as the Jennings’ House. The building replaced the tavern in 1817.
The Hammel House fits in well with the downtown, which is largely void of chain stores. Exceptions include a few restaurants — McDonald’s, a Subway, Bentino’s Pizza.
Waynesville native Dennis E. Dalton wrote “Waynesville and Wayne Township,” a book about the village and adjacent Wayne Township in 2012. He said Waynesville
was standing still before the antiques stores came. The village is home to at least 14 antiques stores.
Before 1970, Dalton said, historical buildings were often remodeled.
Dalton said the preservation board and antique dealers saved the community’s life and “preserved that illusion of small-town U.S.A. If they had not come along ... (Waynesville) would’ve eventually become a ghost town.”
Bruce Metzger, an antiques show producer and owner of Queen City Shows, said Waynesville is arguably the top small-town destination in the area.
In Waynesville, Metzger said, a customer deals with the proprietor, something they won’t find in a big antique mall.
He said the village has a small industry in antique replicas, where people sell newly made furnishings that look antique.
Linda Pelton, 66, of North Bend, visits Waynesville two or three times a year to shop for antiques. She called the village “one of the best around within 100 miles or so” because of the density of shops.
Dawn Schroeder, executive director of the Waynesville Area Chamber of Commerce, said she’s visited other small towns that are “kind of shut up. There’s nothing left.”
In September, the Stone House Tavern opened on South Main Street. It’s the first restaurant in the village to serve alcohol by the drink since the 1940s.
Beyond antiques shops, Waynesville is home to art galleries, fabric stores, gift shops, bed-and-breakfasts, and restaurants. Metzger said people who are interested in decorating, especially in country styles, come to Waynesville.
Fall and the holidays are peak times for tourism, but shops are open year-round.
And the despite the recession, the downtown economy is stable with few vacancies.
And Waynesville’s government has nearly healed itself from a self-inflicted budget crisis that resulted in the state placing it on fiscal emergency status five years ago.
Molly Forner, along with her husband, Jerry, own Forner’s Wood Shop. She said a lot of people will come on the weekend to shop and eat lunch at The Hammel
House. In the summer, they might drive to nearby Caesar Creek State Park.