Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Dr. C. C. Burns Block

By Bryan Robbins, Main Street Greensburg Director

One of the great things about having a relatively preserved historic downtown district is the opportunity to get a snapshot of the history of the community, simply by walking around. Greensburg’s Historic District is blessed with a number of architecturally significant buildings, all of which give clues as to their age, use, builder and and the culture of the period during their construction-- all discerned by taking a look from the sidewalk.

I’m going to showcase a good example-- the Dr. C.C. Burns Block (buildings were often referred to as “blocks” during the period), located on the south side of the square. You might know it as the Robbins Melody Mart building, as well as the adjacent Malone Staffing Building. Upon first look one can see that the make and design of the building is unique with respect to the others around the square. The architecture is of Queen Anne style, with it’s oriel bay window (protrudes from the facade in the East building), decorative pediments, relief decorations, and dentil work along the top and beneath the oriel window. This style grew in popularity in the late 1800’s, which if we look to the tops of each building to see the two years engraved in stone (1879 and 1888 respectively), the timing checks out.

And while looking at the dates, one can see a design above them, which represents two “C”’s interlocking with a “B”, which with some research one can find represents the owner/builder of the two structures: Dr. C.C. Burns.

Going to the “1894 Illustrated Souvenir Book of Greensburg” (can be viewed at the Greensburg Public Library or the Historical Society Museum) one can get a snapshot of Dr. Burns:
“A well-known dentist, was born in Albion, Orleans County New York, October 28, 1834, and at an early age removed with his parents to Parkman Cuyahoga County, Ohio, a portion of the Buckeye State often alluded to as Western Reserve. In 1844 the family was again caught in the tide of Western emigration, and settled that year in Decatur, Ill., but in 1852 returned eastward and located in Hoosierdom, the subject of this sketch learning the trade of watchmaker and jeweler. He abandoned this calling, however, and in 1855, at Franklin, Ind., began the study of dentistry, in which profession he has ever since been engaged. He practiced at Minneapolis, Minn., during 1856 and 1857, but returned to Franklin in the last named year, and in 1860 located permanently in Greensburg, where he has enjoyed an unusual degree of prosperity, owning some of the best property in the city.”

One wonders what the term “unusual degree prosperity” represents, whether it was a testament to the poor dental hygiene of Decatur County at the time (toothpaste and brushing weren’t highly promoted until the 1890’s), or signified the loyalty of his patients (cocaine was used as an anesthetic in the late 1800’s, though no suggestions are being made here). For whatever the reason, one can see that both pride and wealth were displayed in the design and construction of this building, a common occurrence during the Gilded Age of prosperity in the U.S., even in rural towns.

Whereas the ground levels were used as commercial rental locations, Dr. Burns’ dentistry office was upstairs, along with his living quarters. One of the great pleasures of my job is to be able to view the upper stories of these buildings, and whereas I have no photos of his former office, his living space mirrors the elegance and artistry of the exterior: beautiful wood trim decorated with ornate carvings, pocket doors, a stair case within the apartment to the third floor, a decorative gas fireplace, and other elaborate features such as a door that once opened onto a second-story terrace (a great place to watch parades down Main Street). The east upper floors are currently being used as storage space for Melody Mart, and the west building (as can be seen in the photos) is still a (well-preserved) functioning apartment. 

So I encourage you to take a walk downtown as the weather gets warmer. Find some clues in the exterior, and hit the Public Library and/or the Historical Society Museum to find some answers.

1 comment:

  1. I love driving through parts of Washington, DC (crazy , I know) to look at all the truly wonderful architecture. Homes are similar yet very different and so unique.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)


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