In Beloit, Wisconsin, Fairbanks Flats are a rare example of segregated company housing, the only known community housing built exclusively for black workers in the state still standing. The Wisconsin Field Office and Midwest Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation worked with local advocates, the Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Office, and the city of Beloit to first discourage the demolition of Fairbanks Flats and then encourage its successful rehabilitation.
The Beloit city council voted to tear down the properties in 2001 and the Midwest Office and its partners responded, including involvement of the Legal Department of the National Trust. This public pressure and a change in a new city manager allowed local advocates to propose feasible future uses of the property. Public pressure primarily included local advocates speaking at public meetings on the subject and local letters to the editor, also some regional interest, specifically those involved with the historically black Chicago area Bronzeville also lending their support and importance of African American history and preservation.
One local advocate, Wanda Sloan, was a Cultural Diversity Scholarship winner and attended the National Preservation Conference in 2004. She was able to network with other communities nationwide specific to African-American and industrial history and found their examples of adaptive use as excellent models. After many proposed development scenarios the Flats are being developed by Gorman and Company as affordable housing. The groundbreaking ceremony has taken place, open houses continue on the housing units, and Fairbanks Flats will be filled with residents once again. Gorman & Company is currently renting these units.
A successful project that engaged a local diverse population in preserving heritage, saved a historic place, and further found incentives for an adaptive reuse. The Wisconsin Field Office is pleased to remain involved with these great efforts.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Fairbanks Flats is used by the Wisconsin Historical Society in their education materials for classrooms across the state and is also a popular project for National History Day students.
Trent Margrif is the director of the Wisconsin Field Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.