Shannon Reed is a storyteller who loves learning about and sharing the history of people and places that impacted society from years past.
Reed assumed the position of historic preservation officer for Newton and North Newton on July 11. Originally from Topeka, Reed attended Wichita State University, studying geology, anthropology, criminal justice and public history. Her masters degree is in cultural and biological anthropology with an emphasis in forensics.
"People as a whole really fascinate me," Reed said. "I'm not in it for the buildings, I'm in it for the people, for the history, the stories they tell."
Reed has experience as a legal secretary, insurance processor and office manager for Wichita State University's anthropology department. She currently lives in Wichita and commutes to Newton to take on what she calls her "dream job."
"Everything historic fascinates me, I can't get enough of it," Reed said. "Whenever we go to a bigger town, I always go on the ghost tours — not so much for the supernatural aspect, but for the history — the weird history, the stuff no one talks about...I love that stuff. That's why historic preservation is so important to me. I think the stories are attached to the buildings and the buildings are attached to the stories, it's a symbiotic relationship, you can't have one without the other. They kind of lose something if you lose one or the other."
Reed said she has enjoyed getting to know the history of Newton, from the impact of the railroad to the cowboy years to the long-standing influence of Bethel College.
"I'm really excited about the driving tour we have coming up" Reed said, noting it is being made possible through a state grant. "It's going to have an interactive website you can have on your phone, a map that you can download on your phone that will give you additional information that the brochure doesn't about each location."
Reed shared that she never got to see 815 N. Main before it was torn down.
"It's just a shame to lose (old) buildings, especially ones that have such a prominent space in the town," Reed said.
One historic place in Newton that Reed is looking to help preserve is the Warkentin House.
"It definitely needs some work," Reed noted. "Through the Historical Preservation office, we're looking into some grants that might help offset some of those costs."
"It's just a beautiful symbol of that age," Reed added. "Go in that house and you just step back (in time). I just gaze at it in wonder. Right now, we're in a society of cookie cutter houses, cookie cutter neighborhoods, and to have houses still around that have that character, have that soul of time gone by...because Newton has done such a good job with the historic districts and keeping up with the regulations and the standards and guidelines is wonderful."
Researching properties and finding information and photos to share with people is a major component of the job that Reed said is equal parts education, preservation and communication.
"You can look at a house from the outside and think, 'Yeah, that's a really pretty house,' or 'That's a nice porch,' or 'Oh, look at the columns,' but to look at it as it was being constructed or right after it was constructed...I just think it's wonderful to see the progression."
Reed handles all of the local and state design reviews, providing answers for historic property owners when they have questions about changes they want to make to their buildings.
"I just guide (owners) in the right direction, especially if they're claiming tax credits," Reed said. "If I wasn't here, people would have a harder time learning that...so they may do something they didn't know was detrimental to their (historic) designation."
To be placed on the state or national register of historic places, a property must have historical significance, whether it be through the owner, architect, its style of architecture, location or tie to historical events, Reed stated. The property must also have at least 50 percent of the original integrity of the building and be at least 50 years old.
Reed fields questions about roofing materials, additional construction, paint types, recommended paint colors and more.
"This isn't an HOA," Reed said. "It's not that we have the end-all authority on somebody's property, because we don't, we can just guide them on what would be approved or not be approved and if you do too much, what can be taken away. I know a lot of people really enjoy those designations, it's a feat to go through all that paperwork...and physical labor."
One of only 17 historic preservation officers in Kansas, Reed writes grants, gives workshops and works to help Newton maintain its Certified Local Government (CLG) status, which partners them with the Federal Historic Preservation Program and makes it easier to maintain historic districts.
"(Newton) worked so hard to put (grants) in place, I'd hate to see anything happen," Reed said. "It's really important the city maintain their CLG status...when they put in so much time and money."