ECNA served as an important force in promoting the historic preservation movement in Muncie during the late 1970’s. Board members quickly decided that creating a historic district out of at least part of the association area would be a valuable way to attract reinvestment of a type which was compatible with the unique cultural significance of the neighborhood. Under the leadership of the late Althea Stoeckel, the city of Muncie created a Muncie Historic Preservation and Rehabilitation Commission in 1976 with the goal of protecting significant structures and neighborhood’s in the city. With the guidance of David Hermanson, a historic preservation specialist with the Ball State College of Architecture, an area consisting of approximately 12 blocks was selected as the potential site for Muncie’s first historic district. The Emily Kimbrough Historic District was created in 1978 after ECNA convinced a majority of property owners in that 12 block area to be part of the district. Since 1978 this district has not only been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but has remained the only historic district in the city which is truly protected from inappropriate change. Under the provisions of a local historic preservation ordinance, a city commission must approve all exterior changes to structures and the landscape in the Emily Kimbrough District.
In addition to its important role in creating Muncie’s first historic district the Association has collected old photographs and other historic material relating to the neighborhood. Part of the collection may be seen in a slide show/lecture that covers the period of 1975-1995 that has been presented to school students and various service clubs and organizations throughout the area. Portions of the collection are also on display at the annual Old Washington Street Festival. ECNA members played important roles in other preservation organizations.
Among these groups was Historic Muncie, Inc., a preservation interest group formed in the the early 1980s which functioned until 1986. Its first project was the purchase and restoration of Emily Kimbrough’s childhood home at 715 East Washington Street. For a time, the East Central Reinvestment Corporation (now defunct), a spin off organization of ECNA, owned and maintained this important structure as a house museum/library. A second project undertaken by Historic Muncie was the purchase and exterior restoration of the substantial Italianate home at 725 E. Jackson, commonly referred to as the Crystal Baker house.
In 1978, the East Central Neighborhood Association itself undertook efforts to save two historic buildings. The first of these was the two-story duplex apartment house at the corner of Main and Hackley Streets. With the aid of a grant from Community Development, ECNA oversaw the exterior restoration of this structure and its interior renovation. which created two spacious three-bedroom apartments. ECNA volunteers did the exterior landscaping and interior painting on this structure at 900-902 East Main Street.
The second project was the acquisition and mothballing of a turn of the century grocery store/apartment building at 1107 E. Adams Street. The brick structure, commonly referred to as the Washateria, was in a rapidly deteriorating state when acquired by the association in the late 1970’s. ECNA put on a badly-needed new roof and secured the structure from being further vandalized. It was sold some years later to a responsible owner who completed an extensive renovation of the interior.
From 1986 to 2007, the work of acquiring dilapidated structures, then restoring or renovating them was performed by the East Central Reinvestment Corporation. This organization also included many persons who had been active in ECNA for many years.
Perhaps the most significant contribution to the neighborhood has been the work done through the years by ECNA members as they have sought to restore and otherwise improve their own homes. More than 30 houses in the ECNA area have benefited significantly from the efforts of people who have also found time to be an important part of the East Central Neighborhood Association. For many, working for ECNA has been in a way like working on their houses. They see that time spent improving the area they live in, makes their own homes a better, more secure investment.