Don't ask Jim Morrow why historical and architecturally significant buildings fascinate him.
He'll tell you he really doesn't know why.
"It is fascinating to me," said Morrow, 89, of Beverly Shores. "It is just like a kid interested in cars. Ask him why, and he can't tell you. There's something that triggered the interest."
Morrow's interest has run so deep he has helped place some 450 properties in Northwest Indiana on the National Register of Historic Places on his own time and at his own expense.
Morrow, who grew up in Gary and graduated from Lew Wallace High School, began his career working for his father in a retail building material business. He went on to work for several home builders and home-building product companies before moving into real estate and becoming a home builder himself.
When he retired about 15 years ago, he began another career, working to place the region's significant properties and neighborhoods on the national registry. A couple of years ago, he formed the nonprofit group, Partners in Preservation Inc., which hires professionals to prepare documents to nominate a property for the National Register of Historic Places, a division of the National Park Service.
By forming the nonprofit, Morrow had hoped to gather additional interest and some donations to keep the effort going. So far, he said, he has not been successful in attracting people to the cause, and he continues to fund the effort himself. Partners in Preservation has an office in Hammond with one staff member, Morrow's assistant Cynthia Ogorek.
"While I was employed, I didn't have time for it. I was after the buck. After retirement, I did an about-face," Morrow said. "I have no heirs. I have a close affiliation with Indiana Landmarks. I had encouraged them to have a regional office. They have one now in Hobart, and I underwrite that."
Indiana Landmarks works to preserve historical places in the state.
Morrow's home that overlooks Lake Michigan is on the National Register of Historic Places. That's one reason he bought it a dozen years ago. Previously he had owned the Lustron home in Chesterton, also on the national registry, and turned it into a museum.
Morrow said he doesn't believe people in the region often know when they live in areas of historical or architectural significance.
Morrow's old neighborhood, Morningside subdivision in Gary, is on the registry. He lived there for three years while attending high school. It was built beginning in the 1920s and through the Depression.
Morrow said he worked to get it on the registry for "sentimental" reasons.
He said he believes people also are hesitant to have their properties placed on the registry because they fear government control or interference. That simply doesn't happen, he said. It is more of a bragging right.
Restrictions on renovations to a home only come if the owner includes an architectural easement on the property, Morrow said.
Morrow said he hopes to expand the efforts of Partners in Preservation to make it a statewide group aimed at recognizing significant properties.
"We are not only working to preserve the past. We are working to preserve the future," he said. "This is part of our heritage, and we need to preserve our heritage."