The Eternal Division

People will never agree on Wal-Mart, which upsets many of us to no end.  We can only hope that communities will realize there is another way to economic revitalization and job growth.  Here is an example of two Virginia towns:  Abingdon, where downtown is thriving and curses Wal-Mart.  And then Grundy, VA, where Wal-Mart is coming into town and everyone believes that it will save the town and bring it back from the brink of extinction.   

Normally, I wouldn’t post about an article and just leave the link, but this is worthy of your time and thought.  And contrasting opinions are always good. 

Thanks to Elyse for sending the article my way!


Preservation Chat is Everywhere!

I love my post office, mostly because it is a historic building with leaded panes and real window muntins. There’s an eagle on the front of the building and a mural on the inside. The interior of the postmaster’s office has beautiful wood floor and tall ceilings. Luckily, these features tend to overpower the slowness of the post office and the fact that I often get the same piece of wrongly addressed mail in my mailbox, despite writing “return to sender.”

Anyway, today while standing in the long Saturday line waiting to mail a package, a mother and her three elementary school age sons stood behind me. They were quite adorable and I enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversations. My favorite part occurred was when the oldest boy said to his mother, “Mom, why is that door there? I bet there used to be stairs there so they could get upstairs. Maybe they use a ladder to get up there now.”

Truth be told, it’s just a high ceiling and the door leads to the postmaster’s office, but it just made me to smile to hear a nine-year-old analyzing a historic building. Granted, he had no idea what he was doing but it’s evidence that there is a foundation and an interest to teach these young children about preservation! How often do adults just ignore their surroundings and never think to ask why something is the way it is. So let’s get out there and educate these children who are more than willing to learn (usually if they don’t know they’re learning!)

Community Involvement

Historic preservationists aim to preserve, protect, remember, and share the past with the present while recognizing the value of the present with consideration of the future and how the future will view our current present and past.

(Excuse the mouthful.)

Why is all of this done? Preservation is for the people, for descendents, for ancestors, for the communities. Historic preservation is a public service profession, in many facets, that aims to improve the quality of life for the present and the future.

In my own town, historic preservation plays a large part in town discussion and choices – or at least the appearance of preservation or shall we say charm plays a large part. (You have to start somewhere, right?) The streetscape of historic Broad Street with the shops and trees and the railroad track down the middle provide a pleasant atmosphere for annual parades and festivals. Currently, town members have taken it upon themselves to act before the 11th hour in order to save a plot of green space. This space which adjoins the playground, tennis courts, and basketball courts, was previously the police station. For reasons I do not know, the building was demolished and since then (about 1.5 years) it has been a part of the park. Residents want to keep this space open and have begun a petition in order to show how they feel.

Another series of events going on in town is called Rock the Plaza. This Thursday was its first showing and it will continue every third Thursday of the month through September. First Fridays are similar and continue through the winter. Rock the Plaza took place in a small courtyard of shops in downtown Southern Pines. The surrounding shops and coffee shop stayed open past five o’clock, until eight o’clock! (This is a rare event.) A local band played while people shopped and mingled and ate food from local vendors, including Dog Nation, the new hot dog stand that opened up in an old Esso gas station. Some local business women even organized a small fashion show.

Rock the Plaza did not appear to be well advertised, at least not as well as First Fridays, yet, a surprising number of people turned out for the event. There was barely room to walk in the plaza. This event presented a chance for locals to run into friends or meet up at an outdoor event downtown. Being able to attend a fun summer outdoor event is rare, since most the stores close by 5pm. In fact, Jennifer Kirby, a local realtor and friend, commented that just a few years ago nothing like this would have occurred in Southern Pines. Clearly, the local business owners have come a long way in terms of local support and involvement. In this case, there is a clever blend of businesses encouraging true community participation in our historic setting. Subconsciously more people will take note of and appreciate the historic value of the town (even if it is for the charm.) In turn, an inevitable controversial issue appears, historic integrity will have greater support because people appreciate the atmosphere and what the buildings and their surroundings have provided for them in the past.

Here’s to the people who love what historic preservationists do (whether or not they realize all of its effects.)

America the Beautiful

American road trips rank among my favorite pastimes; there is so much to see in this country that I don’t think even a lifetime of road trips could capture everything.  Traveling across the country, in any direction, makes it difficult for anyone not to appreciate the diverse landscape and culture.  Granted, one may find the endless hours of the generally flat Kansas tiring, but I love looking at a map and paying attention for the next small town, which may appear to be just a few houses from the highway. 


A cross country traveler is able to see the changing landscape and the affects of development, old and new.  Strip malls and big box stores hover around the outskirts of a small town, leaving its downtown desolate.  Railroad towns have long since faded, now bearing a mysterious look.  State and National Parks capture beauty and solitude of this country, providing a haven for wildlife, plants, and human meditation and exploration. 


If gas prices continue to rise, will road trips ever become a thing of past?  That idea seems hard to believe, considering how much of American identity traces itself to a migration, whether by covered wagon or little tin can cars or the 1950s glory of cars and races.  But, will people take fewer road trips?  Will they fly instead? 


And just as connected to the American identity, what will happen to the small, out of the way historic sites?  How long will the visitors continue to trek to these hidden displays of history?  Or maybe more locals will explore their regional history and become more reliant on nearby services.  Driving still remains cheaper than flying, assuming you have at least two people and a one day drive.  But, for those needing to go from New York to California, flying would be less expensive, regardless of the price of fuel. 


Is the country really changing as rapidly as the media portrays?  It is always hard to see through the sensationalism in the news as well as the popular topics and fads.  Regardless of fact, it should always be a good time to prioritize and reassess aspects of our lifestyles.  As preservationists, we need to impress the importance of heritage and supporting the smaller sites that may have the most trouble with funding.  And as we are encouraging friends to visit these local sites or to visit a local site as tourists elsewhere, we must also actively practice what we preach.  Maybe we can all make a promise to visit a small historic site or museum on our trips this summer.  We cannot solve every problem, but every person makes a difference. 


We are going to continue to drive because we have to, that is how the majority of America is constructed.  Gas prices will continue to rise, as will everything else, yet we can consider how we are spending our money.  So as we’re driving through the land that we love, we should remember and be grateful for our ancestors who have given us what we have. On a drive, consider a detour through a small town or stopping to read a historic marker on the road and gaze at the landscape.  We just have to take small steps. Along with the environmental issues of the last post to the heritage issues touched upon here, it all ties together.


Long story short: if you’re taking a road trip, bring some friends and visit some historic sites on your journey (and share your adventures!)


Learning New Tricks

I’ve always considered myself to be an environmentally conscientious and respectful person, but I also know that there are always things I could/should be doing better.  With gas prices so incredibly high, I have been taking the advice of eco-activitists and considering how to plan my errands.  I’ve started carpooling to work, even though it takes away from my country music singing time (believe me, no one else wants to hear my singing.)   I have reusable grocery bags and sometimes I do remember to bring them to the store – when I do I feel a strong sense of accomplishment.  Look at me and my green bags, I’m helping the environment. I recycle. I’ll always opt for fans over air conditioning and if I could walk to the bookstore, coffee shop, and post office, I would.

But, these revelations beg the question: if it weren’t for the dramatic increase in gas prices, would I be so concerned?  If it’s in response to general well being for the environment like saving trees and preventing pollution, then yes.  However, in terms of carpooling and trying to save gas in ever possible way?  Honestly, maybe not.  I’ve even taken to the point of not touching the gas pedal and just coasting down the 1/2 mile decline to my house.  (It’s gradual – the highest speed I reach is 15mph, the lowest is 8mph. Fyi, I live down a private dirt road, so I’m not causing a traffic jam.)

Despite the annoying rise in gas prices, perhaps this is a good thing.  Maybe more and more people will think of creative ways to save money and gas.  (This is a similar conversation to one of our field school van ride talks.)  Will people move to more walkable neighborhoods eventually?  Will people buy more fuel efficient cars?  How far can we carry this to improve our lifestyles?  It is not going to be an easy change.  I have a hard enough time trying to remember my green grocery bags, but with enough practice and thought, all things become easy in time.

How is this connected to historic preservation?  Stay tuned for the next issue of Preservation in Pink. It is all about living as a preservationist, which will be tied to the going green movement.  We all have so much to learn.  Please share what you are doing.

(For the record, in one month I will be able to walk to coffee shop, farmers market, library, bookstore, and post office.  I’m very excited.)

A little help…

As I begin work on the next issue of Preservation in Pink I look back on one of my favorite emails.  This email alludes to quality of life and sense of place, but it is important to remember that buildings, landscape, history, folkore, planning – all pieces of preservation fall under quality of life and sense of place.  This is why the topics addressed here;  it’s all connected.  The author of this email wrote to me during one of those periods of time when my non-preservation major friends just didn’t understand (or respect) what I wanted to do.  Here is something that continues to keep me motivated.

“I think a lot of people take the past for granted. everyone has this live for today attitude, but what’s the point of living for today if it won’t mean anything to you tomorrow? This is the reason why the world’s in the shape that it’s in. No one cares about anything anymore, except immediate satisfaction. That’s kind of a loaded statement – not everyone, just a lot of people, probably most. I won’t go off on this tangent because you’ve heard it all before. but we need people like you in the world. People to remind us of the values of past generations and our own heritage, people to tell us that things can be better, people to stop the Wal-Marts and the Best Buys. Otherwise, this world would be one giant corporate mass and everything that our grandparents and great- grandparents worked so hard for would be completely lost. I feel like they are ashamed of the state of the world right now. Because of you, I’ll never give Wal-Mart another cent of my money and lately I always consider whether or not I can buy something from a small business before I buy it from a corporation. Maybe I’m just one person, but that makes a difference, and that’s because of you. Without people like you, what will happen to the countrysides and the small towns and the independent business owners? Isn’t that the american dream? The self made man or woman? I worry that it might not exist soon. We’re watching a way of life fade away, and we need people to protect that because people like me don’t want to live in a world of Starbucks, McDonalds and Wal-Mart. Thank you for doing what you do. Trust me, your major is important, even if everyone doesn’t think so.”

Attention Writers & Photographers & Thinkers

This weekend begins the layout & editing of the July issue of Preservation in Pink, which means that if you are planning to write an article, please do so!!  It does not have to be refined or extremely eloquent.  Just send me some ideas and I don’t mind playing with words.

The theme for the July issue is how do you live as a preservationist? (What are your successes, troubles, challenges, morals, etc.)  However, as always, travel articles, random articles, photographs, and all ideas are much appreciated and encouraged – opinion or news based, whatever you want.

My Constant Inspiration

“Never doubt that a group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  -Margaret Mead

I read this quote at the San Diego Zoo last August. As cliche as this may sound, immediately I knew that it would be a permanent theme/mantra to follow in my life.  It echoes most of my favorite topics from at the very beginning to combining disciplines.  This quote actually appeared on an exhibit next to the gorillas at the zoo and it talked about recycling cell phones.  Yet, the wording is timeless.  I have not read anything by Margaret Mead.  In fact, I shamefully admit that I only know her as an anthropologist; but, I’d place a bet that she understood the connectivity of the world as well as the importance.  [Her readings are on my list.]  If you have ever received an email from me, you will see this quote on the bottom of it.  So far, I have not found a more appropriate quote with which to replace it.

In previous posts, I have discussed my own theories of interdisciplinary collaboration, so I will not belabor the issue.  But, I hope as we all meet different people we further understand the need for communication and the combination of even related fields like historic preservation, anthropology, archaeology, urban planning, business…practically any field. Even the various branches of historic preservation (folklore & oral  history, restoration, rehabilitation, museum studies) need to be more involved with each other than they currently are. 

We may all know that this is true, but do we really understand how to begin connecting with other fields?  I do not claim to have the answer, but perhaps we can develop one together.  The first step is understanding and valuing what other people are researching, accomplishing, and listening to ideas and goals.  This can be realized through education, conversation, and a general interest.  Someone out there: field the next step, please.

[If you are looking for a point in this post, it’s mostly to re-introduce this quote and remind each other about always keeping our minds open.]  Any other favorite quotes out there?

Field School Final Exam

During the last week of field school, Travis often joked about what would or would not be on a final exam.  Exam?!  Were we really going to have an exam?  We didn’t really think we would, but lo and behold, Travis presented us with an “exam” on the last morning, which was matching clever phrases to each site that we visited.  (No, it was not collected.)  We also had course evaluations, reminiscent of the last days of college classes. If in fact we did have a real final exam and let’s say it was an essay about what I gained from field school, it might go something like this:


Often I find myself believing that I have my career path planned out exactly how I want it; I’ve finally figured out what would be the perfect job for me in terms of diversity, enjoyment, challenges, and satisfaction.  Before attending field school at Poplar Forest, I had decided to pursue architectural restoration or building conservation.  However, I am willing to admit, that I often interweave these two terms despite knowing the difference.  I thought that a project such as the Kenmore restoration or the Poplar Forest restoration would be something that I’d love to do everyday.   In these past two weeks, I have since changed my mind.


These two weeks have provided me with a base for constant preservation thinking and pondering.  I have sat awake at night thinking about the large multi-year restoration projects such as Monticello, Montpelier, and Poplar Forest.  Then I thought about the smaller projects like restoring my own home someday.  And I thought about all of the other facets I love about historic preservation and acknowledged that restoration is only one piece to the puzzle.


An extensive restoration project, while admirable and incredible, is not something I would want to undertake.  Perhaps, I am, at this point, quite daunted by the knowledge required to accomplish such a task.  Another part is that I cannot imagine doing the same job for 20 years (this could, however, be quite affected by my wanderlust personality.)   But, the biggest part is that I cannot “settle” (aka decide) to follow one path in historic preservation.  Sometimes, I think that this might hinder my potential success, but success is all subjective anyway. 


So what do I want to do with my preservation life?  I want to be the roots of a community in a non-political sense.  I love to talk, write, and teach preservation. But at the same time I want to do preservation. I want my job to involve the theories of quality of life, sense of place, and incorporating historic preservation into the community.  Perhaps this is a bit of advocacy and I’m alright with that, though you may not see me on the steps of Washington D.C.  Kerry Vautrot and I have great plans to work together and involve our ever growing network of preservation friends.  We want to be self employed consultants but do the above things. 


This remains quite a puzzle, but currently I can imagine a community preservation center in which we can serve as consultants for historic preservation projects or direct the community to those who need someone in our network.  Perhaps we’ll take on National Register nominations, Historic Structure Reports, architectural conservation investigation, and then plan community events, preservation camps for school kids, and many more things.  By developing a plan for this form of “business” we would be able to incorporate everything we love about preservation, helping anyone in the community, and bringing preservation to everyone. 


Granted, this is another plan in its very beginning stages.  I thought of this the other night, probably wired on coffee and on a preservation induced high.  Two significant field school events helped to trigger this round of ideas.  First we visited Point of Honor in Lynchburg, which is a city run house museum that hosts community events as well.  The restoration is not perfect, but I could just imagine it as a great place to visit and have events and learn about Lynchburg.  That same evening we visited another house, Rivermont House, which Travis and one of his preservation friends have saved from demolition and restored the outside (basically on their time and energy.)  Travis mentioned that it could serve as an architectural resource center.  It sounded wonderful.  Every county (give or take) should have one!


At some point I noticed the difference between nationally / worldly significant historic site restoration project vs. more locally significant projects and then of course, the differences in restoration and rehabilitation.  For me, I believe it would be more rewarding to work on a smaller scale and be able to do part of everything that goes into restoring/interpreting/running a historic site while educating the public through more than just exhibits. I realize that larger sites do this as well, but I’d like to start small and see where I go. 


Again, this is a vague plan but it is my current dream that I’d like to follow and develop as I learn and experience more in the preservation field.  And I credit the weeks at field school to this latest update.


The second aspect for which I am grateful to field school is the ability to once again talk and work with new people from different backgrounds and interests, but all who are interested in the world of preservation.  We had wonderful conversations whether about quality of life and suburbia or architecture or restoring houses.  The combination of the site visits, projects, and people has allowed me to step into preservation theory and be content to sit and think about historic preservation and what I would like to do in the years after graduate school.   And field school has reminded me what I know, but more importantly, how much I have to learn and how much I want to learn.