Martin Luther King, Jr.

Take a moment to think today. Think about Martin Luther King, Jr., not only because it is a national holiday named for him, but because we should all take time to appreciate the men and women who have worked so hard for the freedoms that we all enjoy day after day.King accomplished much more than we know him for, which is probably the famous “I Have a Dream” speech.  However, there is a reason that is his most famous speech.  Listen to it or read the text, here. Or read King’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN is home to the National Civil Rights Museum, though it is also well known for the location where King was assassinated by James Earl Ray on April 4, 1968.  King was a frequent visitor to the Lorraine Motel and his room, 306, is preserved today as it was in 1968. Read this article, “Where Time Stands Still” from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN for an interesting account of the small effects that bring the museum to life. There is an interesting balance between re-creating history, interpreting history, and displaying history.

And if you do get to visit the Lorraine Motel, send a report to Preservation in Pink. We’d love to hear.

Big Box Retail & Historic Resources Debate

After last Friday’s post, Hey Wal-Mart! Ever Hear of “Historic Significance”?, Missy left a great comment that I think, should spark a healthy debate between many of us. Here is her comment:

Allow me to counter that petitioning Wal-Mart is not going to stop the real problem, nor is it really fair to blame Wal-Mart. They are doing nothing illegal. If people were concerned about this issue or preserving the battlefield they should have done something before that land was zoned to allow commercial development or any large scale development. Just because what is being built there is not what people wanted is not a valid argument. Even if Wal-Mart is stopped, won’t save the battlefield. Who’s to say Target or Whole Foods or Giant won’t try to locate there instead. Also, I wonder how much of a buffer is needed around historic sites in order for their integrity to remain?

For debate, my response to the comment:

It’s true that the umbrella issue of the story is that any big box retailer or developer is capable of doing the same thing that Wal-Mart is doing in Orange County, VA. It is not illegal to build on that site since it is zoned commercially. And yes, the county should have rezoned the land to protect historic resources, especially a national battlefield. (Similarly, many National Parks are faced with encroachment issues).

However, I imagine that it would impossible to keep up to speed with rezoning and development at the same time. Therefore, I consider this issue to be about more than Wal-Mart. It is about corporate America and developers who feel that they can build anywhere and will not consider other options, or only pretending to consider options, pacifying the “little people”. Fighting the law or big business takes money, which is what such national retailers have, whereas the general population and local governments often do not have.

But, if we are to consider Wal-Mart: as one of the largest corporate retailers, they should assume some responsibility as a representation of how businesses operate. While some businesses are choosing to not follow Wal-Mart’s practices, many are because of the fact that Wal-Mart has been so successful. So, if Wal-Mart will build anywhere, then other businesses will build anywhere because that is how to be successful. And maybe Wal-Mart doesn’t want to be a model for American business, but when you get to the top, it’s hardly avoidable. The same goes for leaders, bosses, owners, oldest siblings, captains, etc. By rising to the top, you have automatically earned the position of a successful model. Just because it is not against the law, does not mean that practices should be overlooked. Change is necessary as society progresses.

And no, petitioning will not help initially, but a solution has to start somewhere. Someone has to take that first step. And sometimes petitions and small news articles are the only ways to get attention. If enough people voice their opinion and are proactive about change, then the small beginnings will have made a difference. If the town or county can stand up to Wal-Mart, then perhaps other businesses will shy around from that area because of the fact that a group actually said no to Wal-Mart and won.

Perhaps, the general population needs a better example on how to bring about change to business and the local government. Clearly, we need to promote rezoning and be proactive, rather than reactive towards protection of historic sites and resources. Any suggestions?

In regards to how much of a buffer is needed to protect historic sites: that seems like an unanswered question. My gut feeling would be the viewshed, but of course that is debatable.

And those are just my thoughts. Anyone else?

Collaborative Research

Back in July, I wrote about a South Carolina road trip, mostly along Highway 41 through the Francis Marion National Forest, past sleepy small crossroads, and also serendipitously finding a u-shape dirt road off the highway, home to a collection of buildings. These lonely buildings, near Centenary, SC, were perfect photograph subjects, though I wanted to know their stories.  Oral history has taken its toll on me – I cannot look at a building without hoping to know its inhabitants, uses, and lifespan. The same goes for historic photographs of buildings or people.

Off South Carolina Highway 41.

Off South Carolina Highway 41.

After thorough, yet fruitless internet searching, I didn’t think I would find the answers to my questions about this mysterious place.  Last week I received a comment on the Contact page from a man named Mike, who said:

I know about these buildings. I married a cute Carolina girl, whose mother was a Davis and grew up in Centenary. I’m not sure of the exact details but the Davis family owned the surrounding land and tenant farmers farmed the land. My wife speaks of when she was a child, buying penny candy at the store, which was like a department store for the tenant farmers, plows clothes gas shovels, anything they needed. I think the tenant farmers are gone and now the land is leased by agribusiness. My wife’s aunt still lives in the house nearby, and there is a cemetery somewhere nearby with a Davis crypt even. You are right, the place oozes history.

It made my day. Finally, I could associate a story with these lonely buildings. It’s a small piece to the puzzle and I hope this information will find its way to others who can in turn, share their information here.  The simple chain of events reminds me of the benefits of sharing knowledge and asking questions. We would not be able to answer all of our research questions without help from other people.  We should be grateful to those who take the time to record information, whether on paper or by word of mouth.

Do you have photographs of abandoned buildings to share? Send them along with their location and in a matter of time, maybe someone can answer your questions, too.


Who wants to take a road trip?  Who wants to explore the Wild West for real? Who wants to see ghost towns in the middle of nowhere, Nevada and drive down long, winding old highways or dusty, rocky dirt roads? We can stop to take photographs whenever we choose and investigate these abandoned buildings. We’ll visit the one-horse towns that are just barely clinging to life and have some coffee while talking with the locals. We can drive all day or all night listening to good road trips songs. And we will camp under the stars at night.

Who’s in? Of course, we’ll have no fear of trespassing on private property or strangers or unstable buildings or getting lost beyond the map.  

…and back to reality. I know there are such things as private property laws and there are many dangers about getting lost in the desert, but that doesn’t stop me from daydreaming about ghost towns and empty highways and untouched buildings.  Of course, the idea of exploring ghost towns brings up other issues such as trespassing, preservation, visitors, and many others. Feel free to add more concerns, readers.

I’ll save for that for another time. The romanticism of road trips and the middle of nowhere will always be an inspiration for me, regardless of fact vs. fiction. For now I’d just like to think about the ghost towns and the (unknown) stories associated with them. From photographing these places and theorizing who lived there and when and why they left, the entertainment for this preservationist never ends. There is just something about the radio, open windows, sunglasses, good company, and trying to figure out which direction we’re headed, that I will always love. Hopefully this summer will allow for a road trip.

In the meantime, there are many web sites and blogs out there with ghost town travel tales.  I recommend Bonneville Mariner (click on the “ghost towns” category).  Or check out Ghost Town Gallery, where you can click on the interactive map and see photographs from the town.

 What about you? What do you romanticize?

Rain for Rent

Rain for Rent = bottled water, but different? Maybe.

While home on Long Island around Christmastime, my sisters and I noticed a large, blue industrial looking truck with the words “Rain for Rent” on the side. What is it? How does it work?  As it turns out, the idea of renting rainwater goes beyond borrowing big blue trucks filled with water, which coincidentally was the first imaged my mind conjured, however comical it may be.  So it’s a bit more complex than bottled water.  Still, being able to bring water to places that need irrigation? It’s a good idea.

I am not certain that the truck I saw on the Long Island Expressway was from this New Jersey based company, but I would assume that, if not the same, the ideas are similar. According the Rain for Rent website, the company began in 1934 and defines themselves as “setting the performance standard for complete liquid handling solutions”.  After some brief exploring on the site, you’ll see that the company is about moving rainwater and other liquids, whether it is to or from a location.  Projects range from irrigation to storm water cleanup to spill containment and many more. (See here to read about their solutions and projects). Focus areas of work include agricultural, bypass, construction, environmental, filtration, mining, oil & gas industry, oil & water septic, pipeline, pumping, refining, spill containment, and tank.  The company mission focuses on environmentally friendly solutions.

Has anyone heard of this company before?  Similar companies? If they are environmentally friendly, are they perhaps protecting (by default) our cultural and landscape resources (due to things such as their trenchless technology or “no dig” efforts)?  Should this be something considered by additional divisions of industry and technology?

What do you think? Yes? No?  As brilliant as bottled water (depending on how you look at it)?

[image from]

Choosing Between Chain Stores

I may have said this before, but occasionally I do drink Starbucks coffee, meaning I willingly hand my money to corporate America. How can I do this? Well, when I buy Starbucks it is because I do not have other options. And if I am going to choose between the chain coffee sellers, I will choose Starbucks based on company policies and yes, taste.  I do enjoy Starbucks coffee (good, black coffee) but when given an option, I’ll take my local coffee shop any day. What about you? When forced to choose a chain store, how do you decide?

I invite readers to respond to Friday’s post and offer your opinions on Wal-Mart and other chain stores in terms of development and responsibility.  Please read the comments, particuarly Missy’s, which brings up excellent discussion points. Post a comment or send an email to Send it today or tomorrow, please. I’d like to have a few blog posts based on such discussions. No expertise needed, just logical thought of your own!

And for a good Monday thought, here is what I read on the back of my Starbucks cup:

The Way I See it #292

“The way we get to live forever is through memories stored in the hearts and souls of those whose lives we touch. That’s our soul print. It’s our comfort, our emotional nourishment at the end of the day and the end of a life. How wonderful that they are called up at will and savored randomly. It seems to me we should spend our lives in a conscious state of creating these meaningful moments that live on. Memories matter.”

Leeza Gibbons, TV & Radio personality


Quite applicable to parts of historic preservation, don’t you think?  And of course, it reminds me of oral history. (Though, it’s hard for me to not think about oral history).

Hey Wal-Mart! Ever Hear of “Historic Significance”?

Apparently, Wal-Mart has not or does not care. It’s probably the latter. Why? Wal-Mart has plans underway to build yet another store in the Fredericksburg, VA area.  Yet another? Aren’t there three already? See the map below.  The new store planned will be 8 miles away from other Wal-Mart stores.  It will be about one mile from the battlefield. (Be sure to look at the scale when looking at these maps).

It gets worse. Wal-Mart is building closer than ever before to a historic site – to a national battlefield. The Wilderness Battlefield, where Wal-Mart wants to build its 145,000 sq. ft. store, is one of the most significant Civil War battlefields.  I won’t reiterate everything that the National Trust explains, read the post Wal-Mart Superstore Threatens Wilderness Battlefield.

This battlefield is in Orange County, VA, which sadly has not been very good with smart development in the past. It is one of the fastest growing areas in the country.  Read this Washington Post article for an overview of the issue, the consequences, and what Orange County officials think. (It doesn’t bode well for the battlefield).  Here’s a quote from the article:

Keith Morris, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, said that the company has looked at other locations in the area but that none was as attractive. “This is the site we’re going forward with,” Morris said, describing it as “an ideal location.” The land is already zoned for commercial use and targeted for development by Orange County, he said. “There is a void here in this immediate area, especially in retail growth.”

How about this one?

The company has offered to place commemorative markers and other monuments to the battle at the supercenter. “There’s no reason why [the battlefield and the store] can’t coexist,” Morris said.

What can we do? The National Trust has set up a petition to sign to show your opposition to Wal-Mart near the Wilderness Battlefield.

While I may despise Wal-Mart, this isn’t just about Wal-Mart. It’s about all developers, commercial and residential, who build too close to our historic resources. Once these resources are gone, we can’t get them back.  A historic marker can never replace what we lost due to development. 

Thanks to Maria for sending the Washington Post link to me. And thanks to the HispAlum group for starting a conversation as well. Spread the word, preservationists!!

Making a Difference

You can make a difference by speaking up for what you believe. I don’t care how many people say that one person will not make a difference – a difference starts with someone, so why not you? How many of you want to see increased funding and attention to historic preservation during the Obama presidential years?

And how do we influence a possibility? The other day I received an email (thanks, Andrew!) about the open forum on the Obama-Biden Transition Team web page, Here you can submit questions that need to be answered by the new leaders and vote on questions asked by others, thereby indicating voicing which are your most important issues. You can also submit “your story.” The website says:

To change this country, we’re counting on Americans from every walk of life to get involved. Tell us how an experience in your life showed you something that is right or something that is wrong with this country — and share your ideas for how to make it better.

Here is the email content shared with me:

“..there has been a good response, including the addition of many other excellent questions in favor of Historic Preservation (as well as at least one that is very anti-preservation).

If you have not yet voted, please do so and spread the word to all your preservation networks to encourage them to do the same.

If you have voted, please check back and vote on any questions that have appeared since your last check.

WATCH OUT, though, for the sneaky question that talks about Historic Preservation as a “Land-Grab” to benefit the rich.

Here are the steps to take: I encourage you to make the Preservation voice heard by taking just a few minutes to do the following:

1)      Go to

2)      You may need to sign in or create a username.

3)      There is a box that allows you to “Search Questions.”  Type in “Historic Preservation.”

4)      Click the check on each of the questions to indicate that you think they are important questions.

It takes just a few minutes, and may make a difference in the reception of your preservation advocates when they approach the new administration.  If you submit preservation questions, you may want to let us know so that we can continue to spread the word to make sure your issues are addressed on Capitol Hill and in the White House.

Also, if you belong to or manage other listservs, I encourage you to spread the word.

Kristen Harbeson

State Services Director,National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers 

444 N. Capitol St. NW  Suite 342,Washington, DC 20001

phone: 202 624 5465 /fax: 202 624 5419

e-mail: website:

_ _ _ _ _ _

Now, go make a difference, one by one!

Field of Dreams

In the summer of 2006 I stood on home plate and hit a baseball on the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.  Yes, I mean Field of Dreams as in Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, and “is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” Beyond the baseball field was the corn field and along the first baseline were the wooden bleachers. The white farmhouse with its wraparound porch sat overlooking the field. And when I turned around I could see that road we drove to this field is the road that cars drive on at the end of the movie.  The movie was actually filmed in Iowa.   

Approaching the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa

Approaching the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville, Iowa

Okay, so it was filmed in 1989, making it 30 years short of our historic benchmark, but Field of Dreams is one of those movies that is so feel-good-Americana that I can’t help but include it here.  When you combine the great American pastime of baseball with the scenic beauty of rural Iowa and cornfields and a man following his dreams, how much better can it get?

Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

-Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones)

Field of Dreams site, house and ballfield

Field of Dreams site, house and ballfield

I love Iowa, though most people forget about this state or just associate it with flat cornfields. While there are a lot of those, Iowa is rolling country in its western half (the Loess Hills Scenic Byway) filled with old farmhouses, silos, schoolhouses, cemeteries, county roads mapped on a grid pattern.  Iowa is also home to RAGBRAI, the Great Bike Race Across Iowa. Iowa is worth a visit, trust me. I love cornfields before traveling across Iowa, and I still love cornfields.  If I do ever spend more time there, I probably will end up sounding like Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field Of Dreams: “It’s okay, honey. I… I was just talking to the cornfield.”

Interstates, Rest Stops, Service Roads, Old Asphalt, and Coffee

Often, we of the preservation vein will proclaim “Avoid Interstates!” in a voice so full of passion and conviction, that we cannot imagine why people choose the interstate over another road. Choosing an interstate alternative makes sense when you’re traveling out in the Midwest and the mountain states and you have a leisurely road trip planned; however, when you have one day to drive 600+ miles from New York to North Carolina, the interstate is your only option. Here, on the east coast, I understand why people choose the interstates: there is not another way that is as efficient to travel such a long distance. Granted, traffic on I-95 is inevitable, especially in Virginia, but traffic on the local highways would be worse. (I know this because I have tried).

So what is a preservationist to do on an interstate trip? Take delight in the rest stops, coffee, and service roads, of course! When I say rest stop, I am referring to rest areas, the kind situated just off the interstate with bathrooms, picnic tables, dog walks, soda and coffee machines, and welcome centers. If you check out the website Rest Area History, you will see that rest areas are often times wonderful examples of roadside architecture and key piece to the automobile craze in the United States. (It is a great site – thanks to Kelly Timmerman for sharing it!)

There is a stretch of interstate in southern rural Virginia that always intrigues me. South of Petersburg, there are few towns visible from the interstate, except for the outskirts of these tiny towns. One is Stony Creek, Virginia, and you can see the volunteer fire department building facing the interstate. Along this stretch it is easy to imagine how the interstate divided a town. Small ranch houses sit on either sides of the road looking incredibly lonely. Other scenes include abandoned service stations and small greasy spoon restaurants. The structures do not resemble the modern styles, which often receive the reaction “who would buy a house there?” Rather, the smaller dimensions and less grandiose features seem to be of the 1940s-1960s. The service road, perhaps, used to be the main highway, not nearly that of an interstate, and it was still peaceful to look out one’s front windows. Now the interstate noise and lights must deter owners from sitting outside.

Other scenes beyond the service roads are old farmhouses, their vernacular styles and tin roofs hidden beneath the overgrowth of vegetation, long abandoned. In a car you pass by too quickly to get a good look or photograph. I always want to stop, but it would probably be trespassing which is a) illegal and b) very obvious along an interstate. But shouldn’t one of us take on the task of documenting what is left along the service roads, whether former commercial strips, farm houses and outbuildings, or other? When passing “through” a town on the interstate, it is easy to think that the “town” consists of two houses, when really the interstate is the outskirt and the town is tucked behind those houses, with its own main streets. Do people in these bypassed towns take the responsibility of documentation? It is difficult to know, but something that we should address. What do you think?

I love when the asphalt no longer looks newly poured and it turns more grayish than black, with sparkling glass mixed into the surface. It just looks like more fun than a boring, new interstate. The “old” road surface with service roads to awake my imagination and of course, a hot mug of coffee can make even interstate traveling amusing for the preservationist.