Change is Inevitable. Ugliness is Not.

Scenic America is the only national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated solely to preserving and enhancing the visual character of America’s communities and countryside (quoted from the “About Us” on Scenic America).

Have you noticed that some highways and interstates are more littered with billboards than others? Or that the older highways meandering through the country are being rerouted or dotted with new billboards and developments that seem to disrespect the scenic view? What about the new cell phone towers or windmills – what are they doing to our natural environment and views, or what is left of them?


Issues (click above) such as these are what Scenic America cares about and works to solve and educate the public through advocacy, publications, workshops, and an online resource center. Read Scenic America’s mission statement and its principles and you will understand that they fit in with the rest of us preservationists and environmentalists and planners. Succinctly, (adapted from the Principles page) Scenic America hopes to protect the distinctive character of existing communities, foster respectful new development, encourage regulatory approaches for scenic protection, improve transportation systems aesthetically and environmentally, prevent mass marketing such as billboards, educate the younger population, and engage other entities to promote a more scenic America.

I had never heard of Scenic America until I was perusing the links on PreserveNet, and I’m surprised to learn that pieces of this organization have been around for over a decade (under a different name in the beginning). And it addresses some of the exact issues that many of us discuss time and time again. Scenic America identifies the tangible and intangible aspects of why some people prefer the old meandering highways than interstates and why some places are more eye appealing than others.

And as for “Change is inevitable. Ugliness is not.” – it is the catch-phrase of the organization. The brutal honesty is just what we need. Scenic America is not tiptoeing around its goals. Keep your eyes open for Scenic America in the news. I look forward to hearing of their success. Read long range plans here.

Living and Working, One Place or Two?

As many of you, I have today off from work for President’s Day (though technically it is officially designated as Washington’s Birthday. See here for an interesting fact check about this holiday).  In recent months I have spent my days off getting ahead on grad school applications, GRE studying, other random writing projects, going for a run, and of course, drinking lots of coffee from my favorite local shop. I consider my time spent running and drinking coffee as time spent enjoying my town. (And as you can read in Friday’s post, I do try to make an effort to always enjoy where I am).

For whatever reason, the town is currently undergoing sidewalk repairs. To me, this seems rather silly in the chilly February weather, but I suppose they have their reasons.  While walking home from the coffee shop this morning, I realized that I tend to always walk the same way, unless something changes my routine.  Today it was the sidewalk repairs. I also walked a slightly different way to the coffee shop this morning, but I’ve walked that route at other times. However, on my way home, in order to avoid the concrete dust and the drilling noises, I cut down a different street and through the library parking lot, essentially one block down that I normally walk. And, as silly as this sounds, I remembered that it’s sometimes fun to take a new route.

Maybe it’s just me, or does everyone tend to stick to the same routes? In college, I never did. I always liked to walk home from classes or work or practice a new way and wander through the less traveled paths on campus. And on road trips or bike rides, I love traveling down unknown roads. So why would that change now, here? I’d guess that it is because while I live here, I do not work here, meaning most of my time is not spent here, walking around. When I am in town I walk the routes I know I like and past the stores because there is always something interesting to see.  Call me a creature of habit.

This self analysis reminds me that I am one of those people who would love to work in the town where she lives. Of course, factors such as walkability and a short commute come into play as well, but mostly working and living in the same would give me the greatest connection to where I am, and maybe that would solve this geographic commitment phobia (maybe).  Not everyone wants to live and work in the same place – many people want to get away and keep those parts of their lives completely separate. Not me. Being a preservationist ties together every part of my life and makes me want to keep that strong connection. It all reflects back to people having pride where the live – sense of place, quality of life. You can’t escape this discussion.

I’ll come up with a plan for the next adventure in life. What about you? Does it matter to you?

Flamingo Love

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

the perfect expression of Preservation (in Pink) love for today.

Flamingo wine glasses: the perfect expression of Preservation (in Pink) love for today.

Small Town Moments

This may or may not have been stated, implied, or recognized in previous posts, but I have geographic commitment phobia.  Relationships, habits, hobbies, promises – I’m reliable and will commit 100 percent. But, tell me to choose one place to call home (aside from my childhood home) and I will run in the other direction.  Maybe it due to my age, stage in life, or the fact that I’ve read too many books about pioneers on the Oregon Trail.

Whatever the reason, this conflicts with my notion of loving the place where I am, and feeling that sense of place and pride in one’s community. I’m not really being true to my word if I keep dreaming of other places, am I?  I have issues with the warm southern weather and the lack of snow and the distance from home. But, I love small towns (mostly), the railroad tracks sitting one block away, the constantly sunny days, my house, my running routes, and the people I have met.  And these factors are all important in making me content to live where I do. There are certain small town moments that I love, classic Americana, if you will.

Looking up on a late afternoon in February.

Looking up on a late afternoon in February.

Last year, Vinny and I brought laundry to the laundromat in order to catch up on the neglected baskets full of dirty clothes and towels. We loaded the laundry into the machines and then sat outside on the hood of my car, eating a pizza, while the freight train passed by, not even 100 yards away.  Moments like that will always remind me of this small town in America.


Looking south down the railroad tracks at sunset.

The other day after work we took a walk around town in the 70 degree, windy weather (in February).  We saw a few people along the way and meandered past the shops and boutiques that had since closed for the day.  And since I’m still participating in Project 365, I always have my camera and am delighted to find good opportunities, such as this building in town.  Sotheby’s Realty had previously been a robin’s egg sort of blue, so the change to natural wood is not something you can miss.

Sotheby's in town. Undergoing a color change!

Sotheby's in town. Undergoing a color change!

Upon closer inspection, we could tell that they were in the middle this task, which became obvious once we turned the corner. I believe it was even a darker shade of blue than in this picture, but you get the idea. While blue may not be historically accurate, Southern Pines has yellow, dark green, and pink buildings along the streets, so the blue fit in nicely.


From blue to natural.

So, whether it takes you a walk around town on a beautiful day, a good cup of coffee, gazing at houses, finding a good restaurant, or anything else, I hope you find some way to enjoy the place you live. It always takes me a while and it may not be constant, but I think if we are all happy to be where we are for now, life is much easier.  And the preservation field will thank us for finding value everywhere we live. Think of the National Trust’s initiative, This Place Matters.  And send along stories of why you like where you live.

Train station in Southern Pines

Train station in Southern Pines

President Lincoln’s 200th Birthday

In February we celebrate President’s Day, honoring the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. As it’s a federal holiday, most of us have always had the day off from school and work. In elementary school we learned about the presidents – as in, George Washington cannot tell a lie and Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin. And in high school our history lessons taught us additional information about the presidents. But, once you don’t have to think about it anymore, do you ever remember that Lincoln’s birthday is today, February 12, and Washington’s in February 22?

In fact, Abraham Lincoln was born 200 years ago today – February 12, 1809. Ceremonies across the country are honoring the Lincoln Bicentennial, and the Lincoln Home National Historic Site (of the National Park Service) has a weeklong Lincoln celebration. Since it is located in Springfield, Illinois, most of us probably will not make the trip today. However, you can take the virtual house tour and see the virtual exhibits of furniture, personal belongings, newspaper articles, historic photographs, Mary Todd and children, and learn about Lincoln as a lawyer. It is a wonderful, eye-appealing site and you can choose what you view. Visit Lincoln’s home today – it’s worth a few minutes of your time. And at the bottom of the website, you can click on links to other historic sites related to Abraham Lincoln.

Another site to visit is President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home in Washington, D.C. where Abraham Lincoln resided during the Civil War. It is a National Trust property. As you may know, the National Trust recently completed a $15 million restoration project

Browse through the Lincoln History and Culture Center to read quotations and essays.  Following quote from here.

December 1, 1862: Closing Paragraph in Message to Congress

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We – even we here – hold the power, and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just – a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.

Happy Birthday, former President Lincoln.

Notes from Boston

Late January – early February is the perfect time to visit Boston, probably because people assume it will be 20 degrees or colder. However, I seem to bring some warm weather from North Carolina every year that I visit. Boston is just a great city, and the only complaint that I have heard from people is about the cold winters. But other than that it has everything: public transportation, historic and unique neighborhoods, parks, all sorts of shops, beautiful historic buildings, modern buildings, universities, and good food. This past weekend Vinny and I visited Boston to see many high school and college friends. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Here’s a brief photo recap of some preservation highlights:

Old South Church, Boston

Old South Church, Boston

Old South Church

Old South Church

Since the majority of our group consisted of preservationists, it made sense to visit the Old South Church on Boylston Street in Copley Sqaure. We paid particular attention to the crack in the masonry. (Look for a post about that soon).  If you look closely or zoom in, you can see the crack and the crack monitors.

George Washington in the Boston Public Garden

George Washington in the Boston Public Garden

We wandered through the sunny, snow covered Public Garden and gazed at the row houses on Commonwealth Avenue. I think it’s one of the prettiest streets I’ve ever seen. Had it been slightly warmer, we probably would have stopped to look at every house.

Boston Public Garden

Boston Public Garden

Commonwealth Ave

Commonwealth Ave

And lastly, here is our mini preservation reunion at Stephanie’s on Newbury for Sunday brunch.  (Jen G was unable to join and Vinny took the  photograph). While it’s not a historic restaurant, it is delicious food.

Mini preservation reunion!

Mini preservation reunion: Kate, Kerry, Sally, Andrew

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder died on February 10, 1957 at the age of 90. She was born on February 7, 1867.During her lifetime she traversed the country by horse and wagon, survived the long winter of 1880-1881 in Dakota Territory, farmed with her family, taught school at age 15, lived during (what we call) the pioneer days, and saw modern America develop. From horses and mail by ponies and trains to automobiles, electricity, planes, and television – Laura lived a fascinating life. Her books have never been out of print and they continue to delight and educate readers all over the world.
I began reading the Little House books around the age of 11, because my mom brought one home from the library and told me that I’d probably like it. I did. And I read those books as fast as I was able. In fact, in sixth grade I won the award for having read the most books in my class. Throughout middle school and high school I read every biography about Laura and every series of books about Laura and her relatives. I couldn’t call myself an expert, but I absorbed and remembered much more about Laura’s life than the average Little House viewer.

Before Laura Ingalls Wilder, I adored the American Girls series and the Dear America series, as I have mentioned here. I imagine that reading this historical fiction combined with my mother’s adoration of abandoned buildings, set me on the path to historic preservation.And becoming so enamored with and intrigued by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life gave me someone I still call my role model / idol / hero.Life would not be the same without Laura Ingalls.

Who is your idol in American history?Is this a part of the reason you became so interested in history and historic preservation?

For those who enjoy historical figures, historic sites, and road trips – here are a few of Laura’s houses.

Little House on the Prairie. The log cabin reconstruction of the Ingalls' home in Indian Territory near Independence, Kansas.

Little House on the Prairie. The log cabin reconstruction of the Ingalls’ home in Indian Territory near Independence, Kansas.

The Surveyor's House in Dakota Territory.

The Ingalls' house in the town of De Smet.

Rocky Ridge Farm, Mansfield, MO - home of Laura and Almanzo Wilder.

The Rock House on Rocky Ridge Farm.

Humble Roots

A common occurrence while working on an oral history project is discovering the humble nature of interviewee subjects. Another recurring scenario is people mentioning that someone in the family had photographs, but they were lost so many years ago, whether because it was misplaced, damaged, or just forgotten. In some cases, the interviewees have photographs buried in basements and attics, though they just don’t have the time to find them. I understand, but it still pulls at my heart.

One of my favorite interview participants mentioned that her sister had an album years ago. She remembered pictures of herself and siblings at the beach in floppy hats and at Christmastime. Then she said to me, “I don’t know where the pictures are. They wouldn’t mean nothing to nobody else, but I would like to have them.”

It’s a bittersweet thought, to me, one that I like to recall over and over. Actually, those photographs probably would mean a lot to my research and everyone connected to the project. But, probably in this sweet old lady’s mind, they are just pictures of her family and they lived a common life just like everyone else. These are the people I enjoy interviewing. They have important knowledge because of who they are and what they lived, but throughout the entire research process, they will maintain that they are like anyone else.

And it’s always a reminder after hearing these stories how everyone is an important part of history.

Why They Don’t Let Me Outside

[An occasional series about my days at work. See links to other posts at the end of this one].____As an oral historian, my fieldwork usually involves traveling to interviewees’ homes for interviews, transcript deliveries, and other tasks.  Fieldwork to me does not usually translate trees and dirt as it might for others.  Once in a while, I get to tag along for an archaeological site visit, explore a historic building, participate on our public outreach projects, or visit Overhills.  However, it’s been a while since I’ve had to any of those, as most of the oral history project has recently been organizing content and editing the report – desk work. Needless to say, when presented with the opportunity to join a few coworkers on a field trip/site visit/investigation yesterday, I was thrilled.

We happily trekked into the woods in the sunny, 35 degree weather, bundled up and cameras in hand. We found what we were looking for: the former railway bridge abutments and bed. See pictures.

Railroad bridge abutment from the ground.

Railroad bridge abutment from the ground.

So you can see the scale.

So you can see the scale.

Over the river.

Over the river.


I love the cold, taking pictures, historic sites, and being outside during the day. I tend to feel like a little kid on such days. Because of this happy-go-lucky attitude, I nimbly climbed up the steep hill to railroad bed and snapped a few pictures. And then I jumped down about one foot, from part of the railroad bed to another, landing on a pile of dirt. However, as soon as I landed, I felt a shooting pain through my ankle and my leg. Ouch. Because I have resilient, strong ankles and this has happened to me before, I figured it would pass in a few minutes. I could still walk, stand, and within a few minutes the shooting pain was gone and the tingling was dull. I didn’t need to tell anyone, except one coworker.  We spent most of the day outside, walking, during which time my ankle wasn’t really a concern.  As we headed back to the office I could feel my ankle getting tighter. The pain continued to increase for the next hour of work and then on my drive home. I believe I spent my drive home biting my lip. I also realized how much I move my feet when I drive. This wasn’t something I had previously considered.

Upon arriving home, Vinny asked how my day was. I said, it was great, but I think I sprained my ankle. His response, “What were doing at work?”  After removing my boots and socks, I confirmed that my ankle was indeed swollen. And then pain continued to increase. I didn’t think an ankle could hurt so much! Ice was not helping.  I thought that maybe if I moved around like I had at work, it wouldn’t hurt so much. Not true. You probably wouldn’t believe how much this hurt.

Around dinner time, I sat in the kitchen with Vinny and one of our friends. I lost my appetite because somewhere along the way I turned nauseous.  Knowing this was somehow related to my ankle and wanting to get out of the kitchen, I went to the medicine cabinet to get some Tylenol.  I looked at the capsules, thought oh man, I have to swallow these. I need water. I put one in my mouth, leaned against the cabinet, and the next thing I knew Vinny was waking me up on the bathroom floor.  I fainted, apparently, in such a way that it looked like I had hit the toilet in the tiny bathroom and hurt my neck.  (Now that’s one way to scare my fiance and our dinner guest).

Vinny confirmed that I was okay and then I realized that I managed to somehow chew the Tylenol while fainting. That did not taste good, if you’re wondering. The guys got me situated on the couch and within 1 ½ hours or so, I felt much better, hungry again, and my ankle felt 100 times better. Today it’s sore and has a dull pain but nothing like yesterday. It turns out the sprain was more of a mild hyper-extension (so say the preservationist and English teacher).

After all of this, I figure this is why they keep me inside at work (just kidding). While working here I have driven down dirt roads only to be chased by dogs, been lost in rural Harnett County with the gas tank on E and no cell phone or gas station in sight, been stuck in a mud puddle, been trapped listening to crazy medical stories, flung dirt all over myself, and now this. I sound like a lot of trouble, but I’m really not! It’s just always an adventure.


Other days on the job: Johnny, Break Out those Recorders, Those Unknown Photograph Subjects, Abstract Communities, Digital Work: Today’s Problem, Oral History & Me? It’s Complicated, Oral  History Musings, My Ode to Oral History, Another Day in the Field, Playing Archaeologist, 3 Hours in the Life of an Oral HistorianOr just click the “Working” tab under Categories on the sidebar.

Urban Exploration

Dark alleys, abandoned buildings, sewers, mysterious (otherwise creepy), run-down places, flashlights, cameras, and intrigued explorers – these are just bits of the Urban Exploration “movement” throughout the world.  Urban explorers enter areas that are supposedly off-limits in order to just what their name implies: explore, generally with a camera in hand.

Many websites provide forums for explorers to discuss their adventures, ask questions about locations, provide tips, share photographs, and have general conversations. Some share blueprints of steam tunnels under universities and other detail directions. These sharers are generally anonymous, but happy to do so.  It kind of sounds like trespassing, huh? And isn’t it rather dangerous? Well, yes to both. And sites acknowledge this, stating that it’s an at-your-own-risk type of thing. Still, there are safety tips and lists of what to bring on these explorations.

Trespassing and associated risks aside, the urban explorers aren’t doing any harm. In fact, they could very well be the only people to document these forgotten structures and places. From what I have read, these urban explorers are there to investigate and document, not destroy and vandalize.  It is curiosity and nothing more. Shouldn’t someone be recording these ignored and neglected parts of the built environment?

What do you think? Urban Explorers aren’t the typical preservationists, but are their hearts in the right place? Or would something like this have a negative effect? After all, preservation is more than documentation, so this isn’t really the same thing.  So how does this fall in relation to preservation?  Perhaps it’s the last ditch effort on the part of others while preservationists are dealing with subjects of “significance”? Think about it.

If anything, it’s endlessly entertaining to look at photographs of these abandoned places. Check out: Opacity and Lost America.


Thanks to Lauren McMillan for sharing this topic.