Reconstruction and the National Register

Buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts are nominated to the National Register of Historic Places based their significance and integrity (of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association) pertaining to 1 or more, of 4, criteria, which are:

A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or

C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or

D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

However, some properties do not fit these categories, for which there are criteria considerations:

a. A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or

b. A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or

c. A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building associated with his or her productive life; or

d. A cemetery that derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or

e. A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or

f. A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or

g. A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

Regardless of how you are nominating a property to the National Register, you must include a narrative description and a statement of significance, essentially making a case for the property. When you are nominating under one of the criteria considerations as well (a-g above) you must have a separate statement in which to discuss your argument.

I was thinking about the National Register eligibility of the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall in Ferrisburgh, VT (see comment by Sabra Smith) while at a square dance there this past weekend. The back story necessary for this is that the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall was just about to undergo a large restoration project in 2005, when it was burned to the ground by arson. Rather than start with a brand new building or something else, the town elected to move forward with a full-scale reconstruction. (Note: there is a much more detailed version of this story here and here.)

Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, after arson, 2005. click for original image.

While sitting on the balcony/second floor of the grange hall, I began to wonder if this building were on the National Register. (I do not know – do you?) And I wondered if it should be. By the definition, “accurately executed in a suitable environment…” it is appropriate. Though this building is not yet beyond the 50 year mark. (Note: there is not a 50 year rule. It is more of a guideline, but if less than 50 years it needs to be explained.)

However, while the building is beautiful, and accurate, and thoughtfully built… I do not feel as though I’m in a historic space when I’m in the building. The exterior can fool you for a minute or so as a historic building since it is an accurate restoration, but the inside is shiny, and incredibly clean and sharp, and just has the feeling of a new, modern, perhaps trendy building. I don’t mean that historically significant buildings have to be run down with peeling paint and scuffed floors, but feeling is such an important part; it’s the point and joy of standing in a historic building and sensing its history. Do you know what I mean?

But how you can deny the importance of this building? You cannot. And a lack of a National Register nomination doesn’t necessarily deny importance, but it indicates that the criteria do not fit this building at this time. So maybe this is the sort of building that will need at least 50 years in which to live and breathe with the community and to create its own significance, beyond that of a restoration.

I haven’t completely made up my mind. What do you think? Feel free to do disagree, of course.

The reconstructed Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, now the Town Hall. Click for original image.

 

3 thoughts on “Reconstruction and the National Register

  1. PeggyH. says:

    This makes me wonder what you think about the Mars Education Center building at Fort Ticonderoga. I know it’s received a lot of attention and one if not more awards, but it doesn’t feel historic on the inside, and I’ve heard some feel it desecrates or at least detracts from the historic nature of the site.

  2. Nicholas says:

    It is a very difficult issue to decide. The act of reconstruction makes sense if a property is so integral to a community…..but nominating reconstructed properties is odd to me, even if it is in the criteria. It lacks the footprints of the original craftsmen. Anybody can replicate, and in the end it is only a copy. Maybe more of the issue lies with the criteria for eligibility. Sometimes it is hard to fit personal connections to a property into their checkpoints. I went to the Byzantine Fresco Chapel Museum in Houston, TX which artfully assembled remaining fragments of an ancient frescoed chapel. In a giant black void was this little pieced together 3-dimensional chapel. In places, glass walls helped to define the space where those elements were missing. That made sense to me.

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