I Wear a Hard Hat

I love the regulatory world. I love preservation law. If you’ve known me since college and even while I worked at Fort Bragg, you may have just fallen off your chair. I apologize (Michelle M, ahem). For years I thought Section 106 project review would be the most boring job in the world. I have asked people to to remind me that I would never want such a job. However, I made these bold statements before studying preservation law and before studying the case of the Lake Champlain Bridge. And of course, before my summer internship with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

My internship (and now job) includes two main parts: historic preservation monitor for the Lake Champlain Bridge project and project review for compliance with preservation laws. The preservation laws that I’m referring to are the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. The brief reason for the existence of my historic preservation specialist and monitor job (with technical preservation law information thrown in there for fun and background knowledge) begins with this: the 1929 bridge that was demolished in December 2009 was historically significant.

Historic bridges are often part of our transportation systems, and thus serve two purposes: 1) sharing a part of our transportation history and 2) servicing our current transportation needs. But, often, historic bridges need to be widened or altered in order to keep pace with modern safety regulations. Unfortunately, some bridges will end up being demolished. However, Section 4(f) of the DOT Act of 1966 states that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) may not approve a project that involves the use of a 4(f) resource unless there is 1) no prudent and feasible alternative, 2) all measures have been taken to minimize harm, and 3) there is a de minimis impact on the resource. Section 4(f) resources can be defined as any significant historic or archaeological site, any publicly owned park or recreation area, or wildlife or waterfowl refuge. Thus, historic bridges fall under historic resources. Normally, historic bridges fall under the Section 4(f) Programmatic Agreement for historic bridges. In the case of the Lake Champlain Bridge, it did not apply because there was an adverse effect to the historic bridge (i.e. demolition). That meant that an agreement through Section 106 mitigation must be reached by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Office, FHWA, and the AOT/DOT.

To add more federal law into the mix, Section 106 also applied because the bridge traversed the Chimney Point State Historic Site. Any demolition or construction would involve the historic site in its area of potential effect. Section 106 applies to projects that constitute an undertaking, meaning a project, activity or program, funded in whole or in part under the direct or indirect jurisdiction of a federal agency, including those carried out by or on behalf of a federal agency; those carried out with federal financial assistance; and those requiring a federal; permit, license, or approval” [36 CFR 800.16].  If this project has the potential to affect historic resources, then the Section 106 process must be followed. Any adverse effects to the resource must be avoided, minimized, or mitigated.

So, to achieve mitigation of the loss of the historically significant Lake Champlain Bridge, a lengthy Programmatic Agreement (PA) was developed between the Federal and State agencies, both New York and Vermont. The mitigation involves protection of the historic sites with stipulations such as site delineation (via fencing), vibration monitoring, dust suppression, archaeological monitoring, and most importantly: communication. My job involves insuring compliance with the PA. If you’re really interested, you can read my weekly reports. (Click there and scroll all the way to the bottom of the “Construction” page.) The most interesting portion of each report is the photo section, fyi. Check out the construction webcams, too, if you want to see the live action. Working on a construction site is an interesting, exciting challenge, and while new construction and historic preservation rarely speak in the same vocabulary, I’ve learned that better communication and a willingness to understand the other side can make a huge difference. And yes, I do walk around in a hard hat and a reflective safety vest. And I wear many, many layers to combat the frigid winter air that blows from Lake Champlain.

Working on site at Chimney Point, January 2011. It’s alright; I know I look ridiculous. But, everyone else on a construction site looks the same.

I do not always wear a hard hat; some days I am in the office. But, I will say that a few times I’ve been walking down the hall and reached up to see if I was wearing my hard hat. I think I’m getting to accustomed to wearing it! Aside from the Lake Champlain Bridge, my job involves project review: all transportation funded projects must be reviewed for compliance with provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106) as well as the DOT Act of 1966 (Section 4f). Unlike other states, Vermont has a Programmatic Agreement between the Agency of Transportation and the Division for Historic Preservation that allows the Agency of Transportation to conduct in house Section 106 reviews on standard projects. (The Lake Champlain Bridge is not an ordinary project, mostly because it was jointly owned by New York and Vermont.) Project can range from paving project to sidewalk improvements to road realignment to sign replacements and much more. It is absolutely amazing just how often preservation and transportation interact and just how frequently other fields intersect, such as wildlife, hydraulics, engineering, and construction. Every project requires careful review by all of the disciplines and when there is a problem with one, all must work together to find a solution and still meet the purpose and need of the project.

So that’s my job – without getting into too much detail. I love it. Each law has way more to it than I’ve outlined here, but clicks the links throughout the post for more information or ask me what I meant. I love talking through the laws!  And while the laws aren’t perfect and we will not agree with them all of the time, they make the preservation world go round, so to speak.

Care to share stories about your job?

The Best Part of My Job

While ensuring protection of the historic site and complying with the Programmatic Agreement and Section 106 and Section 4f, I also get to see history as it happens. Behold the first girder of the new Lake Champlain Bridge:

The view of the Lake Champlain Bridge from Chimney Point on January 27, 2011. Photograph by Kaitlin O’Shea.
The first girder over Pier 7, January 27, 2011. Photograph by Kaitlin O’Shea.

 

While the new bridge is not the historically significant 1929 Lake Champlain Bridge, and its loss remains a tragedy, I can’t help but be excited by the construction of the new bridge. I think of the anticipation of the 1929 bridge and the photographs that show spectators and the parade on opening day. There are many parallels between 1929 and 2011, and, as cliche as this sounds, this feels like a once-in-a-lifetime event. This isn’t any ordinary bridge; the Champlain Bridge is incredibly important to the region and it is constantly in the news. It’s one of those events about which I’ll tell my grandchildren. I’m witnessing history and loving it. 

This Just In: Wilderness Battlefield Saved!

WalMart has abandoned its plans for a special use permit to build a new supercenter on the grounds of the Wilderness Battlefield. Read all of the details here from civilwar.org. Additional information about the former proposal is here.

From the National Trust for Historic Preservation (via Preservation Nation blog), a statement from President Stephanie Meeks:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation commends Walmart for taking this important step. By withdrawing the current proposal, the company has created an opportunity for all parties to work together to find an appropriate solution — one that will allow Walmart to pursue development elsewhere in Orange County, while ensuring that this important part of America’s Civil War heritage is protected. We and other members of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition are greatly encouraged that Walmart is willing to find another location for development — one removed from the battlefield — that we can all support. We also look forward to working with Walmart and others to ensure that the current site will never again become the subject of a development battle.

This is outstanding news for the preservation community as well as everyone else. Keep in mind, WalMart still plans to purchase the land, just not develop it. And another store will be built elsewhere, but the most important part is that the fight to preserve Wilderness Battlefield has been won (for now). As preservationists, we can temporarily breathe a sigh of relief, but of course, we’ll still be alert.

Hooray for Wilderness Battlefield!

The Rear of a Building

Have you ever thought that the rear elevations of buildings are often neglected, sacrificed, or overlooked? This unfolds in a myriad of ways:

First, alterations are mostly made to the streetscape, since people want the public to see their style, updates, etc. The back of the house or the building always seems to be next on the list, and if it is the current project, it will receive less attention than the front of the house. This leaves the back of a building with a story to tell. Perhaps the windows or siding is original. Or in city blocks, alleys give hints as to the former arrangement and alterations of doorways, shed roofs, and coats of paint. This is where you can learn the most about a building (according to Prof. Gary Stanton of UMW during vernacular architecture field trip in downtown Fredericksburg).

Second, consider that the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation (#9 and #10) often relegate additions to the back of a building in order to preserve the streetscape, massing, feeling, and historic architecture. Suddenly, the rear doesn’t seem to matter too much. An addition will block the original wall and sometimes, especially on city lots, goes on and on until it is larger than the original historic structure; a view from the side elevation loses all perspective in size. The rear of the house has been sacrificed.

Third, the majority of architectural surveys occurs from the street or public right-of-way, so the back of a building is just left out. Those stories from the back are ignored.

I don’t mean to say that additions should be in the front of the building or that additions should be outlawed or that we should all start traipsing across private property just to get a good luck at the building. After all, architectural history centers on buildings facades; the facades are how we read the styles, generally speaking.  Rather, I’m just suggesting that we shouldn’t forget about the rear elevations of our historic buildings, in terms of research and in terms of rehabilitation, maintenance, or repair. And we should give them more thought. Why should the front get all of the attention? Many of us spend a lot of time in the backyard.

What do you think? Do additions need to be even more sensitive? Or is this something we just have to deal with as the needs of houses and buildings changes? Do you think that more than the streetscape matters?

Preservation Photos #68

Middlebury Congregational Church in Middlebury, Vermont. Photograph taken in the warmer summer days.

The Walloomsac Inn

Located in the Old Bennington Historic District, the Walloomsac Inn is the oldest inn in the State of Vermont. The building was constructed in 1764, with additions and alterations to the roof throughout the late 1700s and 1800s. Five prominent families owned and operated the inn throughout its life; the inn served the stagecoach road until the 1850s. Important figures such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison have stayed at the inn. Although its name has been changed a few times, it was most recently known as the Walloomsac Inn. Until about 15 years ago, the building operated as a bed-and-breakfast, but today it is a private residence. An unwelcoming sign on the front door informs the public that it is private property and to stay off the porch and property.

The Walloomsac Inn, on the corner of Monument Avenue and Route 9 in Bennington, Vermont.

View of the Route 9 side.

Note the poor condition of the front elevation and Christmas wreath.

The sun came out for a bit, highlighting the colors of the building.

Route 9 view.

At least the first floor is occupied by the owners.

From Monument Avenue.

Can you imagine such a beautiful house suffering a fate of deterioration and neglect? It’s incredibly sad; such an important landmark in the Old Bennington Historic District and in the State of Vermont should be saved and loved! The loss of this building would be catastrophic. It breaks my heart, and I’ve only passed by the building a few times.

However, I do not know the entire story. An article (Ethan Allen, page 14) talks about the cost of code upkeep and zoning laws that would prevent the building from operating as an inn once again. Readers, are any of you Bennington residents? What is the latest news on this building? Perhaps the owners truly love the building and just do not know what to do. If that is the case, the town should certainly take an interest and develop a solution. Thoughts?

For additional historical information, read the Bennington Museum’s writeup.

Save the Wilderness! Stop Walmart!

Save Wilderness Battlefield!

Wilderness Battlefield. Photo credit: The National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Did you receive the email from the National Trust yesterday or today asking you to sign the petition to urge Senator Webb and Senator Warner to do their part and help to protect the Wilderness Battlefield?

If not, this is the email:

We need your help TODAY to turn the tide in our favor in the fight against Walmart to save our hallowed Civil War battleground. Sign our petition to US Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner NOW urging them to ask Walmart to relocate away from historic Wilderness Battlefield.

Time is running out.

We have been fighting for years to protect the hallowed ground of Wilderness, but with a court trial to decide major issues in the case starting on January 25th – just [6] days from today – we are at a critical juncture.

United States Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner are champions of historic preservation and their leadership in support of Wilderness Battlefield could make the difference in finding a win-win solution.

Construction of a Walmart store, within the boundaries of Wilderness Battlefield and just across the road from Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Orange County, Virginia, would irrevocably harm the battlefield, degrade the visitor’s experience of the National Park, and open the flood gates for large-scale commercial development.

Please sign our petition to Senators Webb and Warner TODAY as we urge them to ask Walmart to relocate its Superstore to an alternative site away from the battlefield – one that still meets their business needs but is more respectful of our Civil War history.

With your help, we can win the fight to save an important part of America’s heritage.

Thank you for your support.

SIGN THE PETITION if you care about history. It requires less than one minute of your time.

Do you need to catch up on this issue, perhaps beyond the email? In brief, The National Trust is fighting as hard as they can. Some helpful blog posts, if you’ve missed them, are: Why We’re Fighting and Our American Heritage Will Suffer. Here is some additional information about the fight. Here is a summary of the testimony given by historian James McPherson, an advocate for saving the battlefield.

The story may sound familiar: Walmart refuses to despite the fact that there are countless other locations, even viable locations in the same region which would gladly take new development. However, this fight is more important than most other big box fights: by not compromising or understanding the importance of  Wilderness Battlefield (one of the most important Civil War battlefields), Walmart is ignoring the value of history of the people and the nation, which includes many of their customers.

It’s a modern form of battle, and we are responsible for preserving the heritage of those who fought for the future – for our existence. Show you care. Sign the petition. Like many cultural resources, battlefields cannot be recreated and the surrounding environment is critical to their understanding. In addition, saving battlefields goes further, with an effect of saving communities.

Now is not the time to give in to Walmart. Keep voicing your opinion. Why should a corporation have the right to erase history? Make them move. Make them choose another location. The fact that this fight is still going on and we even have to fight so hard to protect such an important resource shows the lack of respect that Walmart has historic preservation and heritage.

To see more photographs of Wilderness Battlefield, check out The National Trust’s photo set on Flickr.

Friday Links: News and Winter

Happy Friday! Check out some links to important preservation news topics, news from around the Lake Champlain Valley, and some winter related links (sites and festivals).

Read PreservationNation’s summary about the fight against WalMart in order to save the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia. It is an excellent summary and gives important facts.

Do you have opinions on LEED and its relevance to historic preservation? Now is the perfect time to voice those concerns! Read information on the Green Preservationist or some from the National Trust as well as instructions on how to comment. The comment period has been extended until January 17, 2011 at 11:59pm.

NPR ran a story this week about the largest donation of audio recordings ever received by the Library of Congress.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation is working with the Town of Charlotte, studying rehabilitation options for the Quinlan Covered Bridge.

A historic building in Elizabethtown, NY caught fire early morning January 11, 2011. The building was Hubbard Hall, which was originally built around 1840 by Congressman Orlando Kellogg, housed the Elizabethtown Community House Inc. in 1921.

Ever hear of Winter Park, Florida? Sounds a bit too cold for Florida.

Do you think it’s cold? Just remember Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.

Need some winter fun? How about some winter festivals? In Vermont you can visit the Burlington Winter Festival, the Bennington Winter Festival, the Stowe Winter Carnival, and the Middlebury College Winter Carnival. Or in upstate New York there is the Saranac Lake Winter Carnival, staking the claim of the oldest winter carnival in the eastern USA.

Keep in mind that a bit of draft in your house is okay; I’d rather have some air circulation than a dry throat every morning. Still, keep in mind that there are ways to reduce energy loss. Take weatherization tips from the National Trust.

Enjoy the snow and stay warm!

Need something bright in the dreary winter? How about these fun sunflowers painted on a fence in Milton, VT?

My Ode to Derby

Note: if you don’t know me, you might think I’m crazy. That seems to be the trend this week. I’m not. But you’ve been forewarned.

———

This is written in memory of my beloved green 2002 Subaru Outback Impreza Sport, whose existence met an untimely end on October 21, 2010. Since the day I bought the car in 2006, I referred to it as “Derby.” Derby traveled with me to Nebraska, on Route 66, around the Midwest, to North Carolina, to and from work at Fort Bragg, to Florida, to South Carolina, to New York, around the Great Lakes, and throughout Vermont for a while. This was my first car, and I loved it dearly. When I switched my license and plates to Vermont, I even crowned Derby with a plate, “THE DERB.”

Derby and me, August 2010.

Derby loved off-road driving, drive-in movie theaters, preservation adventures, getting lost, winding, rural roads, and long road trips. His compass never worked after visiting Carhenge in Nebraska, and more than once the Check Engine light turned on for no good reason. Derby had an attitude and I loved it. Also, Derby was a proud displayer of the bumper sticker, “Historic Preservationists Make It Last Longer.” Derby made me love driving and I understood the American fascination with the open road and the automobile.

Derby camped out, happily, in East Harbor State Park, Ohio, May 2009.

On October 21, 2010, a drunk driver hit my parked car in front of my house (which was parked legally, in the parking lane). I saw and heard it happen, all in a blur in the evening. Luckily, I was not in the car or hurt, nor was anyone else, and the drunk driver was arrested before she could kill someone. Derby took one for the team. I cried when it happened and the next day when Derby was towed away. At first, the promising news was that Derby would be fixed at no charge to me. The auto shop ordered the parts and began the work, only to discover that the damage was much more than expected (the rear driver side of my car was smashed, though it looked perfectly fine elsewhere on the exterior). So, now, the final news was that Derby would be totaled. Insurance is never fair, even when it’s not your fault, and what ensued is not something I’d rehash here, but just know that the entire situation is terrible.

The aftermath. Note that the wheel should not be where it is.

As you can decipher, I was irrationally attached to Derby. I could probably claim permanent emotional damage, but I won’t (outright anyway). Say what you will about my personification of inanimate objects, but when you spend as much time driving as I did, it’s inevitable. And apparently it’s in my nature: my mother said that when I was two years old, I cried as my parents’ 1972 Chevy Impala was towed away. At least the story explains that part of my personality, I suppose. I never wanted any other car and my 2002 Subaru had so much life left in it before the accident. It was a miserable experience and I’ll probably never love a car as much as Derby.

Fast forward to now and I have another car – another Subaru. I heard somewhere that Subaru owners have an unexplainable attachment to their cars. I will never ever park this car on my street, even though it’s completely normal and everyone else parks there. I like my car, and we’re getting to be good friends, but I still miss Derby and feel a twinge of sadness every time I see an identical one on the road.

Do you love your car, too? I hope so. It certainly makes driving more fun.

How Derby would like to be remembered: among the motorcycles heading towards the South Dakota Sturgis Rally 2006.

Long live the spirit of Derby.

———————

Does anyone know where I can get another Historic Preservationists Make it Last Longer bumper sticker – identical to those from Mary Washington? My new car and I will be eternally grateful.

Derby's round one of bumper stickers. They later changed (but the preservation one stayed - talk about an attention grabber!)

How about something like this, too?

 

This is written in memory of my beloved green 2002 Subaru Outback Impreza Sport, whose existence met an untimely end on October 21, 2010. Since the day I bought the car in 2006, I referred to it as “Derby.” Derby traveled with me to Nebraska, on Route 66, around the Midwest, to North Carolina, to and from work at Fort Bragg, to Florida, to South Carolina, to New York, around the Great Lakes, and throughout Vermont for a while. This was my first car, and I loved it dearly. Derby loved off-road driving, drive-in movie theaters, preservation adventures, getting lost, winding, rural roads, and long road trips. His compass never worked after visiting Carhenge in Nebraska, and more than once the Check Engine light turned on for no good reason. Derby had an attitude and I loved it. Also, Derby was a proud displayer of the bumper sticker, “Historic Preservationists Make It Last Longer.” Derby made me love driving and I understood the American fascination with the open road and the automobile.

On October 21, 2010, a drunk driver hit my parked car in front of my house (legally, in the parking lane). I saw and heard it happen, all in a blur in the evening. Luckily, I was not in the car or hurt, nor was anyone else, and the drunk driver was arrested before she could kill someone. Derby took one for the team. I cried when it happened and the next day when Derby was towed away. At first, the promising news was that Derby would be fixed at no charge to me. The auto shop ordered the parts and began the work, only to discover that the damage was much more than expected (the rear driver side of my car was smashed, though it looked perfectly fine elsewhere on the exterior). So, now, the final news was that Derby would be totaled.

As you can decipher, I was irrationally attached to Derby. I could probably claim permanent emotional damage, but I won’t (outright anyway). Say what you will about my personification of inanimate objects, but when you spend as much time driving as I did, it’s inevitable. And apparently it’s in my nature: my mother said that when I was two years old, I cried as my parents’ 1972 Chevy Impala was towed away.  At least the story explains that part of my personality, I suppose.  I never wanted any other car and my 2002 Subaru had so much life left in it before the accident. It was a miserable experience and I’ll probably never love a car as much as Derby.

Fast forward to now and I have another car – another Subaru. I heard somewhere that Subaru owners have an unexplainable attachment to their cars. I like my car, and we’re getting to be good friends, but I still miss Derby and feel a twinge of sadness every time I see an identical one on the road.

Do you love your car, too? I hope so. It certainly makes driving more fun.

Long live the spirit of Derby.

———————

Does anyone know where I can get another Historic Preservationists Make it Last Longer bumper sticker – identical to those from Mary Washington? My new car and I will be eternally grateful.