Preservation Conference: Why are Downtowns Important?

The Preservation Trust of Vermont and the Vermont Downtown Program present the Historic Preservation and Downtown Conference in Poultney, VT on Friday April 29, 2011. Get more information through the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

Register here through the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development. The price is $45 before April 22 and $50 after that. What a great deal!

Hope to see you there.


Brrrr.... Vermont in February 2011.

See ya, winter!* We’re escaping for just a short while to the southern warmth.

Azaleas may not be out yet (this picture dates to April 2009) but it is certainly going to feel like spring. I cannot believe that I was ever cold when we lived in the south.

In the spirit of travel and southern warmth, here are some fun (starting with the North Carolina related) links:

Restoring the Roost – Meet Megan and her chickens, her adorable historic home, and her love of historic preservation. Now that’s my kind of blogger.

Overhills Oral History Report – I’ve been missing beautiful Overhills and the stories of my oral history days. You can now access and save (PDF) the 238 page report to your own computer. (Work produced for the government must be available to the public, free of charge, which is why you can save a copy. Note: allow it some time to load.)

There is always a good reason to browse the Preservation North Carolina properties for sale page. Whether you’re moving or not, gazing at houses is fun.

Considering planning a wedding at a historic site in North Carolina? Look at the Bellamy Mansion in Wilmington or the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines.

And head even further south, down to Mississippi, and visit the Preservation in Mississippi blog, which fulfills its mission to educate readers about Mississippi heritage of the built environment.

I just found this blog, and it might be my new favorite: — it’s full of photographs and retro roadside America. The authors map the sites on Google Maps, too! Their description of what is RetroRoadMap worthy is as follows: “We have a fondness for authentic old places and businesses. Places and businesses that have survived the years while still retaining their original look, signage and charm. Places that give you that feeling of stepping into the past somehow, either by their look, genuine friendly service, items they offer or a combination of those and other intangibles.”

And, of course, do not forget Eccentric Roadside, which has all of the roadside quirkiness you could want.

Still dreaming of summer? Of course, now that I’ve got you thinking about road trips. Well, think of field schools. Has anyone participated in an archaeology field school? I’m looking for one to recommend to someone who is interested in archaeology but hasn’t taken any classes. Suggestions? Here’s a list of archaeology and anthropology field schools from Shovelbums.

Anyway, happy weekend!

*Don’t worry, winter, we’ll be back very soon.

More Neighborhood Aesthetics: Utility Wires

While we’re on the subject of street lights, how about we discuss utility wires, too? I realized that my favorite neighborhoods often have underground utilities. Granted, the suburban street where I grew up, had many utility wires and they served as great entertainment: I bet I can throw the ball over the telephone wires and you can’t! (Yes, I do have a competitive group of sisters.) But there was no denying that those streets without wires everywhere were more attractive, and still are.

Think about your neighborhood and the highway miles that you drive. Do you see above ground utilities most of the time? Probably. What do you think about them? I’ll admit that power lines running along lonely stretches of rural highway call to mind long road trips and early highway development, however accurate or inaccurate you can consider that. Still, I don’t want power lines blocking scenic America.

So, let’s consider municipalities and neighborhoods. What are the advantages of underground utility lines? An assortment of documents can help answer some of these questions. Preliminary Engineering Study and Concept Plans to Bury the Wires and Tame the Traffic in Waterford, Virginia by R. John Martin, P.E. addresses the benefits and offers visual comparisons of the streetscape before and after placing utilities underground (see pages 12-15). Note that Waterford, VA is a National Historic Landmark district.

The nonprofit organization Underground 2020 stands for its TEN year initiative that will promote the relocation of overhead utilities underground by the year 2020 (10% each year), and has written a white paper (i.e., an authoritative report focused on a particular issue) on the subject, Advantages of Underground Utilities. The paper categories these advantages as: (1) Potentially Reduced Maintenance Costs, (2) Improved Reliability, (3) Improved Public Safety, and (4) Improved Property Values (see page 5).

What about the disadvantages? Cost is the largest deterrent. Placing all wires underground and essentially changing our infrastructure? Yikes. Even with the long term payoffs, most people prefer the short term savings. Costs and considerations must be given to archaeological resources and studies as well as wildlife and water resources. And repairs, perhaps less common, would require more time, machinery, and money, I would guess. Project reviews, studies — this would spur job creation!

How do you feel about overhead utility lines? Should the crux of the push for “undergrounding” be safety? Does that make it seem like a more important issue, and then aesthetics and property values are a bonus? Yet, at that same time, I would argue that aesthetically pleasing environments make happier, which translates to a better quality of life for all.

If you have more information on this subject, I’d love to read it. Underground utilities seem to be more common for new developments, but the conversion from above ground to below ground is not as common as say, improved street lighting.

What are your thoughts?

North Country Blizzard

Our cars are buried; the sidewalks have disappeared; the entire state has shut down for the day; the city is quiet and white; over two feet of snow has blanketed northern New York and Vermont. The world is beautiful.


Snowy garage window, just barely above the snowdrifts, March 7, 2011.


The problem of living on a small city lot with a large driveway that abuts the house and the neighbors’ property line: what do we do with all of the snow? Where does it go? We are running out room! It’s getting ridiculous. The snow has no other place but against the house. It pains me to have to shovel all of that snow against our foundation, practically up to the windows. Those rising temperatures worry me: will the house leak? To those of you who live on small lots in cities or towns, where do you put all of your snow? Advice from experienced folks living in snow country is much appreciated. At least this storm blew much of the snow off the roof!

Otherwise, happy snowfall to my fellow northerners!

Happy Birthday Vermont!

On March 4, 1791, Vermont was admitted as the 14th state in the United States of America. Happy 220th Birthday to the State of Vermont!

The Vermont State House, 1859. Photograph by Kaitlin O'Shea.

Read a timeline of Vermont history.

Read all of the Vermont roadside history markers.

Visit the Vermont Secretary of State kids’ page including a list of the things that Vermont was the first to do…

Visit the Vermont Historical Society’s Vermont History Explorer website.

Are you a Vermont expert? Take this quiz to find out!


And is it merely coincidence that searching for “Vermont birthday cake” comes up with this cake?

I think not.

Happy Birthday Vermont! You are wonderful!


Street Lights, Historic Preservation, Night Sky

There is a neighborhood in Burlington that has the most beautiful views of Lake Champlain by day and often equally impressive views at night. Ever since my legs found that particular street with the breathtaking lake views, it has been my favorite part of my run. On a recent evening run, I discovered that I could see so many stars from that street, too, many more than I could see my from house. Actually, the stark contrast in numbers of stars was astonishing. And I enjoyed this neighborhood much more; there was a nicer feeling about it.

Before long I realized that the contrast was due to the types of streetlights. My neighborhood has the standard tall freestanding lights or those attached to a telephone pole, both being the kind that give off an orange-ish flooding light. Any night atmosphere is obscured.

Tall, freestanding street light (slightly obscured by the trees).

The neighborhood with the star filled sky, on the other hand, has streets lined with shorter, individual street lamps. There are a few styles on the streets, but all are shorter. One looks like a lantern or an old street light, and one sheds light down below a rounded metal hood. (I’m sure there are appropriate technical terms for styles, so if you are an expert, please clue me in.)

Lantern style street lamp.

Freestanding street lamp with metal hood.

This isn’t rocket science. It is amazing how much of a difference lighting plays, indoors or out.  Gas street lamps have been in the United States since the early nineteenth century (Baltimore in 1816). Since then street lamps have been powered primarily by electricity, whether in the form of  fluorescence, mercury, sodium, or something else. Light fixtures have, of course, varied throughout the last two centuries. Street lighting was given much attention in community plans; just think of the Garden City, City Beautiful, and other planning movements.  As I recall, the periodical The American City features many articles from the early twentieth century that discuss street lighting.

I’m grateful for street lights; they allow people to walk or run at night without tripping over the sidewalk or slipping on the black ice and lights make the streets safer. However, the disadvantages of street lights include the orange glow shining through your curtains at night, the obstruction of the night sky, the number of insects they attract, and that buzzing noise of the light itself.

Many rural communities have very few street lights, whereas those who grew up in suburbia know nothing other than orange street lamps. Take me for example: when I moved to Virginia for college and traveled around the state a bit, I was amazed at how many roads didn’t have any lights at all. It was pure darkness. Long Island had street lights everywhere and hardly any rural areas, so the world was always lit with orange street lamps, save for the occasional blackout. During the great blackout of summer 2003, I saw more stars at home than any other time. Since then and living elsewhere, I’m accustom to a world with much fewer street lights and now the variety that exists in the City of Burlington.

Street lights are often required and/or wanted, particularly in cities. It makes sense. But, clearly, there are street lights that are more appropriate in residential districts, historic or not. Why? Street lights are only the beginning. In fact, I started this post with the idea to just talk about street lights, and then realized that there are greater issues to address: beyond the annoying orange glow, the less than pleasing aesthetic,  and the buzzing sound of so many, the night time sky is something that many people do not have the opportunity to appreciate.  Light pollution is a real issue. Most of us have never seen pure night sky. And we’re losing it fast, faster than the growth of population, according to the International Dark Sky Association.

The International Dark Sky Association is an organization dedicated to calling attention to light pollution, providing solutions, and educating the public. They recognize the great importance of the need for street lighting, but address night sky friendly lights that decrease light pollution.

So, that subtle feeling you get in different neighborhoods may very well be connected to how it is lit at night. Street lights and other outdoor lights (such as spotlights) have an incredible ability to shape and color the feeling of our environment. Granted, light pollution comes from much greater sources such as shopping plazas and highways and roadside signs and cities with constantly lit buildings, but street lights are a tangible beginning that we all see outside our windows. The more thoughtful the lighting style in terms of light pollution, aesthetics, and compatibility with the built and natural environment, the better experience we can all have.

Read more about the importance of the dark sky or Lightscapes at the National Park Service. Read “Who Will Keep the Night” by Angela M. Richman from the Common Ground Summer 2003 issue. That entire issue addresses the importance and vulnerability of the night sky.

Preservation Photos #73


West Addison Methodist Church in West Addison, Vermont.

Sometimes looking at a small portion of a building enables the viewer to appreciate the details; like the patterned slates on the steeple roof, the round medallion window,  the frame that the cornerboards make, the leaded glass of the fanlight and its curved hood molding, the ornamentation above the hoods, the functional shutters, and of course, the beauty of its age. It’s a beautiful building at a rural crossroads out in the Lake Champlain Valley of Vermont.