Historic Preservation Basics No. 6

Series introduction. No. 1 = Ideas You Should Not Believe About Historic Preservation. No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation. No. 3 = Let’s Talk about Architecture / The Very Beginning of Describing Buildings. No. 4 = Let’s Talk about Buildings A Bit More.     No. 5 = The National Register of Historic Places (What You Should Know).

No. 6 = The History of Historic Preservation

As a recognized, formal academic and professional field, historic preservation is only about fifty years old. Organizations, ordinances, laws, and motivated individuals have been the backbone for establishing historic preservation in the United States.

Because preservation is connected to many other fields and its individual recognition is recent, the movement can be defined in different tracks, with a never-ending list of events. Books and professors can easily give you a long, thorough discussion on preservation’s history, so this post will highlight a few of the dates that are important to historic preservation in the USA. This particular list, assembled here, owes credit to Thomas Visser’s HP304 class lecture at the University of Vermont and to the book Historic Preservation by Norman Tyler. (Much of that same information can be found on this EMU webpage. I’ve simply compiled from the two and chosen which would be most relevant to readers.

You’ll note that the earliest efforts of historic preservation are centered on saving buildings and recreating environments. When that is under control and understood for the time, policy enters into the picture. As the years progress, policy plays an even larger role and the reaches of preservation are widened.

Now, for your very brief lesson in preservation history… enjoy! Feel free to add dates in the comments.

1813: Independence Hall (Pennsylvania State House) is purchased by the City of Philadelphia in order to save it from demolition.

1856: The Mount Vernon Ladies Association was chartered by Ann Pamela Cunningham in order to save George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon, after Congress refused to purchase the property. The MVLA served as a basis for the structure of historical societies and organizations: run by women, raising money and restoring individual, landmark-worthy buildings in order to benefit the American public.

1872: Yellowstone National Park is designated as a federally protected area.

1876: The Columbian Exposition in Philadelphia introduces such items as the telephone, telegraph, linoleum, typewriter, and features an exhibit, The New England Kitchen of 1776, which will create an interest in Colonial architecture and style — hence, Colonial Revival.

1879: The Boston Antiquarian Club was founded in order to prevent the Old State House from being moved to the Chicago World’s Fair.

1901: William Sumner Appleton forms the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), which is now Historic New England (HNE).

1906: Antiquities Act, the nation’s first historic preservation legislation, designates monuments on federal lands and imposes penalties for destroying federal owned sites.

1912: Wallace Nutting (1861-1941), a  minister, photographers, preservationist, who wrote Old New England Pictures, acquired and restored a “Chain of Colonial Picture Houses” that were open to the public for a fee and serve as backdrops for historical photographs.

1916: The National Park Service is established.

1926: Colonial Williamsburg begins receiving funds from John D. Rockefeller, ,lead by Rev. W.A.R. Goodman. The 130 acre site is “weeded” to 18th century structures with important missing buildings reconstructed. Restoration guides the philosophy.

1927: Storrowton Village formed in West Springfield, MA using buildings relocated from MA and NH.

1929: Greenfield Village formed by Henry Ford by replicating and moving buildings.

1931: Charleston, SC establishes its “Old and Historic District,” which is the country’s first designated historic district. The district collectively develops restrictions in the general interest of the city.

1933: The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) is formed; it is the nation’s first federal preservation program.

1935: Historic Sites Act, passes by Congress, establishes preservation policy in the United States: “to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings and objects of national significance for the inspiration and benefit of the people of the United States.”

1936: The Vieux Carre is established as a historic district in New Orleans, LA.

1949: National Trust for Historic Preservation – established by Act of Congress as membership based organization, partially supported by federal appropriation.

1963: The demolition of Pennsylvania Station in New York City mobilizes the preservation movement.

1964: The country’s first historic preservation academic program is established at Columbia University by James Marston Fitch.

1966: National Historic Preservation Act is passed, establishing federal, state, and local government preservation responsibilities. Also established was the National Register of Historic Places.

1969: The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) is formed by the National Park Service.

1970: Vermont’s Act 250 Land Use & Development Act, of which Criteria 8 states that proposed projects will not have undue adverse effects on aesthetics, beauty, historic sites, or natural areas.

1976: Tax Reform Act removed the incentive for the demolition of historic buildings.

1978: Revenue Act – passed by Congress and established incentive (investment tax credits) for rehabilitation of historic buildings.

1978: Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties introduced.

1980: The Main Street Program is established by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The NHPA of 1966 is amended to include Certified Local Governments.

1988: The National Trust for Historic Preservation launches its 11 Most Endangered Places List. (The entire state of Vermont is listed in 1993 and 2004.)

1991: New Orleans Charter for the Joint Preservation of Historic Structures and Artifacts, drafted by the Association for Preservation Technology and the American Institute for Conservation, in order to address how preservation interests and collection considerations could co-function. The result is that both are important and require care. A set of 10 principles is adopted.

1995: The Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties is revised to adopt the four sets of standards: preservation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, and restoration.

1998: The National Trust for Historic Preservation chooses to become independent of federal funding.

2000: The Historic American Landscape Survey (HALS) is established by the National Park Service.

2005: 1897 Century Building in St. Louis, MO demolished, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation supported demolition. A New York Times article “When Preservation equals Demolition,” covers the story. This serves, to some, as a wake up call for ethics.

2007: The National Trust for Historic Preservation begins addressing historic preservation and sustainability issues.

2008: The Pocantico Proclamation on Sustainability and Historic Preservation is released by the National Trust. It addresses how to make the existing environment sustainable. Read it here.

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