Today’s post is written by Caitlin Corkins, a fellow UVM Historic Preservation alum, and a Stewardship Manager for Historic New England. Follow along for a fun bike tour. Thanks, Caitlin!
By Caitlin Corkins
On Saturday, June 23 a group of ten intrepid bicyclists took to the road. Led by Bob McCullough, Associate Professor in the Historic Preservation program at the University of Vermont, this event was a fundraiser for the University’s Historic Preservation Alumni Association. More important, it was a chance to explore Vermont’s built environment on the roads between Montpelier and Moretown from a new perspective.
Vermont may be known for picturesque covered bridges, but the State has a wealth of historic metal truss bridges as well. Beginning in Montpelier, we learned about the history of these bridges, including developments in truss design from early pony trusses to later Warren and Pratt trusses, and developments in metallurgy from cast iron and wrought iron to rolled steel beams. The roads around the Winooski River, it turns out, are a perfect classroom.
We also learned about the State of Vermont’s Historic Bridge Program. Established in 1998, this program was formed to identify historic bridges around the state and come up with strategies for rehabilitating those that can continue to serve their intended use as well as adapting others for alternative transportation uses, or recreation or historic sites. The result is that these local landmarks dotting the Vermont landscape will continue to serve as physical reminders of the evolution of bridge design and use.
While riding along the scenic Town Highway 2 and Route 100B we also paused at several interesting barns, learning about developments in the dairy industry in Vermont through the physical evidence left behind, from Yankee Barns to Bank Barns, to Ground-Level Stable Barns and Free-stall Barns.
Synonymous with Vermont’s image, farms and their built structures are unquestionably worth preserving. Thus, much like the State’s Historic Bridge Program aims to identify and advocate for historic bridges, a more recent effort by the State Historic Preservation Office, in partnership with the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Programs and preservation non-profits around the state, The Vermont Barn Census, aims to complete a comprehensive survey of barns around the state, laying the foundation for their preservation.
Not to leave out the other important B’s of the day, lunch was at the Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex, well worth a stop, and we finished our twenty-five mile trek with well-deserved micro-brews at the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier. Biking, it turns out is a great way to explore the built environment around you. Not to mention good exercise.
Perched on a hill off Route 108 in Bakersfield, Vermont, this little house looks like many in that region of Vermont: a classic cottage with windows in the knee-walls. Only this one has seen better days.
We’ve talked about utility lines previously, in terms of practicality. But what about philosophically and aesthetically? To me, the picture above represents the perfect example as to why undergrounding of utility lines is a good idea. Documentation is fairly difficult when there are telephone poles and wires in the way, don’t you think? And that is quite often the case on main street.
What do you think? Granted, utility wires and telephones poles tell a part of our history and technological growth, but they have not always existed. And who is to say that our future will include utility wires or should include above ground utility wires? Will there ever be a case for keeping wires because of historic significance? Do you think they are appropriate to keep or should we embrace new technology and remove the utility wires?
Lately, many communities are concerned with disappearing post offices: the federal government is shutting down many post offices and cutting hours in order to save money and decrease the deficit. Smaller communities are most often those who desperately want to keep the post office, because it is a meeting place for residents. While the issue of hours and the amount of operating post offices has been discussed, there is one issue that has not entered the conversation – one that relates to historic preservation: the building stock of post offices.
Where is your post office located? Is it still in the center of town or perhaps at a crossroads? Is it located in a historic building? Is it a place to which you enjoy going? Lately I’ve noticed that many post offices are located in strip malls or nondescript buildings on the edges of town. Few are located in the centers of towns or in their original locations.
Rural post offices are reported in the media as meeting places for towns where there are no other such places. Some post offices operate out of the front of the postmaster’s house. If that is the case and residents want the post office, then there is no sense (in terms of community) in relocating it to another town. Everyone community deserves a gathering place.
But, in too many towns – in Vermont and beyond – post offices have been relocated to strip malls. There is nothing fun about strip malls. The post offices are generic, without any architectural character, making long lines seems even longer. This could be a stretch for some to say; however, imagine your post office was located in a beautiful building in your neighborhood or town. Wouldn’t you enjoy waiting in line if there were architectural details to admire? Wouldn’t the atmosphere be better?
Of course, post offices have not always had their own buildings and the history of mail is more than just the buildings. However, the issue of moving post offices from existing buildings in towns to the outskirts in strip malls or generic stand-alone buildings is as much about proper adaptive reuse and rehabilitation of historic structures as it about the importance of a post office to a community. Any time that a vital public service is removed from the center of activity, the community patterns will change. Perhaps it is less foot traffic for other businesses or more cars on the road because no one can walk to the new post office.
What do you think? I’d be much more inclined to visit the post office if it were in a historic building in the center of my town, rather than on the edge. An errand in a historic building seems less like an errand to me. Maybe other people feel the same way (even subconsciously), and that is just a small part as to why our postal service is suffering. Maybe a good experiment for the USPS would be to move post offices to historic buildings in walkable communities.
If you have a nice post office, let me know. What do you like or dislike about your post office?