Indy Bound!

Heading towards Indy for the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference. Follow along over the next few days on instagram and twitter. Find me and say hi if you’re there. I’d love to meet you!

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Pumpkins!

Happy Sunday all. Vermont finally gave up on the nice weekend weather, but we had a good stretch of lovely fall days. I haven’t carved my pumpkins yet – any preservationists have good ideas? Snap a photo of your pumpkin and send it in! I’ll share mine this week.

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Not in a patch, but at least they’re in front of a barn.

#Presconf Excitement!

Who is going to the National Trust for Historic Preservation conference in Indianapolis next week? There are so many sessions to attend, but if you get the chance to attend the session, “New Media, New Audiences: Case Studies in Social Media,” I’d love to meet you. I’m in conference preparation mode, so I thought I’d share a few links, hints, exciting events. Find the full program here.

(1) SOCIAL MEDIA! Need news and happenings or have a question for other conference attendees? Search and use #presconf on Twitter or @PresNationLive and someone will answer you, I’m sure. Wednesday night before the opening reception is the Tweet-up (7:15) and I’m looking forward to meeting all of the social media folks in “real life” as opposed to the Twitter/Instagram/blog world. (See below from @PresNationLive).

Tweetup @ #PresConf

The annual Tweetup at the National Preservation Conference will take place after the opening plenary at the Athenaeum (site of the opening reception), upstairs by the maroon banquette at 7:15 p.m. Take the elevator to get to the second floor.

(2) SPEAKERS! The Opening Plenary speaker is Henry Glassie. For anyone who studied vernacular architecture at Mary Washington, you are probably as excited as I am. The man is a vernacular scholar legend! I need to find a book for him to autograph! Prof. Stanton at Mary Washington would be proud. Check out the speaker bios.

(3) EVENTS! The Thursday night candlelight tour. This is always a conference favorite: beautiful homes, an evening walk, gazing at architecture. How many times have you wanted to go in a house as you walked by?! Well, on this tour you can! There’s also a silent film night with Indiana Landmarks and a social media cast party for the speakers. So much on one night! Browse the program, there’s no shortage of fun things to do and interesting people to meet.

(4) INDY! Some Indianapolis exploring. Following Tiffany (Historic Indianapolis) and Raina for so long, Indy looks like it’s going to be awesome. They are full of good Indy photos, idea, and tips. And many businesses are offering discounts for conference attendees. Print the list for reference and just show them your badge! Download the free Indy app to help guide you around the city. Do you live in Indy? What’s your recommended site, food stop, coffee shop, city adventure, etc?

I still have to plan out my schedule to be certain that I don’t miss a thing on my list. Lots to do before conference time! I’m sure there will be more to share before I head to the Midwest. Wish you could join, but are unable to this year? Check out this post from the Preservation Leadership Forum to see all of your options to follow along.

A Bit about Railroad Depots

Waterbury, VT

Waterbury, VT

Vergennes, VT

Vergennes, VT

Randolph, VT

Randolph, VT: two depots in one shot! 

I’m deep into the trenches of a report about rail passenger stations and freight depots, so it’s about the only subject on my mind, besides the preservation conference. In almost every place I’ve lived, I can hear the train, even if it’s only at night when the air is still and the world is quiet. In some of my houses, I’ve felt the entire house shake when the freight trains barreled through town. In other places, the train is a distant rumble and whistle. There’s something comforting about that sound, and something mysterious and so adventurous about the train.

Transport by train for passengers and freight isn’t what it used to be; cars and trucks have misplaced trains for the most part. Still, railroads were the interstates of their time – taking land wherever they wanted it, blasting through mountains, diving farmland, and creating new settlements along the way. And still, railroads replaced canals. Transportation continues to evolve and change our landscape with it (fortunately in a much more conscientious way today than 50, 100, or 150 years ago).

If you grew up around the railroad, you are probably familiar with railroad depots – for passengers and freight. Most historic depots are easily recognizable, just as schoolhouses of the 1920s/1930s are easily identified by their bank of windows. While some might be high style (see Waterbury above) or more vernacular (see Roxbury below) and are constructed throughout the mid to late 19th century, these rail depots all have a few key features in common: (1) Large overhanging eaves; (2) Eaves supported by large, brackets – often decorative; (3) A rectangular shape with the length along the tracks; (4) A ticket agent bay window. Not every building will have all of these features, but next time you see a building that looks like it might be a depot, you’re probably right.

Ludlow, VT

Ludlow, VT

South Londonderry, VT

South Londonderry, VT

Roxbury, VT

Roxbury, VT

Do you have examples in your town? Any buildings you can think of that are probably rail buildings? Want to see a few more? Vergennes, Wallingford, Fair Haven, Swanton.

Preservation Pop Quiz

A pop quiz, of the “this one or that one” type, and why?

All other elements being equal (hypothetically), would you choose:

This railing?

Railing #1

Railing #1

OR this railing?

Railing #2

Railing #2

Please provide your reason for choosing one over the other.

Coffee Shop Conundrum

Coffee shop culture has changed with the advent of computers, wifi, smart phones, and all other devices that we all use everyday. Conversations and meetings still occur, but many people are there for the sake of productivity. With others working diligently (or at least appearing to do so), the background hum of other customers, and a good, hot beverage and snack, a coffee shop provides a comfortable atmosphere and alternative work space.

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The Traveled Cup in St. Albans, VT.

Wherever I’m traveling or whenever I have a considerable amount of writing/studying to accomplish, I prefer to spend time in a welcoming coffee shop. What is welcoming to me: comfortable chairs, various seating options, historic buildings, a nice ceiling, background music, good coffee, a few snack options, good lighting, some warmth to the space (rug or wood floors, not linoleum or stick tiles, for examples). Most often, a historic building that maintains its historic integrity fits all of these coffee shop requirements.

Sitting in a coffee shop on Saturday afternoon, I found it surprisingly empty of customers, except for a few people, all working or studying. Having the table space is much appreciated as well as a choice seat, all while sipping a bottomless cup of coffee and enjoying an oatmeal raisin cookie, but I found myself wondering how these little shops stay in business. There didn’t seem to be enough business over the course of a few hours to even fund the employees working. This particular coffee shop is probably much busier during the work week, and maybe I ended up in one of those weird customer lulls.

Coffe House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

Coffee House & Block Gallery in Winooski, VT.

The cost for a cup of regular coffee varies; I’ve seen $1.25 to $2.50, but it generally falls at about $2.00. In some ways, $2.00 for a cup of coffee seems like a lot of money; after all, even buying a $12/lb bag of coffee, I can get so many more cups for $2.00. However, that amount of money would not support the overhead costs of a business (building, utilities, employees, insurance, supplies, food, etc.) It makes sense that the cup of coffee costs more – aside from the fact that someone made it for you – because it is paying for the atmosphere. If we weren’t seeking a coffee shop environment, we’d all swing by the nearest gas station and be on our way.

Still, say you pay $2.00 for a cup of coffee (maybe $2.50 for a bottomless cup or $.99 for a refill), and then proceed to spend hours in one coffee shop, how much should it really cost? It’s a tricky situation. Coffee shops provide wifi and other amenities to encourage customers, but people can routinely stay too long. If space is in demand, this is noticed.

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Speeder & Earl’s in Burlington, VT

Coffee lovers, what do you do? Do you make sure to buy food or many cups of coffee? Perhaps a more expensive coffee drink? Do you ever feel like you shouldn’t be monopolizing your table for so long? I do my best to only take a small table, to order more than one item (spaced out over the time I’m there), and to return frequently. I want to support these businesses and the local economy. If there were no local coffee shops, we’d all be subjected to the chain retailers. (Alert! Preservation confession ahead.) And while I do enjoy Starbucks coffee, I do not enjoy spending time in Starbucks. They are cold in temperature, have a tin sound, and are generally not comfortable. It must be by design. Who else thinks so? In order to keep our local coffee shops in business, I’m going to drink more coffee, and remember that when a price seems high, I don’t mind paying it because I like where I am. How do you feel?

Abandoned Vermont: Manchester Inn

Manchester, Vermont is a popular high-style tourist destination with historic buildings, historic marble sidewalks, nearby recreation, shopping outlets – it’s picture perfect on so many streets. So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed this abandoned structure in the middle of historic Manchester.

On Main Street.

On Main Street.

I know I’ve driven by this building at least a few times in the past few years, maybe the fall day made its abandoned-ness more apparent. This was an interesting building. On the exterior it appeared that someone had attempted maintenance relatively recently. Yet peeking in the windows revealed peeling paint, water damage, and the usual vandalism inside. A sticker on the front door had a 2003 Conde Nast logo, so presumably the building had only been empty for a few years – likely not 10. It was weird. Check out these photos and see what I mean.

Marble sidewalks in Manchester.

Marble sidewalks in Manchester.

The view from Route 7A (Main Street) in Manchester, VT.

The view from Route 7A (Main Street) in Manchester, VT.

The property is much larger than you can see from the street.

The property is much larger than you can see from the street. Hmm, and a shallow roof pitch. That is never a good idea in cold climates.

A marble patio with an outdoor pool (not shown in photo).

A marble patio with an outdoor pool (not shown in photo).

The front porch.

The front porch.

On the front porch.

On the front porch.

Looking through the windows. It's amazing how much has deteriorated in just a few years.

Looking through the windows. It’s amazing how much has deteriorated in just a few years. If the first floor looks like this, what do the upper floors look like?

This takes "shuttered" to a new level.

This takes “shuttered” to a new level.

And the story? Well, the inn closed in 2009 due to foreclosure, and approved for demolition in 2011 by the Development Review Board. Recently purchased in 2013, the currents owners do not have a plan for the property. With its fate of demolition looming, the important questions will turn to documentation and infill.

Days Like This

To quote Van Morrison, “Oh my mama told me there’ll be days like this.” Why do I write that today? Well, some days the uphill battle of historic preservation feels incredibly steep. Sometimes it’s really hard being a preservationist in heart, soul, belief, and profession. Do you ever feel like that? Maybe you lost a preservation battle that you really believed in? Of course, every day cannot be easy and we preservationists like a challenge, but the big ones can weigh on your heart. Today an ongoing preservation issue gives me a heavy heart.

On Wednesday October 16, 2013, the brand new Wal-Mart opened a few miles outside of historic downtown St. Albans, Vermont. This particular Wal-Mart case began in the 1990s, and has come and gone a few times, fighting Vermont’s Act 250 law, among other issues. The Preservation Trust of Vermont (PTV) did its absolute best to work with Wal-Mart, hoping to have the store site itself downtown in a smaller scale, as opposed to miles away from the existing downtown core in farmland. See the design proposals that the Preservation Trust of Vermont had hoped to achieve. You might expect a statewide preservation organization to be opposed to Wal-Mart. However, that is not the case.  PTV is pro-downtown businesses and responsible growth and development. In other words, focus the development in appropriate areas and spaces.

Vermont is a very unique state, and a wonderful place to live for its scenery, its quality of life, its focus on the local economy, just to name a few. Part of this quality of life is a result of calculated development and land use planning laws that have protected the state from poor, sprawling development. Sprawl has been a threat and continues to be a threat to our downtowns and rural landscapes. In fact, the entire State of Vermont has been listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Places” in 1993 and 2004, both times at risk from an onslaught of big box, sprawling development (see below).

During the 1990s Wal-Mart located three of its four Vermont stores in existing buildings and kept them relatively modest in size. Now, however, the world’s largest company is planning to saturate the state – which has only 600,000 residents – with seven new mammoth mega-stores, each with a minimum of 150,000 square feet. Theses potential new stores may be located in St. Albans, Morrisville, Newport/Derby, St. Johnsbury, Bennington, Rutland, and Middlebury. Wal-Mart’s plans are sure to attract an influx of other big-box retailers. The likely result: degradation of the Green Mountain State’s unique sense of place, economic disinvestment in historic downtowns, loss of locally-owned businesses, and an erosion of the sense of community that seems an inevitable by-product of big-box sprawl. With deep regret, the National Trust takes the rare step of re-listing Vermont as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

With all of this, why does Wal-Mart keep succeeding? Well, it has deep pockets. Obviously. And yes, people want Wal-Mart in their towns. Not all people, but many do, because they believe the prices to be cheaper (which is only selectively true) or because they don’t understand what is at risk when Wal-Mart moves in. And let’s keep in mind, that any big box store can bring up the same issues; this example just happens to be Wal-Mart.

The difficulty we preservationists face is explaining to naysayers that big box sprawl outside of downtown will have negative effects on our local economies. Sure, any store is technically geographically local shopping (as opposed to online), but that is not the true meaning of a local economy. A local economy supports itself, buys and sells good and services made and used within the region, and keep more taxes in the economy. Money spent at a big box store is money not spent at businesses owned by our neighbors. A big box store of approximately 150,000 square feet of retail space is consequently 150,000 square feet of retail space taken away from other businesses. A new store is not going to spout new consumers; roughly the same amount of people’s money will be spent shopping. So where it is spent shifts. Is it all from small businesses? No, of course not. But a good portion of it is.

It is important to remember that preservation is not anti-development or anti-progress or anti-capitalism. Preservationists are pro smart development and land use, and are pro small businesses succeeding. This can be achieved through a variety of ways, but the American typical sprawling big box developments is not the answer, especially when there are other, better options.

The current opinion regarding this new Wal-Mart is that it will bring more people to downtown. Business owners are in favor of Wal-Mart, or at least are of the opinion that since it’s there, they might as well join and encourage all sorts of business. It’s a good attitude. Hopefully the restaurants downtown survive, the small businesses continue to grow, and sprawl does not increase around the new Wal-Mart. Only time will tell.

So, preservationists, what do you think? Will a Wal-Mart located approximately 3 miles outside of a historic downtown have a negative effect on the downtown economy and local businesses? It is worth noting that there is an interstate exit located (practically) adjacent to this Wal-Mart, and customers would not have to drive thru the downtown. The St. Albans Drive-in Theater is located across the street from the new Wal-Mart. (Remember that many drive-ins failed because of the value of their land.) Also, St. Albans is a wonderful downtown with great improvement projects (most recently undergrounding utilities, streetscape improvements, building improvements, etc.). Are there examples of Wal-Mart or any similar big box store locating so-close-yet-so-far from a historic downtown and both surviving? I hope, for the sake of St. Albans, that this situation is the exception to the rule.

And that is why I have a heavy preservation heart today. Sometimes getting people to see in the long-term view and understand just how special their town or state is seems like an uphill battle. What’s your latest preservation heartache? Care to share? And what do you think about this one?