A Visit to Wilmington

If you’re a preservationist in Vermont, you know Wilmington for the 2012 Historic Preservation and Downtown conference and the 2011 flooding of Tropical Storm Irene, among other reasons. If you’re an out-of-stater, you probably know Wilmington as a ski town; Mount Snow is just up the road. And maybe you’ve all heard about Dot’s Restaurant (The NY Times reported on its reopening last December). Wilmington is a beautiful small town in southern Vermont with a good stock of architecture, amenities for visitors and pleasant streets. Take a look (side note: click on the photographs to enlarge, and see them with better clarity). 

Wilmington is currently filled with giant chairs.

Wilmington is currently filled with giant chairs.

Ascending front gables on South Main Street.

Ascending front gables on South Main Street.

The 1898 Crafts Inn.

The 1898 Crafts Inn.

Route 9 & Route 100. Check out those brackets!

Route 9 & Route 100. Check out those brackets!

This building is undergoing renovations (still, post flood). It is the 1930 Parmalee & Howe Drugstore.

This building is undergoing renovations (still, post flood). It is the 1930 Parmalee & Howe Drugstore.

The intersection of Route 9 and Route 100 features a beautiful pocket park.

The intersection of Route 9 and Route 100 features a beautiful pocket park.

Looking for more history? Read the entire National Register nomination here. It’s now available online thanks to the massive digitization effort by Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (our SHPO office). And it’s almost leaf peeping season, followed by ski season. Enjoy Vermont if you’re coming for a visit!


Preservation Photos #233

Fair Haven, Vermont.

Fair Haven, Vermont.

The house of last week’s Preservation Photos #232. This 1867 house was built by the A.C. Hopson and is known as one of the earliest and most outstanding examples of French Second Empire style in Vermont. It was the home of Ira Allen, a prominent Fair Haven businessman. Today the house is the Marble Mansion Inn.

Preservation ABCs: Z is for Zoning

Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.


Z is for Zoning

Alexandria, VA zoning. Click image and zoom in to read the map.

Zoning is a land use control and planning tool that dictates the types of buildings and their uses for a defined area. Elements under zoning control can include setback, height, density, appearance, parking, etc). There are pros and cons to zoning, as well as different types. All of this could be an entire book or an entire class, so let’s go over just a few pieces. 

A (Very Brief) History: In the late 19th century and early 20th century, American cities passed laws that governed aspects such as height and use of buildings. New York City adopted the first citywide zoning ordinance that identified residential, commercial, and unrestricted areas. The basic form for zoning began with the Standard State Zoning Enabling Act (1924/6) and the Standard City Planning Enabling Act (1926/8), both published by the U.S. Department of Commerce.  In 1926, the Supreme Court upheld that zoning was constitutional in the case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Company (272 U.S. 365). Here the village prohibited industrial development that could change the character of the village. The parcel of land had already been divided into parcels of land with height and density requirements, which is why industry could not be developed.

There is more than one type of zoning, and how zoning is applied varies across the United States and the world. The important point to know is this: Zoning and historic preservation can be good friends or foes.

How are they linked? A zoning plan divides an areas into different sections/zones. A zoning overlay is often a historic preservation district overlay that can cover more than one zone. In other words, the residential, commercial, and  industrial zones might all have some parts in the historic district, which is the historic preservation overlay.

How can they be friends or foes? Zoning can help historic preservation by aiding in controlling and directing growth to the appropriate areas. This has the benefit of protecting density and character of an area. Consider the Urban Growth Boundary of Portland, OR. However, zoning and preservation can interfere with one another. Zoning might restrict the rehabilitation of a building. In that case, zoning would need to be revisited for revisions or amendments or a special permit (conditional use) requested.

A lack of zoning will can harm historic preservation. Perhaps the National Register Historic District has not been expanded, therefore the historic district overlay not expanded. (Districts that were listed decades ago are often smaller than districts we would list today.) Inappropriate development could be  a threat because retail/commercial could be allowed in an area where it shouldn’t be. Consider a Dollar General built within an eligible historic district, simply because zoning has not been revisited in decades.

Despite changes that might be required, having a zoning ordinance is a better place to start than no zoning ordinance. If your community does not have zoning, it is a necessity. It is easier and better to be proactive than reactive. Check your town’s zoning districts, historic districts, and ask preservationists (check with your State Historic Preservation Office) if the districts could be increased). And preservation planners, feel free to add advice in the comments.

An excellent, easy-to-understand booklet from the NPS about Historic Preservation and Zoning. Alexandria, VA map found here.


And just like that, we’ve made it all the way from A to Z. Thanks for following along with this series. If there are letters that you would change, please share. 

Sunday Snapshots for Summer #1

Here’s to a new post for Sundays: a sunny scene every week through the summer (it’s almost here) because once in a while you just need a sunny smile and a good memory and a good summer adventure.

This will be sort of like Preservation Photos on Tuesdays, but not necessarily something historic (far warning: a fluffly cat or a pink flamingo could pop up in Sunday Snapshots). Though this series will begin with a scene from a historic district in Minneapolis, MN, recalling my last week’s adventures in Minnesota at the SIA.

Sunday Snapshot for Summer adventure #1: cruising around a historic city on bicycle (or foot).

Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, MN.

Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, MN. Check out those brick paved streets! 

Bonus points: if it’s not overtly a “historic preservation” scene, connect the dots. Most creative answer wins! 


Abandoned Vermont: Windsor House

This is a different vein of Abandoned Vermont; this house in Windsor is not found down a dirt road or in a small, sleepy town. Instead, it is easily spotted from US Route 5, located within the Windsor Historic District.

Abandoned house in Windsor, VT.

While it is not exactly abandoned (it is bank owned, I believe), this poor house is boarded up, vacant, a victim of fire, and left for further demolition by neglect – it seems. It has seen better days, obviously – days filled with historic integrity. Now it would probably be determined to be a non-contributing structure in the historic district.

Asphalt brick siding, asphalt shingle roof, replacement windows all contribute to a loss of integrity.

While loss of integrity to one building is a worthwhile discussion, there is a more important issue relating  to this house. What greater effect will the loss of integrity have on the character of the historic district?

What is the best option? Complete restoration of a historic structure? This isn’t a house (in my opinion) that someone will look at, love immediately and dream of restoring. Of course, that is not to say that a determined visionary could not take on the project. And who knows, removing that fake brick siding could help give the building a new face. Some buildings have the luxury of being loved, even in their most deteriorated states, but often such simple vernacular structures are not as fortunate. If it is determined to be a non-contributing structure, would demolition and sympathetic infill be the best option?

This house probably had a slate roof in its prime.

What was anyone ever thinking? Asphalt shingles made to look like brick? I have never seen this look good on a building.

Does this house stand a better chance of a second life because it is in a historic district of a larger town? Or is it more at risk for demolition? What do you think?

I can see it going either way. Rescuing and restoring a house in a historic district seems to have a better potential for property values. However, the property may be worth more than the structure as-is. Not knowing the state of the house interior, it is could be too far gone for someone to want to tackle.

Due to the loss of integrity, this could be a situation in which loss of a now non-contributing structure will not affect the historic district, but what goes in its place can have a positive or negative effect.

How often do you come across similar abandoned structures? What do you think about the fate of this building and the impacts to the historic district?

Annaberg Sugar Mill Plantation Ruins

The US Virgin Islands are more than beaches, spirits and palm trees. The islands have centuries of history and culture to share. Approximately two-thirds of the island of St. John comprises the Virgin Islands National Park. Much of the park is underwater, which you can see via snorkeling; but, there are many interesting hiking trails and historic sites on land, too.

Welcome to the Annaberg Sugar Mill!

The Annaberg Sugar Mill Plantation Ruins comprise the Annaberg Historic District in the Virgin Islands National Park. Sugar plantations were abundant in this region throughout the 19th century. Though originally grown in India, Columbus brought sugar to the Caribbean, where it thrived. You’ve heard “Cotton was King” in reference to the US South. Well, here “Sugar was King.”  In 1758, a Dutch immigrant, Salomon Zeeger, purchased the property and named it Annaberg in honor of his wife Anna. Though its namesake, the Zeegers did not construct the mill, which dates to ca. 1800. An Irish merchant,James Murphy, purchased many adjacent properties, including Annaberg, to create his sugar estate. Sugar product continued on the plantation long after his death in 1808.

In this historic district are ruins of slave cabins, a magass (drying) shed, a windmill tower, a horse mill, an oven, a boiling house, a curing house and overseers’ quarters, a water cistern and a dungeon, a still house, a rum still, a firing trench and an ox pound.

The trail sign at the Annaberg Sugar Mill. There are 16 points along the trail, though not the same number of informational panels.

When we visited, we were fortunate that volunteer interpreters were on site to give us a helpful lesson on the boiling house. They also handed us a detailed walking tour, which supplemented the few interpretive panels throughout the site. (My knowledge of the site comes from the NPS walking tour brochure, which is very well done.)  We found the site to be in need of additional interpretive signage, especially because the volunteers are only on site for a few months out of the year. Without the brochure and/or the guides, it is much harder to understand the site.

The view near the windmill. Not a bad view for the volunteers and park rangers!

The windmill, which rotated by an attached pole. Rollers crushed sugar cane, which ran into a tank where it stayed until it was ready for processing,

Looking up and through the windmill.

The cook house, where bread was prepared for workers.

Standing inside the boiling house. On the left you can see where the coppers (kettles) were located in order to boil the cane juice down to sugar. Boiling sugar required a lot of attention and skill.

Close up of boiling house wall. The walls were constructed of volcanic rock set into a mortar composed of sand, fresh water, molasses and quicklime from seashells and coral.

Boiling house doorway with wood frame remaining.

Exterior of boiling house.

View looking through the boiling house windows towards the windmill.

View from the horse mill. Horses walked in a large circle in order to substitute for the lack of wind and windmill power on a calm day.

We loved the Annaberg Sugar Mill site for more than the view; the buildings are fascinating. It is a site very different from those throughout the continental United States (though the boiling house reminded me of smelting iron and similar processes, which was a good reference point). Ruins are always intriguing, and historical context and information heightens appreciation and awe of such sites. If you are visiting St. John, the Annaberg Plantation is a must. (A tip: make sure you get the walking tour and read it before you walk around, wondering what the unidentified buildings are.)

Read a detailed history of Annaberg Plantation, from the National Park Service. View the HABS drawings, from the Library of Congress. See the HABS photographs.

Preservation Photos #69

The importance of trees in a streetscape can be observed even in the dead of winter; the trees lining the sidewalk, seen here, are important to the integrity of the Old Bennington Historic District. Trees must be respected in addition to the historic architecture.

Future Historic Districts

Recently I was at a lecture with a couple different design professionals and one of them (bless his little heart) stated something that I believe should be tattooed on more than one designer/developer’s head: “We are designing America’s future historic districts.” How powerful is that? Too often those who are in charge of designing and building our new spaces and places can’t see past the potential profit they stand to make. A quick look at materials and construction methods will clearly show that they clearly are not concerned with the longevity of the project. But let’s just say these cookie-cutter-cracker-jack-boxes survive into the next 100, 200, or even 300 years, what will they say about life in America in the 2000s? What cultural and social clues will future generations learn from these buildings? I can’t even begin to fathom or comprehend the fact that one day school children may visit Ye Olde Wallyworld where re-enactors in blue vests greet them at the door and show them all the crazy things their ancestors used to buy (“and these q-tips came all the way from China kids on boats and planes but the cotton came from India. Of course this is what they used before ionic ear cleaners…”)

Now, of course, to have an accurate view of history you need to preserve both the good and the bad, brutally and honestly; otherwise, you get a false sense of what the past really was. Sure those historic buildings and gardens at Monticello are much more elaborate than what people have today, because hell, I’d have the nicest house on the block if I had a couple hundred people who willing took care and maintained it for free. And sure Germany, Poland, and other European countries have pretty fields full of flowers and soft soft grass at places like Auschwitz…almost as if there is a lot of rich organic matter beneath the ground fertilizing them. I think you can see my point. So it is important to save the good along with the bad (in this case the poorly designed and executed). But when the bulk majority of what our society is creating just makes you want to shake you head and sigh disappointedly, its hard not to write a letter to the future apologizing and explaining that we were not all commercially shallow people who lived in identical houses on identical streets in identical sprawling towns. If nothing else, perhaps we can start designating well-thought out and sensitive developments as historic at their ribbon cuttings, thus ensuring we have some good representation in the future.

-Missy Celii