Sitting alongside State Highway 37, just outside Fort Covington, New York sits this one-room brick schoolhouse. The unmistakable bank of windows caught my eye from down the road. A quick u-turn was definitely worth it to snap a few photographs. Without a sign to its name or any indication of ownership, I had to assume it was abandoned (perhaps only used for storage). If you know anything about this lonely schoolhouse, I’d love to hear.
The grammar topic for today: When it is correct to use “historic” or “historical”?
How often do you come across “historical preservation” as opposed to “historic preservation?” I see this quite often, whether casually or in presentations. If you consider the laws and the basis for the field, the proper term is “historic” not “historical”. For all other purposes, what’s the difference?I found the best explanation I’ve seen so far via Grammar Girl.
You can read Grammar Girl’s response or listen to the podcast about Historic v. Historical here. In brief, historic is something significant to our past whereas historical is something that is old and not necessarily important. If you think back to the Old House v. Historic House discussion, you’ll recall that historic means significant. Significant means that a building, structure, object, district or site is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Old is simply old and not important or significant.
Now, how to remember this? From Grammar Girl:
William Safire said something that might help you remember the difference: “Any past event is historical, but only the most memorable ones are historic” (3). I’ve also created an odd memory trick to help you: You can remember the meanings of these two words by thinking that “ic” is “important,” and they both start with i, and “al” is “all in the past,” and those both start with a.
Why does this matter? Should you correct people who say historical preservation as opposed to historic preservation? (You should if it’s an appropriate occasion only.) Think of it this way: historical preservation leans toward the stereotype of “saving everything” as opposed to preserving, documenting, incorporating the significant (i.e. historic) elements of the past.
What do you think?
No. 2 = Vocabulary for Translating and Holding Your Own in a Preservation Conversation.
Every field has its jargon, historic preservation included. Some may be shared with architectural history or planning, for example, but most of the preservation vocabulary has unfamiliar connotations to those who are in other fields. So here is a list of words that will help you to understand and participate in conversations about preservation. Without a doubt, there are many more than I include here, but these represent my most commonly used technical words.
You’ll notice that many of these words tie into the definitions of each other, and many derive from federal regulations. The explanations are
An alteration to the historic resource that will diminish the property’s integrity and its characteristics of integrity that qualify it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Usually referenced in discussion with Section 106 and regulatory review.
When discussing context, it often refers to understanding a resource within its historic context (e.g. an art-moderne gas station within its context of roadside architecture and the associated context of the growing United States and automobile industry, etc.). Resources out of context are at risk for losing their significance (e.g. a lone Queen Anne house that was once part of a neighborhood, but now sits lonely among a sea of strip malls). Concerning the National Register, “historic contexts are historical patterns that can be identified through consideration of the history of the property and the history of the surrounding area.” Read more about historic contexts and the NR here.
Listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Typically, such properties are 50 years or older, though that is a guideline, not a rule.
When referencing historic integrity there are seven aspects to evaluate: location, design, setting, workmanship, feeling, association, and materials. Integrity will convey the significance of a property. When integrity is lost, the property is no longer significant, which is why alterations must be carefully reviewed. Read more about integrity from the National Register Bulletins.
National Historic Preservation Act of 1966:
Often abbreviated NHPA or NHPA 1966 (16 USC 470). As explained by the National Trust, this is the “primary federal law governing the preservation of cultural and historic resources in the United States. The law establishes a national preservation program and a system of procedural protections which encourage the identification and protection of cultural and historic resources of national, state, tribal and local significance.”
National Register of Historic Places:
Called the National Register for short, or “NR,” it is the scale for significance — how we know what is important. The National Park Service clearly explains it as, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.”
National Trust for Historic Preservation:
Abbreviated NTHP or referred to as the National Trust. From the National Trust “about us” section: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and revitalizing America’s communities. Recipient of the National Humanities Medal, the Trust was founded in 1949 and provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources to protect the irreplaceable places that tell America’s story. Staff at the Washington, DC, headquarters, six regional offices and 29 historic sites work with the Trust’s 270,000 members and thousands of preservation groups in all 50 states.”
Referring to a property that does not possess historic significance or historic integrity. Not eligible for listing in the National Register.
The maintenance and repair of existing historic materials and retention of a property’s form as it has evolved over time. (Protection and Stabilization have now been consolidated under this treatment.)
Re-creates vanished or non-surviving portions of a property for interpretive purposes.
Acknowledges the need to alter or add to a historic property to meet continuing or changing uses while retaining the property’s historic character as it has evolved over time.
Depicts a property at a particular period of time in its history, while removing evidence of other periods.
Abbreviation for Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credit. Also called the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit. From the National Trust, “The federal rehabilitation tax credit encourages the preservation and reuse of the nation’s built environment by offering federal tax credits to the owners of historic properties. Since it was enacted in 1976, the tax credit has generated over $50 billion in renovation and revitalization dollars. As a disincentive to demolition, it allows the owner of a historic building to receive an income tax credit of 20% of the amount spent to rehabilitate a certified historic structure. There is also a 10% credit for older, non-historic buildings…To qualify for the 20% rehabilitation credits, a building must be a “certified historic structure.” A certified historic structures is one that is listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places or located in a registered historic district and certified by the Secretary of the Interior as being of historical significance to the district. In addition, the rehabilitation work must qualify as “certified rehabilitation.” A certified rehabilitation is one that is approved by the Secretary of the Interior as consistent with the historic character of the building and, where applicable, with the district in which the building is located. All elements of the project must meet certain standards to ensure that the historic character of the building is preserved in the process of the rehabilitation.
Secretary of the Interior’s Standards:
Sometimes referred to as the Secretary’s Standards or Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties and sometimes Standards for Rehabilitation. The Standards for Rehabilitation are the most common, but there are four sets: preserving, restoring, rehabilitation, and reconstructing. Read all about the Standards for Rehabilitation from the National Park Service. From the National Park Service, “The Standards are neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation’s irreplaceable cultural resources. For example, they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to make essential decisions about which features of the historic building should be saved and which can be changed. But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work.” These Standards are the benchmark for work on historic properties and for maintaining a property’s significance.
Federal regulations (36 CFR 800) implementing the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This process determines the effect that a project has on a resource and then seeks ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the effects. Section 106 is applicable to all federally funded projects. Read more about Section 106 from the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.
Section 4(f) of the DOT Act stipulated that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and other DOT agencies cannot approve the use of land from a significant publicly owned public park, recreation area, wildlife or waterfowl refuge, or any significant historic site unless the following conditions apply: (1) There is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land and (2) The action includes all possible planning to minimize harm to the property resulting from use. Read more from the Section 4f interactive training site.
Sense of Place:
Without finding a technical, regulatory related definition, sense of place refers to the feeling of a defined place, whether it be a town, village, landscape, park, etc. Sense of place means that people understand the built environment and how each element ties together. Sense of place gives people pride and connection to their environments, which is an important part of understanding historic preservation. To understand, consider sense of place in reference to a small town or a big city — both have a strong sense of place, usually. But then consider sense of place among highways of strip malls and run down neighborhoods. It’s not there, right?
Abbreviation for State Historic Preservation Office (or Officer, depending on your state). Pronounced S-H-P-O by some or ship-po by others. Established by the NHPA 1966, the SHPO has many roles including: surveying properties across the state in order to determine their significance, nominating properties to the National Register, administering grants, assisting local agencies, conducting and consulting on Section 106 review, reviewing applications for federal investment tax credit projects.
In relation to the National Register, significant means historically significant. In order to be historically significant a property must have high levels of integrity and be significant under one of the criteria for evaluation of the National Register. Local, state, and national levels of significance may be different; i.e. a property may be significant locally (perhaps a barn where defining town events happened) but not nationally (as it would have to be important to the shaping of the nation). In short, when you read significance think historically significant and National Register.
Streetscape refers to the massing of buildings, the street plantings, the physical environment and feel from the ground, from the human experience. It often goes hand-in-hand with view shed.
This is a term often used in analyzing the effects of a projects. Essentially, will the view from or to a property be adversely affected by this change? Often the viewshed contributes greatly to the setting, feeling, and association (integrity!) of property or district. The Wilderness Battlefield case addressed viewshed.
What vocabulary words would you like to add?
And, as a side note, thank you for the very positive response to the beginning of this series. Please let me know what you would like to read! I’m not sure on the length of this series, but for now, I’ll try for Wednesday and Friday posts for a few weeks.
For Christmas, a few years ago, I received a wonderful collection of souvenir postcard booklets from Jen G. She found them at a neighborhood antique store in Boston and knowing how much I love United States travel, she so thoughtfully gave them to me. It’s been a while since I looked at them, but I picked them up over the weekend and once again attempted to date them. There aren’t any dates at all and so far my internet searching has not been fruitful. Some of you readers must know; please share any clues. These souvenir books are so much fun and all quite different in terms of font, captions, and layout. I’ll share them individually in the coming weeks for anyone who may be a postcard dating extraordinaire. For now, enjoy the intriguing covers.
One method I’ve used so far is by considering surrounding facts. For instance, the Badlands were designated a National Monument in 1929, and not a National Park until 1978. (Of course, I would have given that date range as my guess anyway.) And now after looking at these again, I need to go take a western road trip … how about you?
The Kinks – “The Village Green Preservation Society”
Historic preservation can play many angles because its definitions vary according to individuals and organizations. There tends to be no limit on its tangential factors, something that makes preservation ideals understandable and applicable to anyone. This might be more apparent to me since moving to Vermont – I haven’t quite decided yet. However, consider Jennifer Parson’s article from the latest PiP Newsletter which talked about preservation in the sense of agricultural preservation, not like preserving vegetables for the winter, but continuing to use heirloom seeds, thus preserving the variety of agriculture, whether vegetables, fruit, or larger crops.
Vermonters* seem to take pride in self sufficiency and of course, environmental friendliness (one bumper sticker claims Vermont as being green before green was cool). There’s definitely a different vibe in Vermont. Or maybe this vibe is everywhere now and I’ve only noticed it here. That’s sort of beside the point. People I have met here, including the above mentioned Jen Parsons, have inspired me to take on more traditional tasks as hobbies. One recent endeavor is bread making. There is nothing better than fresh bread, right? And in the vein of finding ways to save money, attempting to not support giant food distribution companies, and figuring out how to avoid preservatives of our current food supply, bread seemed like an easy first step. I also love to bake.
Bread and preservation, huh? Really? Yes, it’s relevant. No, I’m not using a historic recipe (unless Fannie Farmer counts!) or an old oven of any sort. Learning to bake bread is easiest by attempting regular white bread. But something about it is just so satisfying. Perhaps it’s kneading the dough or considering that maybe one day I will not have to grocery store packaged bread. It’s just a basic food source that people have been making and eating for centuries. And the house I live in is old enough that many owners and tenants have probably made bread by hand more than a few times.
I think part of appreciating historic preservation in all of its form comes not only from studying dwellings and the surroundings and reading the environment, but by participating in history in some manner. And the process of bread making: mixing ingredients, letting the dough rise for hours (in some recipes), kneading the dough, watching it bake, smelling the delicious scent of fresh made bread, and sharing it can connect you to everyone in history. So by learning to make homemade bread, I feel as though I can pass on a time honored tradition, and that has immense value on its own.
Additionally, since beginning this learning process of bread making, I have discovered that many friends also bake their own bread – perhaps there is a resurgence of bread making. What a pleasant discovery! I wonder what else people are producing on their own in small attempt at self sufficiency (or health or economics).
*Disclaimer: I cannot yet claim to be a Vermonter. Actually, being named a true Vermonter takes about seven generations so there goes my chance. Still, I love Vermont, even if I’m labeled a “flatlander” or “white plater.”
Just something to think about.
Do you think that people in such historic times realize that they are going to be in important eras in the history books? Have people always considered such things? If we think about it more now than our ancestors, does this help us appreciate history and what could be historically significant someday? Or do we just become crazy collectors (of things, souvenirs, thoughts, etc.)?
Congratulations to our new President, Barrack Obama. And if you didn’t see it, Sen. John McCain had a very gracious and positive speech at the end of the night.
And here’s one more trip back to Independence Hall, where our founders proclaimed that “all people are created equal.” I think it’s important to keep various eras of our history connected. And now we have proven, as a country, that we believe the tenets of Declaration of Independence.
Thank you, Jen, for your tour of Boston and your constant conversation on historic preservation & architecture & the environment. I encourage everyone to find places where the old meets the new in a complimentary manner. Please share!