It’s not everyday that you encounter an octagonal stone schoolhouse; but drive on Route 22 through the tiny hamlet of Boquet in the town of Essex, NY and you’ll come across this historic 1826 structure. Designed by architect Benjamin Gilbert, the school served the population around the local, growing sawmills. The octagon was later popularized by Thomas Jefferson at Poplar Forest (read more here from AARCH). Today the building is owned by the town and open for tours by appointment. Many original features remain in this octagonal schoolhouse. The community is undertaking a fundraiser to raise money for restoration of the building. Read more here. And there’s an old set of swings, too. Take a look!
Somehow I missed this floating through the waves of the internet in recent weeks, but it is still worth sharing. And if you haven’t seen it, make sure you check it out.
The current HISP405 students in the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Mary Washington composed and created a music video for their final project. Their professor, Andi Smith (a fellow UVM HP alum), shared the project on her blog. Andi writes this:
It’s no secret that HISP405, the preservation capstone course, is a beast. We cover Cultural Resource Surveys, preservation planning issues, and then top it all off with theNational Register. To lighten the mood a little after what is always a very tough semester, I encourage students to make their final presentation a humorous one. They get points for content, of course, but also for making me and their classmates laugh. In past years, I’ve had pretty much everything: gameshows, poems, fairy tales, props, costumes, accents, you name it. Videos, too. One particular video made it big (or at least big for preservation) on the internet yesterday. Here it is:
Awesome job, Mary Washington. You guys are on to something! You make me proud. And thank you for including Prof. Gary Stanton. Made my day! (If you know of other preservation music videos in existence, please share.)
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.
I is for Infill
Infill can refer to replacing a previous building that was demolished or filling a previously empty lot. Whether the building removed was historic or not, whether the lot was occupied or free of structures, when considering new structures in a historic district or adjacent to historic properties, what goes in that lot is just as important as (or sometimes more important than) what was previously there. Infill is about appropriate, complementary architecture. Infill does not have to be nondescript and completely subservient to existing structures, but it should not confuse historic and new development, nor should it detract from the integrity of a historic structure. It can take cues from the existing architecture, in terms of massing, materials, height, street frontage, etc.
Why do historic preservationists care about new structures? Simply stated, new structures have the power to affect the historic integrity of the surrounding historic environment. In the historic preservation field, we talk about existing structures and the seven characteristics that comprise historic integrity. One of those characteristics is setting. Setting illustrates place, its visual elements telling the story of a place. If a building’s surroundings are altered and the result is incompatible with the historic resources, then the integrity of those resources is diminished.
Imagine a strip mall or big box drug store (or chain restaurant, etc) replacing a three story brick building block in town, or being constructed adjacent to one, even just outside a historic district. Generally speaking, this would not be compatible. A downtown building block will have sidewalks and street parking perhaps, whereas a big box drug store most often has a large parking lot and a standard corporate image to its construction.
Appropriate infill allows our environment to be cohesive. It considers each place individually and allows that location to retain its visual integrity, which fosters sense-of-place. A good sense of place improves people’s appreciation of the environment, interaction with surroundings, and the livability of a community.
When referring to a historically significant property, do you say that it is listed “on the National Register of Historic Places” or “in the National Register of Historic Places?”
Think about for a minute. Write it down. Which is your preference? Which sounds correct? Is there a correct answer? Considering how interchangeable “in” and “on” seem to be in relation to the National Register, it may seem like either one is correct. While both tend to be accepted, there is a right answer.
“In the National Register” is the proper phrase.
The National Park Service National Register Bulletin says this, “Properties listed in the National Register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.”
And consider this. The Register is a list. Properties are in that list, among other properties – a part of something (the register). They are not on the list. Think of it like a group of properties or in a crowd of properties – in that group, not on that group. Make sense? Would anyone care to parse this discussion further?
What’s your success rate with “in” or “on” and where did you learn the difference?
Previous Preservation Grammar posts:
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 more detailed information read the Mount Van Hoevenberg Olympic Bobsled Run National Register Nomination. Even pictures are included on this digitized NR!
Buildings, structures, objects, sites, and districts are nominated to the National Register of Historic Places based their significance and integrity (of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association) pertaining to 1 or more, of 4, criteria, which are:
A. That are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
B. That are associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or
C. That embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
D. That have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.
However, some properties do not fit these categories, for which there are criteria considerations:
a. A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or
b. A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or
c. A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building associated with his or her productive life; or
d. A cemetery that derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or
e. A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or
f. A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or
g. A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.
Regardless of how you are nominating a property to the National Register, you must include a narrative description and a statement of significance, essentially making a case for the property. When you are nominating under one of the criteria considerations as well (a-g above) you must have a separate statement in which to discuss your argument.
I was thinking about the National Register eligibility of the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall in Ferrisburgh, VT (see comment by Sabra Smith) while at a square dance there this past weekend. The back story necessary for this is that the Ferrisburgh Grange Hall was just about to undergo a large restoration project in 2005, when it was burned to the ground by arson. Rather than start with a brand new building or something else, the town elected to move forward with a full-scale reconstruction. (Note: there is a much more detailed version of this story here and here.)
While sitting on the balcony/second floor of the grange hall, I began to wonder if this building were on the National Register. (I do not know – do you?) And I wondered if it should be. By the definition, “accurately executed in a suitable environment…” it is appropriate. Though this building is not yet beyond the 50 year mark. (Note: there is not a 50 year rule. It is more of a guideline, but if less than 50 years it needs to be explained.)
However, while the building is beautiful, and accurate, and thoughtfully built… I do not feel as though I’m in a historic space when I’m in the building. The exterior can fool you for a minute or so as a historic building since it is an accurate restoration, but the inside is shiny, and incredibly clean and sharp, and just has the feeling of a new, modern, perhaps trendy building. I don’t mean that historically significant buildings have to be run down with peeling paint and scuffed floors, but feeling is such an important part; it’s the point and joy of standing in a historic building and sensing its history. Do you know what I mean?
But how you can deny the importance of this building? You cannot. And a lack of a National Register nomination doesn’t necessarily deny importance, but it indicates that the criteria do not fit this building at this time. So maybe this is the sort of building that will need at least 50 years in which to live and breathe with the community and to create its own significance, beyond that of a restoration.
I haven’t completely made up my mind. What do you think? Feel free to do disagree, of course.