With Your Coffee

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Dreaming of warmer days and spring trips like those to Quebec City. Seen here: Hotel du Parlement. 

Happy weekend, everyone! Happy April! It’s snowing in Burlington, and, no, that is not an April Fool’s joke. How I wish it were. However, the snow is prettier than the barren trees and patches of brown dirt that are usually here this time of year. I suppose snow is okay for another day. A few reading links for the weekend:

  • This 12 stall barn was remodeled into a home. How did they do it? Basically, gutting it. While pretty, the new residence does not retain any historic integrity. What do you think? I was hoping they’d keep some of the stalls for something! (A pantry? A closet? A powder room?) And the doors. Sigh.
  • Are you an alum of the UVM Historic Preservation Program? If you haven’t heard about the 40th Anniversary Celebration on October 13-15, 2017, be sure to check out uvmhpalum.wordpress.com for the latest updates. It’s the perfect excuse to come back to Burlington for a visit! Spread the word.
  • This time of year in Vermont makes me miss North Carolina. Spring is well settled in by now in the south. Vermont has another 3-4 weeks before the leaves start to sprout on the tree branches. I’d say spring comes to Burlington in early May.

I really need a new podcast. Any suggestions?

Pedestrian Malls

What do you think of streets closed to traffic (pedestrian malls)? Do you like to visit places with pedestrian malls? Would you like to live in a town or city with a pedestrian mall? They have a time and a place, yes?

Church Street in Burlington, VT is lined in brick and cars are only on the cross streets.

Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont is an excellent example of a successful pedestrian mall. Restaurants have outdoor seating. There is public art. Retail stores have actual sidewalk sales. Musicians sit on the brick lined street and play. Kids, couples, families stroll up and down the pedestrian mall. It’s beautiful and sunny and ambient. However, Church Street has not always been like this. Just a few decades ago it was a traditional downtown which had gone downhill until 1981 when Burlington began to reinvent itself, including Church Street. (Disclaimer: there is more history to downtown Burlington than that!)

But, pedestrian malls are not always successful. Look at Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC, which was converted to a pedestrian mall in 1976 in hopes of revitalizing the city. Instead, it had the opposite effect. In fact, the street was less populated and less popular than ever. Finally, in 2005, the city decided to return the street to vehicle and pedestrian use rather than just pedestrians.  However, the new plan included wider sidewalks, street furniture, plantings, wayfinding signage and a plan for additional development. The current result? Success.

Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, NC with wide sidewalks and street planting and furnishings. Image via Metro Jacksonville. Click for source.

Charlottesville, VA has a pedestrian mall as well that seems successful. And it has the giant chalkboard, if you recall.

Charlottesville, VA pedestrian mall and community chalkboard.

The best examples for pedestrian malls that I can think of lie in cities with a strong population base of college students and/or tourism. Aside from big cities, what about small towns? Could pedestrian malls work and would there be a good justification for creating them? I think of Vermont towns with small main street business districts. Many of our towns have one or two through roads, and converting a street to a pedestrian mall would not seem feasible. A park or a courtyard or a side street; however, could be another story. Additionally, many towns have limited parking and sidewalk space. A large sidewalk to accommodate seating, shopping, walking and street furnishings is just not possible.

What if we consider daily shopping v. tourism shopping? Ideally, our main streets and business districts across the country have restaurants, retail, pharmacies, markets and overall a good combination of – shall we say – those every day sorts of businesses and those fed by tourism and our “expendable” incomes.  In a business district that caters to the town itself rather than tourism and large crowds, a pedestrian mall would seem improbable and inappropriate. One reason is parking. People who need to stop at the pharmacy or the bagel shop or the bank want to be able to park in front of or near the building, and not have to walk from a parking garage or a far away spot in order to run a quick errand or two. Hence, pedestrian malls have a time and place. Small town America may not be the place.

Does anyone know of a town with a small main street business district that has been converted to a pedestrian mall? I’d be interested to know. While pedestrian malls are aesthetically pleasing, they seem ideal in warmer climates or those with large business districts that will attract many people. I’d like to hear a debate on pedestrian malls, one given by planners who have studied such issues and weighed the pros and cons and the factors at play. Are any of you readers skilled in such discourse? Care to give a brief overview of what is important to consider for the creation (or removal) of pedestrian malls?

So, readers, tell me your thoughts on pedestrian malls and parking in front of businesses? What do you think is preferable in theory? In practice?

Overhills Revisited

Overhills will forever remain a beloved memory of mine and a peaceful bubble of a world in the rural sandhills of North Carolina. I may not have lived or visited Overhills during its life as an active hunting retreat or family retreat, but I had the honor and pleasure of working for the buildings and the people who inhabited and loved Overhills. There was  a point in time when I thought that there would never be a day when I did not think of Overhills; but, years have passed since my oral history work finished and it now seems like a dream, like another world. My thoughts on Overhills are spaced further apart, but no less meaningful. The place, the people, the project have helped to define who I am. (The oral history project report can be accessed and downloaded through Fort Bragg.)

Aside from the Overhills Oral History Project, the property was documented under the Historic American Landscape Survey for the Library of Congress as the Overhills Historic District. (Read the HALS report.)Many of the records have been digitized: photographs of Overhills, floor plans, landscape plans, historical research. Not everything is digitized yet, but it is enough to trigger memories as I browse through the collection. Take a look with me.

Nursery Road, one of the roads through Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-26. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills approach road to the Hill. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-15. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Overhills polo barn. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-16. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Croatan, a house at Overhills. Photograph credit: HALS NC-3-8. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

These pictures remind me of the drive to and through Overhills, walking the grounds through the long leaf pines, exploring and attempting to learn as much as I could about the layout and landscape, piecing together historical research & oral history, visiting the houses and barns and imagining Overhills in its heyday.

Sadly, today, Overhills continues to deteriorate and/or suffers from vandalism. It pains me to hear of another building that has caught fire or to come across current Overhills pictures scattered across the internet that show the state of the place. It is incredibly sad, amplified by the fact that I know the stories and the history and the people of Overhills. Eventually, I’ll stop randomly searching for Overhills photos on search engines.

However, the HALS photographs and documents, in addition to the oral history project products, allow the good memories to stay with me. So I continue to look through the documentation. I don’t want to forget anything I know about Overhills. I’m sure my reaction time to specific questions – probably those found in the Overhills archives – is delayed from a few years ago, but that’s okay. I remember the bigger pictures. While my preference is preservation and rehabilitation instead of mitigation, I understand the importance and strength of proper and creative documentation because of this project. No matter which memory strikes me, I am reminded of the significant and unique story of Overhills, and how much I love(d) it.

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Other posts about Overhills: 3 Hours in the Life of an Oral Historian. Carolina Day. Another Day in the Field. My Ode to Oral History. Overhills by Jeffrey D. Irwin & Kaitlin O’Shea. Oral History & Me? It’s Complicated. Overhills Book Release. Johnny. Those Unknown Photograph Subjects. Why They Don’t Let Me Outside. Time Travel Wish. Voice as a Powerful Primary Source.

Preservation Photos #109

A rare snowfall in Southern Pines, NC, as seen from the streets of the historic downtown in January 2009.

Wednesday Thankfulness

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and here at Preservation in Pink, each day of the week will be dedicated to a different subject of preservation thankfulness.

Monday Thankfulness. Tuesday Thankfulness.

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Today I am thankful for memories. Memories forge connections with places and those places become important to us. Good memories, nostalgic memories, make our hearts swell and give us a sense of peace. They give us a fond story to tell over and over and images to recall when passing through. Memories keep us grounded, remind us who we are and where we came from; they provide hope and comfort and guidance. Without our individual and collective memories, we would not know what was important to our ancestors or what might be important to our descendants.

Long Island, NY beaches hold some of my favorite memories.

The long leaf pines of the Sandhills Region in North Carolina.

Memories should always include a cute kitten. Here's a baby Izzy.

Take time to wax poetic on your memories and be grateful for them. They’ve made you who you are.

The Upside of Interstates

The Eisenhower Interstate System began in June 1956, and changed the American landscape and culture forever. For much of my preservation life, I have only thought of the negative side of the interstate system. Interstates bypassed small town America, fueled sprawl, encouraged poorly designed developments at exits … basically everything that ruined America. Need a small town America sob story? Watch the Pixar movie Cars. It tugs at my preservation heart strings and makes the interstate the devil.

Driving up and down I-95 never helped, either. It is not a pretty interstate, particularly between New York and Virginia. The only positive associations I had associated with the interstate were the entertaining billboards for South of the Border and Ron Jon’s in Cocoa Beach, FL. However, while they were entertaining, they certainly did not help the scenery. Driving through Virginia and the Carolinas always showed glimpses towns that seemed to be split by the interstates — houses and old town centers just sitting on the side of the road.

My opinion of the interstate began to change in 2006 when I took a road trip with my mom and sister. We drove across South Dakota on I-90 and loved every bit of it. Yes, there were many billboards (think Wall Drug!)  but we loved the drive because of the new scenery and big Midwestern sky. Still, I knew what the interstates did to towns across America. There is no denying that small towns suffered and died and the pace of American life grew faster. We all changed. My opinion of the interstate was quite complicated by now, as I had traveled on the decommissioned Route 66 and read the harrowing effects of the interstates.

I recall driving from Southern Pines, NC out to Wilmington, NC and passing through “future corridors” of an interstate. A slow country highway was going be an interstate even though we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and these little crossroad towns would be forgotten. It hurt to think about. So, in general, I did my best to avoid the interstates – especially on road trips.

But, then I moved to Vermont. Our interstates do not have billboards. I-89 is beautiful, scenic and green. There is barely any traffic and I love driving on I-89. Once I started working on project reviews with the Agency of Transportation, I began to understand the benefit of interstates. This high speed road allows people to work far away from where they live. Vermont is a small state and some drive 75 miles each way. On the interstate, that’s not much more than a one hour drive — an easy one hour drive without traffic. This enables me to visit project sites, as well.

The biggest realization and change in my interstate opinion is that while interstates funnel much of the traffic away from village centers, they are also protecting the smaller state roads. In Vermont, many of our small towns have building directly adjacent to the road — practically on the road. Increased traffic often means upgraded safety standards, which equates to widening the roadways. If every state highway or smaller road had to be widened, then these buildings would be in the footprint of the road and severely affected or demolished.  And yes, the interstate system did cause destruction to the landscape and cultural resources, it is important to keep in mind that as preservationists we are also managing present actions with respect to the future. Thus, protecting the existing resources is important, and the interstates help in their own manner. For those who are commuting, the interstate is often the best route of transit; whereas we hope that travelers take the “blue highways” and appreciate the historic and cultural assets of Vermont.

My complicated feelings about the interstate will continue.  How about you?

Good resources for history of the interstate system are FHWA – Eisenhower Interstate System and the Interstate Highway System in Tennessee.

Kathleen Harriman Mortimer

Today the New York Times ran the obituary of a woman named Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, the daughter of W. Averell Harriman.

Kathleen Harriman Mortimer, 1946. Source: NY Times February 21, 2011. Click for original source.

Kathleen Mortimer died at age 93 at her home in Arden, NY.  Throughout the course of her life she was journalist, a United States ambassador to Moscow, traveled with her father abroad to important political events such as the Yalta conference, among many other accomplishments.

The obituary caught my attention because of my association with Mrs. Mortimer from my days of Overhills Oral History research. The Harriman family had a cottage on Overhills property; Averell Harriman, along with Percy Rockefeller, were important figures in the 1910s and 1920s of Overhills history.  Kathleen and her sister visited Overhills when they were babies and toddlers. You can see a picture of Averell Harriman and his daughters on the Harriman Cottage porch on page 109 of the Overhills book (Arcadia Publishing, 2008).

I spoke with Kathleen Mortimer on the phone a few times throughout 2006-2009 about her brief time at Overhills. She sounded like a classy, interesting woman. At the time, I had no idea of her impressive life adventures. It was honor to speak with her. I extend my sympathies to the Harriman and Mortimer families on their loss of Kathleen.

Preservation Photos #70

At the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC, January 20, 2009.Photograph by Kaitlin O'Shea.

Contrary to current weather patterns, when we lived in North Carolina, it snowed only once — at least, I only had one snow day from work. And those few inches that we got on January 20, 2009, transformed the entire town into a beautiful winter wonderland. This picture was taken on the property of the Weymouth Center, the location of the historically significant Boyd House. I love that property and this tree.

Preservation Photos #16

The haunted Gimghoul Castle (originally Hippol Castle) in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Click on the image to read the ghost story.

Thanks to Maria Gissendanner for sending the photograph and the link.