Reconstruction and the National Register

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.)

Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, after arson, 2005. click for original image.

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.

The reconstructed Ferrisburgh Grange Hall, now the Town Hall. Click for original image.

 

My Road to Preservation

Recently a reader asked me about the path that led me to historic preservation academically and professionally; how did I know that preservation was my calling? It’s an excellent question, I think. Typically, historic preservationist is not something you write for “When I grow up, I want to be _________.” Normally, it’s something more tangible to kids like a doctor, a teacher, a fireman, a baseball player, a singer, etc. While I do know a handful of people who declared “historic preservationist” early in their childhood or young adult life, I was not one of them by definition. So I thought for today I would share part of my path to preservation. Readers, please share your experiences in the comments or send a post to me.

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Throughout elementary school, middle school, and much of high school, I wanted to be a writer; writing was what I truly loved and I planned to study creative writing or journalism in college. United States History claimed a close second in terms of favorites to my poetry and journalism classes. Until junior year of high school, my vocabulary did not include “historic preservation,” and yet (as cliché as sounds), when my mom came across the term “historic preservation” and showed it to me, something clicked in my head. Although I really didn’t know what it meant, historic preservation just sounded perfect. As I learned more about the Mary Washington program, I knew preservation and I fit together. Suddenly my constant questions about the history of buildings and towns and roads that we passed on our travels made sense; I would be able to study, investigate, and write about history and communities.

So that’s the very short version as to how I found myself stepping into the field of historic preservation (I could delve into childhood memories, but I’ll save it for another time). I never looked back. Why did I stay? How did I know it was meant for me, or rather, I was meant for it? Most importantly, I always believe in the ethics and the potential of historic preservation. For me, preservation is a way of life, a way of thinking, a code of social ethics and responsibility; it is not just my profession or my academic background.

More specifically, I think I have stuck with preservation due to the variety and range of applicability to so many fields. I have found myself working in the restoration department at Kenmore Plantation, conducting a three-year oral history project of Overhills, and currently working in the regulatory world. All facets of preservation stem from the same core values and lessons of historic preservation, with an underlying goal of improving quality of life by incorporating the past into the present and the future. Just look at recent changes in the approach to studying and applying historic preservation: the environment and local economies are very important allies. And by protecting and caring for community, regional, and cultural resources, the emphasis can be traced to the desire to not create Anywhere, USA.

Historic preservation is never boring; it is a field of hard work, discipline, thoroughness, communication, compromise, and optimism with a dash of reality. It is a field that allows us to research, write, and communicate about the important places and events, and how to incorporate those tangible and intangible elements into our lives.

Not everyone thinks about preservation or understands its meaning or benefits, but (based on my own observations) people seem inherently happier when they experience a subconscious feeling of history. Maybe it’s the architecture scale and massing or maybe it’s a sense of belonging and comfort, knowing that their surroundings have been shared with so many generations and people. Whatever the reason, a subliminal connection to the past goes a long way. Yet, historic preservation is not here to stop progress or to recreate the past, but instead it means to shape a better, brighter future and to save us from our quick-paced, of-the-moment society (which is nothing new).

This is why I am a preservationist: because I care to think like this. There will always be people who dismiss historic preservation and cannot recognize the field’s good work, but that is alright. Not all of us crunch complicated mathematical equations or cook a gourmet meal or cure illnesses, but we are all connected and can benefit from one another in some way. Being a historic preservationist is my contribution to this world, no matter which avenue of preservation work I travel.

Now, readers, why are you preservationists? How did you decide on the field? Did you find preservation or did it find you? Please share for those readers who may not be so sure. Perhaps your answers are more specific than mine.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of My Road to Preservation — next time talking about going the route of graduate school.

A Love Letter

Dear Vermont,

It’s been just over one year since I moved here. Last year when I arrived in the tiny apartment, my first thought upon seeing just how much room the contents of the car (not even the storage unit) occupied of the living room, was along the lines of oh my gosh; what did I do? But one week later accompanied by nonstop cleaning, painting, and organizing, and the apartment turned into an adorable home and so began life in Vermont.

Back in summer 2008, I visited Burlington on my to Thousand Island Park, and the total time here was less than 24 hours, but I loved it and sighed at the fact that I wasn’t planning to move to Vermont. Little did I know that less than one year later I’d be excitedly sporting a University of Vermont t-shirt as I trekked up north from the Carolinas. On the drive up in June 2009, I’ll never forget the striking beauty of the blue sky and the green mountains and the peaceful vibe I felt.

Much of time from September – May was spent only in Burlington, in my circle from the apartment to Wheeler House to the library to the gym and back. Occasionally class projects brought me to Montpelier and the barn census project offered a nice venture to Windham County. Running along beautiful Lake Champlain in all of the seasons fed my love of Vermont.  Other than those few places, I hadn’t been out much. I did know that I was very happy to be here; but, it wasn’t until June 2010 as I headed south on Route 12 to Woodstock that I realized my deep love for Vermont. I realized I was in love with you, Vermont. Of course, I’ve loved other states and want to visit them again (like South Dakota), but never have I felt so attached to a particular state in such a short period of time and truly wanted to live there. I love driving anywhere in the state (save for Burlington traffic congestion) and everywhere is beautiful. As I spend more and more time in Addison County for work, my adoration only grows. I think the view from Chimney Point Historic Site is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of gazing at Vermont scenery.

Technically, I’ll never be a true Vermonter (that takes somewhere around seven generations), just a transplanted flatlander, but I don’t mind. I’m happy to have lived four states before Vermont. I have Vermont to thank for curing my geographic commitment phobia. You see, I never yearned to stay in one place for a long time; I always had my next move planned and my dreams of living way out in the cowboy west. However, now I’d be more than content to stay in Vermont for a very long time. The rolling hills, sparkling Lake Champlain, the blue skies and green mountains over the farms and villages, the landscaped has captured my heart. When I leave, even for a short while, I miss Vermont. There’s so much to see and I look forward to continued travels throughout the state. Vermont, you’re quirky and green and always a surprise, and I am proud to live here.

Thanks for a good first year, Vermont.

Love, Kaitlin

The Core of Preservation

What do you think is at the core of preservation? Do you think of houses, architectures, places, or something else? In my response post last week, I quoted Emily Koller from her blog post, which said that, “Historic preservation at its core is about possessing the emotional capacity to care about a place. Young people, as a whole, are not interested in preservation because we are mostly numb to the places in which we live.”  In the comments section, “kvl” mentioned that the idea of the core of preservation seemed interesting from an anthropological point of view. (Feel free to elaborate!)

I would say I agree with the first part of Koller’s statement — possessing the emotional capacity to care about a place. But, as I stated already, I certainly do not agree with the latter half of her statement, which is why I ask you, readers, how you define or identify the core of preservation.

Aside from caring about a loving a place, I see the core of preservation as quality of life (something else that I’ve often mentioned). A preservationist must understand that every place has a story and it is important to someone, even if the preservationist does not have an attachment to it. As preservationists we are working to give everyone the opportunity to honor their history and memories, while incorporating it into their daily lives with the end result of improving quality of life. Thus, the core of historic preservation for me reaches far beyond my own connections or lack thereof to a place.

Of course, you don’t have to agree with me or anyone else, but I’m interested in how preservationists identify their work — what drives you? You don’t have to define the entire field and its mission, but what makes up your preservation soul? Please share, I’m very interested!

A Response to “How to Turn Young Adults Into Preservationists”

On July 1, 2010, for the PreservationNation blog , Emily Koller wrote, “The kids are all right… but they’re not becoming preservationists” and that a goal of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, under the new leadership of Wayne Donaldson (California SHPO), is to attract young people to preservation.

Immediately, I was insulted by this opening paragraph. Young people aren’t becoming preservationists? Seriously? In my recent years of experience, historic preservation in schools was growing and preservation was reaching many more people than ever before, especially as the definition and applications of historic preservation grow. Had anyone talked to the many undergraduates and graduate students studying historic preservation? Still, I continued to read to see if the statements would be justified. It did not get any better:

Koller stated, “Historic preservation at its core is about possessing the emotional capacity to care about a place. Young people, as a whole, are not interested in preservation because we are mostly numb to the places in which we live.”

I’d bet that most people I know would be appalled to be categorized as a young person who does not have the emotional capacity to care about a place. Maybe people aren’t permanently attached to their current location, but not caring about a place until we settle down in the suburbs? That’s quite the statement. I gather that Koller is referring to people who did not start as preservationists professionally or avocationally, but then find out later in life that they love their simple ranch house and all places relating to their childhood. However, the author is unclear. Is she talking about preservationists who are young people or the general population of young people? It’s much too generalized.

Perhaps this article is qualifying preservationists by the member age brackets in the National Trust and other organizations; in that case, sure, the 25-35 bracket is probably less than the others. But, we might also be the age group with the smallest income, the largest academic loans, and those trying to figure out which organizations we truly want to join. We cannot afford to join every society or non-profit group and we often cannot afford to attend the conferences due to time and financial restraints. While I love the National Trust, as a student I always found it focused on the more experienced professionals rather than the young professionals and students. My feelings have shifted a bit since the conferences I attended in 2004 and 2005, but of course, I am older now. College students, how do you feel?

Regardless of the obscured point of the article, I find it misinformed. Perhaps the recent graduates are not infiltrating the preservation job market right now, but the preservation job market isn’t exactly abundant in this current economy. The young people, the young preservationists I know, are some of the most passionate preservationists. We have yet to be jaded as some may be with decades of experience. We have a broadened definition of historic preservation and are working to integrate preservation with other fields. Young Preservation groups can be found in most large cities (Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Charleston). Our networks may not be the older networks, but we have our own and we’re trying to mingle with everyone. But as the older age brackets probably know, it’s always more fun and easiest to work with people you already know (hence, the separation of generations).

So, “How to Turn Young Adults Into Preservationists?”  The young adults are already preservationists. Of course, the field will always welcome additional preservationists. But, turning them? That sounds forced and that’s not how it goes. The better approach is finding the preservationists and allowing people to realize how preservation is already relevant to their lives. I hope that the public opinion is not the same as Koller’s blog post. Yes, it is always important to reach every age group and to keep everyone involved, harnessing the inner preservationists of those who have it. And finding the right way to connect is a necessity, which may be through mid-century architecture. But, the overall negative implications of the blog post are insulting and misinformed.

I know that I do not speak alone when I say that I became a preservationist on purpose, not by accident. I was a preservationist before I knew I was a preservationist. Historic preservation is in my soul and my being. While not everyone who works in the field has the same feelings; I’ve never had the feeling that we are losing preservationists as time progresses. Historic preservation is growing in reach and in public interest; even if it’s sometimes disguised in new terms.  Preservation will always be an uphill battle, but there are many people who willingly sign up for the challenge.

Dream Home or Perfect Location?

Who gets Preservation magazine and immediately flips to the Historic Houses for Sale section? Admit it, some of you do it. It’s not that the magazine isn’t fantastic; it’s just the draw of beautiful houses available to buy (you know, theoretically). It’s a similar thrill when perusing the Preservation North Carolina website, where all of the houses you could get for a song, as long as you rehabilitate or restore the building. Just imagine owning a beautiful house with so much potential hidden, waiting to be uncovered and cared for and loved. Or how about one of the immaculate properties featured in the magazine? We all love to imagine our dream home, right? Of course.

As I drive through Vermont and browse real estate listings for the fun of it, it leads me to ask myself: would I prefer the perfect house or the perfect location? What goes in your perfect location category? What about under the dream home category? Big house, small house, two stories, porches, floor to ceiling windows, acres and acres of property, mountain views, walking distance to the center of town, on the water, historic windows, fixer-upper, move-right-in, built in bookshelves, claw foot tub… and so on. What will you compromise on? What must be in any house you buy? For me, my house must have a front porch, lots of light, and a bathroom with a window. The perfect house: craftsman or Tudor style. The perfect location: walking distance to a small, active, viable downtown. Ah, we can dream.

So, please, write about your dream house and location!!

Loving Land from the Air

Flying over the USA heartland is always my favorite flight route. The excitement of gazing out the window distracts me from the long flight, the uncomfortable seats, and the lack of a snack. Above the clouds, the sun is so bright and beautiful; it’s a world you can only see by flying. Once the plane dips below the clouds back to earth the country appears. From 30,000+ feet above the earth, the grid and squares of the land, from the Public Land Survey, are so clear and so telling. The land was divided into townships of 36 square miles and then 1 mile squares, all based on meridians and parallels. Within each square, the shades of brown and green indicate different crops and fields and uses. Roads appears white; rivers appear bluish-brown. Towns are spaced a few miles apart, or so it seems from up so high. The land appears to pass in slow motion until another plane jets in the opposite direction, defining its 100s of miles per hour. Much of this part of the country is the perfect grid, of course with some exception and some roads that come to a T rather than a cross. Occasionally the plane will fly along an interstate, foretold by its characteristic wide lanes and clover leaf interchanges. Factories and their blowing smoke stacks and nearby reservoirs are found now and again among the farmland.

If only the plane would scroll through the names of the towns and states as we pass. Flying from DC to Denver, I imagined the route to be Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, and finally Colorado, but I can’t be sure. Regardless of the state, the towns are mostly gridded just like the survey of the land. They appear as clusters of buildings with main roads through the center from one or two points, sometimes with a highway and bypass. It fits with the land. What is always striking is the blatant shape of the new construction or sprawl in its large scale. Obviously evident from the ground by its massive, identical white vinyl houses, empty treeless yards, the developments also appear so different from the air, just as they do on the ground.

Planners, designers, developers, and others responsible may be attempting to incorporate curvilinear streets and other traditional, successful community plans, but from the air they appear as squished centipedes; their bodies the bending streets and their legs the smaller dead end side streets. Perhaps slightly more interesting than a grid, the layout will not fool me. I know these streets are dead ends and cul-de-sacs off a single main thoroughfare, maybe with sidewalks, probably with front facing garages, characteristic of the auto centric development. They might make more sense if streets met each other, enhancing connectivity, not solitude. I know that they aren’t truly walkable because you can’t walk anywhere; you always have to get in your car. Though nearby, these houses appear so isolated from the nearby towns, in such contrast from the towns that appear harmonious, organic, and in sync with themselves.

Of course, these thoughts come from my judgmental eye and my disdain for McMansion auto-centric, cookie-cutter developments in an age when we know what works and what has failed in communities. Why don’t we follow our own advice? The root of the evil is likely lazy and careless development planning, one that cannot be bothered to study actual successful communities rather than theory and nice architectural renderings.

I suppose, however you feel about the landscape from the air, the lesson is in reading the landscape. It’s a story right in front of your eyes about how the way we live is shaped by our land. Highways, byways, gridded towns, dirt roads, farmland, factories, flood plains, new construction, and sprawl – it is all in place to read and to interpret.

With the glamour of airline travel a bygone day, the story of the land is the beauty of flying cross country.

Grad School, Round Two

Here we go again. Grad school semester two began last Tuesday and my classes are pulling full steam ahead — forgot that easing into the semester week. Readings, homework, projects, field work, field trips, everything is marked in my planner. And just one glance through the next few months says that it going to be one challenging semester. Of course, a challenge is always bitter-sweet; something that is often difficult while it’s occurring, but highly appreciated and worthwhile when finished. Luckily, historic preservation tends to be enjoyable even when it’s difficult.

Last semester was often a complementary review to my undergraduate studies; by this I mean that material was familiar, but presented in a new way, one that allowed for a different approach to the subject and one that allowed me to apply my skills to new projects. This semester seems to be new material, that of which I am less familiar with and have not had an opportunity to study or practice in-depth. My courses include Historic Preservation Law, Historic Preservation Practice Methods (think Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits and National Register Nominations), Architectural Conservation I, and History on the Land (think reading the cultural landscape past to present). I am excited by the projects and research and by the vast amount of information that I will learn this semester. We first year students are also figuring out summer internships and some of us, thesis ideas.  This semester will certainly call for a lot of coffee. However, it seems that my classmates and I are up for the challenge.

Just some of my books for the semester. I had to rearrange my bookshelves, particularly to make room for those binders, which are filled entirely with course packets and reference materials.

The benefit of graduate school, aside from the obvious, is the great improvement to my preservation related library. I love receiving a new syllabus and ordering new (well new to me, but always used) books and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. So often in college I could not wait to sell back my books after final exams, unless they were preservation books. I kept those. Now I don’t get any money after final exams, but I do have a nice collection of books that interest me in and out of classes.

Stacks of other books for my classes lie elsewhere around the apartment because they do not all fit on the (many) bookshelves.

(For anyone interested in the UVM Historic Preservation Program visit the website here or read the course syllabi here.)

School related posts will appear throughout the semester. Any other preservation students want to share their semester anecdotes and lessons?

A Historic Preservation Survey

What does historic preservation mean to you? Is it a movement, a field of study, an avocation, a trade? How do you classify yourself: student, professional, amateur? Lately I’ve been wondering how people in the field view preservation and how they view themselves in the context of the field. If you can, please take the time to read the questions below and leave a comment (anonymously is fine if necessary). Choose an answer and explain. If you a reader of Preservation in Pink, your answers will interest me. I am hoping to work it into the next newsletter.  Thank you!

Question 1: What is Historic Preservation to you?

a) a field of study

b) a profession

c) a movement

d) a trade

e) an avocation

f) a lifestyle

g) more than one: list them

h) other

 

Question 2: Categorize yourself.

a) student

b) professional

c) concerned citizen

d) other

 

Please add any other comments that you feel relate to this matter.

 

A Review of Historic Preservation and Community

As people we often define ourselves within communities, often multiple communities. It does not have to be a geographic community; perhaps it’s a community by profession, by lifestyle, by activity, by genealogy, or by interests. Whatever it is, we all fit into at least one community. So it makes sense that community is a very critical aspect of historic preservation.

Historic preservation is a field and an umbrella term for many sub-fields including architectural history, planning, museum studies, archaeology, and oral history. Collectively historic preservation seeks to improve the quality of life by involving the heritage of a community with its present and future. It involves the idea that having roots in a place or at least understanding how that place evolved is what makes it important to people. How can we move forward if we do not know from where we’ve come?

Consider this: in the historic preservation world we are inevitably working for a community. Without a community, our projects would not hold value or worth because generally our work responds to a community’s needs and wants. Within a community we might be addressing how future development will impact the historic integrity of a site. The rehabilitation of a city block might inspire a chain reaction of commerce and positive development of other city blocks, bringing life back to the center. Museums, cultural events, activities, and parks can show people the beauty and value of where they live. Local businesses on Main Street keep money in the community, provide quality jobs, and keep a community unique.

Too much of America is becoming Anywhere, USA. Historic preservation is not looking to stop progress; but, rather, to encourage people to remember the characteristics that make each place unique and valuable. Theories of historic preservation often relate to a sense of place (also referred to as sense of community and pride of place).

My basic philosophy on sense of place is that if people value where they live then they will likely care for its past, present, and future. And when people take pride in their hometown, their region, etc. then quality of life improves. Yet, while the philosophies can be applied from place to place, each community will have a different definition of history and different way to express their pride. In other words, good quality of life and sense of place do not result from Disney-fication and gentrification. It results from people caring about that place and realizing that all aspects of life are connected: work, home, resources, transportation, commerce, culture, health, etc.

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Previous Preservation in Pink posts related to community:

Lessons from Jane

The 350 Project

The Best Place to Live

Upon Further Consideration

The Good Part about this Bad Economy

Preservation + Smart Growth + Environmentalism = Friends?

Abstract Communities

Gated Communities

This Place Matters

About (Preservation in Pink)