Announcing: Adventures in Preservation Historic Building Photo Contest!

Do you have a historic building that is more than just walls and a roof to you? Maybe you’ve spent your life with it and know it floor to ceiling, or maybe you’ve only seen it in passing but are intrigued by its architecture and age. 

With Adventures in Preservation’s Historic Building Photo Contest you can share your favorite historic structure with other history lovers.

AiP is dedicated to the preservation of historic structures in the U.S. and around the world. This contest will help save our amazing and diverse architectural heritage, which we are losing with each passing year.  This is your chance to contribute to the cause and share your special building’s story.

The contest is simple.  To enter just snap a picture of the historic building you love.  Send it to with an explanation of 200 words or less, explaining the building’s history and why it means so much to you.  Your photograph should have a minimum size of 200KB and minimum 72 DPI. Entries will be judged by a panel of professional photographers.  First, second, and third place photographers will be awarded prizes – 30%, 20%, and 10% respectively off their next AiP trip! – and their photographs will be displayed on our website. 

Share your vision of the world!

Begin submitting 8/1. Deadline for entries is 8/31.  Winners will be announced 9/20.

Haitian tragedy highlights traditional treasures

Haiti’s 2010 earthquake lasted only 30 seconds but proved so disastrous the country’s loss cannot be measured. While the rubble of destruction and tragedy still litters Haitian landscape and memory, some surprising victors stand stylishly among the collapsed concrete: Gingerbread houses.

Not the Christmastime confections. Not the cutesy Martha’s Vineyard constructions (closer, though!). Turn-of-the-century structures unique to Haiti, the Gingerbreads were nicknamed by 1950s tourists for their architectural flourishes and intricate, lively details. The Gingerbread style is an amalgamation of international styles, but the Gingerbreads were built in Haiti – for Haiti.

The detailed funk and flair inspired the Gingerbread name, but the major architectural features make these buildings  specific to Haiti. High ceilings let hot air rise and residents breathe easier. Large, tall windows and doors can be opened for cool cross breezes or shut and shuttered to protect against stormy tropical weather. The designs of the Gingerbreads are so mindful of Haiti’s natural conditions that executive director of the Haitian Education and Leadership Programme, Conor Bohan, praises them for embodying “green designs 100 years before the green movement” and inherently being “extremely efficient.”*

On top of anticipating the “green movement,” the Gingerbreads also anticipated the “local movement.” While the designs incorporate elements from all over the globe, Gingerbread materials – usually a combination of timber and masonry – were largely local. Unfortunately, many local materials have now been depleted (or banned from construction use due to a history of fires destroying wooden buildings). But their use in construction supported local industry and supplied builders with, for instance, wood that had developed resistance to potential damage by indigenous pests…

In addition to being pest-resistant (in some cases), the Gingerbreads were also unexpectedly and impressively earthquake-resistant. As Olsen Jean Julien, project manager for the Haiti Cultural Recovery Project recognizes, “Their architecture shows us that the people who built them had the memory of hurricanes and the first earthquake in 1770. They respected seismic codes even before they had been written.”** With local materials, and often mindfully-engineered, pliant partially wooden structures, the Gingerbreads were able to roll with the punches, sway and bend with the earthquake, and remain standing.

Without discounting the seriousness of the earthquake’s effects, Haitians might embrace the silver lining threaded throughout the country. The Gingerbreads shine with their fanciful facades, their hybrid building structures, and their representation of Haiti at its most culturally rich and cosmopolitan. They showcase the staying power of Haitian tradition, but if they are going to keep Haiti going, Haiti (and others!) must keep them going. This is the time for Haitians – Gingerbread owners and enthusiasts alike – to take charge of their heritage in the long wake of this disaster; to restore their cultural history and construct their cultural future, so that the Gingerbreads can continue in what they do best: sheltering and celebrating Haiti.

*from Architectural attention seekers by Rebecca Knight for Financial Times:

**from The Gingerbread Reclamation by Marisa Mazria Katz for Wall Street Journal:

Photo credit: Sasha Bezzubov for Wall Street Journal

Historic Buildings: Foundations of a Society

By Susie Trexler

There is a choreography to life that informs and affects our surroundings. Both man-made and natural environments are built and molded around our lifestyles. Landscapes reflect their use with the worn precision of grooves in an old road, which show decades–or even centuries–of traffic patterns. It’s like your favorite pairs of jeans: pair after pair they wear and fade in the same places. My mom always wears through one knee before the other. You don’t need to see her out in the garden or on a geology trip to know that she kneels with one knee on the ground and the other just above it; you just need to see her jeans.

Buildings are the same way. Design and patterns of use give us a fascinating glimpse at different lifestyles in different eras. In the decades before air-conditioning, American homes held the front porch in high favor: it was not only a cool place to rest in warm summer months, but it served as a buffer between the home and the outside, keeping the hottest and coldest weather beyond the front steps. In the 1950s when homes and lives became streamlined in the post-war craze for efficiency, designers cross-examined kitchen floor-plans with basic recipes and the kitchen was reformulated so it took the fewest number of steps to make a cake.

Preservation is not just saving old buildings for the future; it is a preservation of centuries of lifestyles, morals, values, and habits. Buildings can show us far more than the raw taste of their builders. They are shaped by generations and show us broad patterns as well as the habits of individuals. Essentially, buildings are not only literal building blocks, but figurative building blocks: they are important pieces of both our past and our present.

Window Glazing in Gloucester, VA

On May 22nd, happy to leave a week and a half of New England’s straight rain and gray, I hopped a plane to Virginia for my first AiP trip and my first historic preservation experience ever: a week-long window restoration project.

In Gloucester, I was welcomed not only by the warmth of the (relative) south but also the warmth of The Fairfield Foundation family and its willing volunteers. Our work started out with a bit of a bump: our window expert and project leader Phil Mark was unexpectedly unable to join us. We were left to our own devices, but we hopped the hurdle thanks to Thane and Dave’s keen memories, archaeologists’ elbow grease, and know-how.

Our mission for the week was window glazing at the Edge Hill Service Station. The service station, built on land owned by Virginia’s first African-American lawyer, was known as one of the nicest — ideal for resting and refueling one’s car as well as oneself.  Interestingly, while the men’s restroom was accessible from the building’s interior, the ladies’ restroom was accessible only from the exterior, sparing women the messy mechanics of the garage space.

This week, though, the ladies were spared none of the mess! Everyone worked on the three main windows, each with 15 panes of glass kept in place by decades-old putty and layers of paint. We tried our best to keep the original panes in tact, but often our need to be less than delicate with the gunk around the glass ended in shatters. Still, we were able to save 10 or 12 of the originals.

While our goal was to remove all of the panes, clean the windows and install new panes, the stubborn putty of the original windows did not yield to our wills (or our chisels!) as easily as we’d hoped. In the five days, we weren’t able to complete the installation of new panes. We did get a whole row of five done, though!

And that there’s installation left to be done just means that there is more opportunity for the community to get involved in the service station’s new life early on. As evidenced by the many visitors that stopped by between Monday and Friday – both expected and unexpected – the interest is definitely there. If you’re nearby Gloucester, keep tuned into The Fairfield Foundation (through their website or their facebook page) for opportunities to drop in and lend a hand!


The Fairfield Foundation, whose focus is archaeology, chose the Edge Hill Service Station for its significance in terms of Gloucester’s history and its prominence on Gloucester’s present-day Main Street. The Foundation is repurposing the space for a myriad of uses — from storage for its archaeological finds to public education activities and events.

Learning to Treasure Trenton, NJ

by Diana Riker

Trenton, New Jersey used to be a center of industry, a manufacturing giant. Its beloved Lower Trenton Bridge provides a grim reminder of this past with its slogan, Trenton Makes – The World Takes. It used to be home to hundreds of factories, supplying goods to businesses all over the country and the world.  My grandmother lived in Trenton during this time.  She and all five of her siblings once worked in its factories, proudly making contributions to the city’s economy and to their family.  Sadly, now these factories are either gone or abandoned.

The Horsham Doll factory, where my great aunt used to work making clothing, is one of these abandoned skeletons of Trenton’s past.  I visited this factory in an attempt to reconnect with not only Trenton’s past but my family’s as well since they used to live across the street from this now dilapidated factory. What I saw was disheartening. The doors are locked and chained, and graffiti decorates the brick facade. Leafless trees grow beside it, threatening to smash the remaining intact windows.  Only its faded signs provide a reminder of what it once was.

However, there is hope for some of these old factory buildings.  Several groups are working to preserve some of them.  For instance, Trenton’s old cracker factory has been preserved and turned into loft apartments. The company that performed the renovations, HHG Development Associates, is a member of the US Green Building Council and a proud supporter of Preservation NJ. Part of their company’s mission statement is to “preserve and enhance the City’s urbanity through historic preservation and adaptive re-use.”

Presently HHG is turning its attention to the Roebling Steel buildings, which will also be preserved and turned into lofts, meeting historical restoration standards. The development project is targeting individuals working in New York City and Philadelphia who find the cost of living in those cities to be too expensive.  These buildings are close to transportation and will provide residents easy access to their places of employment.

Clint Zink, the historian who wrote the original redevelopment and preservation plan for the Roebling buildings in the 1980s, is very excited about the choice of HHG as developers of the project.  This is not only because of their experience, but because they actually live in the city unlike other developers. This move towards preservation gives the city hope that it will resurrect itself. And though it’s doubtful Trenton will ever return to its former state as a manufacturing giant, it is clear that they are working towards improving the city for the future.