Halloween: a Preservationist’s Favorite Holiday

Jack-o-Lantern

It may still feel like summer, but the leaves are starting to turn and Halloween costumes and candy are starting to show up in the seasonal aisle of grocery stores. A preservationist can’t help but be excited. Why? Let’s face it: if there ever was a holiday for preservationists, it’s Halloween. The kids down the street are dressing up as people and characters from other cultures and eras… princesses of Europe and pirates of the 1700s Caribbean continue to be popular choices. Sure, maybe they chose a Disney interpretation, but on that night, everyone has their mind on another time or land. We are all getting excited about cultures and, well, history. And in a way, just by thinking about it, we’re preserving it.

What about that haunted house on the edge of town? Halloween is spooky because we have a heightened awareness of all the people who came before us. It’s mostly haunted by your imagination of those who preceded you down those halls. Imagining people in dwellings is what gets us preservationists excited. So this Halloween, indulge your imagination and enjoy the display of history!

Keep your eye out for Adventures in Preservation‘s October newsletter on the burgeoning field of cemetery preservation. Not signed up for our newsletter? Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!

Happy October.

Conservation in Canada: Adaptive Re-use of Company Houses at Cape Breton

Cape Breton historic lighthouse travel Nova ScotiaNoted for its culture and scenic beauty, Cape Breton of Novia Scotia, Canada, has long been a destination for tourists (just check what National Geographic has to say). Off the northeast edge of North America, Cape Breton may look isolated and desolate, but it has seen centuries of history. John Cabot reportedly visited the island in 1497, a visit which is commemorated in the naming of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail (which is over a hundred miles long). Since then, Cape Breton has seen Portuguese fishermen (sixteenth century), French colonizing (seventeenth century), and in the last few centuries, coal mining and steel-manufacturing.

Recent history, however, is a sad story. The century-old “company houses” of Cape Breton have fallen into disrepair. In fact, they made the Heritage Canada Foundation’s 2010 list of the 10 most-endangered historic places in Canada. But help is on the way.

Adventures in Preservation is one of several important groups working together to save the houses. AiP is partnering with Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia Community College, the HomeMatch program, and community members in a project called Historic Housing for the Near Homeless.  Connections formed with schools and students have proved invaluable as collaboration continues; students who worked on previous AiP projects have stepped into leadership roles in this new one.  (See the Cairo, Illinois, project, “Creating Affordable Housing From Shotguns”.)

historic house undergoing preservation and reuse as affordable housing Cape Breton

One of the houses benefiting from this new preservation project Photo: Tom Urbaniak

The house the AiP team will be working on is located in the Kolonia section of Whitney Pier, a multicultural community established in the early 1900s around the former Sydney steel plant. There homes were constructed from the dismantled Breton Hotel, which housed the workers who built the steel plant in 1899-1902. Preservation of the company houses is a nod to an important piece of Cape Breton’s history. This project will also provide affordable, durable, adaptive re-use homes for local families at risk of homelessness.

Take this exciting opportunity to join in the efforts! Learn more and join the project at our “upcoming adventures” page!

— Susie Trexler

One Tome or Two? Tea with a Side of History

historic buildings Bristol England

A "folly" built in the 1700s remembers an era when castles were actually lived in. Blaise Castle, Bristol. Photo: Susie Trexler

England is a country steeped in history. You can hardly walk a hundred feet without running into something that is older than the United States. In Europe, this is average. To a Nevadan (a state since 1864), this is fascinating. On my flight home I was sitting next to a young man from Stockholm, Sweden, who confessed that his parents had just bought a summer house that was three hundred years old.

And that was normal. Adaptive re-use of historic structures seems to be a burgeoning trend in the United States, where buildings are for the first time phasing out of their original uses. In Europe, adaptive re-use is not a preservation choice, it’s a lifestyle.

adaptive reuse, trail conversion, England heritage travel

A canal tow-path has become a walking and bike trail for locals and visitors. Near Bath, England. Photo: Susie Trexler

Reusing buildings that are already there is a given. They’ve served several different purposes since their construction; what’s adding another?

On my visit to Bradford-on-Avon, we ate at a tea house  – the Bridge Tea Rooms – that has been standing (impressively) since 1675. The building had the appearance of being duct-taped together with pieces of metal. When we stepped inside we were offered space upstairs. I was not only impressed that the second floor could sustain a group of five, I was giddy at the thought of being in a building that was 336 years old. If there is anything that old on the West Coast of the United States, I can assure you it’s off-limits. You can’t touch it, and you certainly can’t use it.

historic buildings, Bath England travel

A 18th century statue commemorates the earlier Roman presence in Bath, England. Photo: Susie Trexler

The tea and scones at the Bridge were delicious, but I will always remember the building, itself. There is forever a debate in preservation, whether it is best to stop the historic clock to preserve its gears or keep it running… whether to let people walk on floors, touch things, use things. There is something to be said for continued use: these buildings were meant to be used, and it’s only through their use that you can fully appreciate them and the history they have witnessed. In a way these buildings have become windows, windows that let us leaf through the pages of history.

Author Susie Trexler is an ace intern at Adventures in Preservation.

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.

The Devil is in the (Architectural) Details

I find historic houses visually striking for many reasons, but primarily because of the detail they contain. A nice set of dentils along a cornice line, complex window and door surrounds, and shutters all add a sense of solidity to a house. In comparison, most new tract houses don’t have those details and, to my eye, always seem to be missing a little something.

Parlor of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Parlor of the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

Of course maintaining these details – which are often wood and therefore need to be painted regularly – is an unending chore and needless to say, an act of love . There’s a reason why aluminum siding is laid right over exterior detailing!

Maintaining interior architectural details takes just as much effort, and after a hundred years or so, layers of paint can build up and some of the finer detail can get lost. Then it’s dilemma time for the preservationist. Do you want to strip the paint completely and repaint to end up with a nice crisp finish, or merely remove loose and failed paint, leaving a patina – a trail of history – as you apply the newest coat of paint?

This issue is one of several being addressed at Adventures in Preservation’s latest project at the Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum in the Bronx, New York. (Previous projects at the site have focused on restoring garden walkways.) Volunteers will be working with an architectural conservator to undertake a historically sensitive restoration of the house’s interior shutters. They will also receive instruction and guidance in removing lead paint and discuss other relevant curatorial, preservation, and environmental issues.

The Bartow-Pell Mansion and Garden

The Bartow-Pell Mansion

The Greek Revival Bartow-Pell Mansion, a National Historic Landmark owned by the City of New York and operated by the Bartow-Pell Conservancy, dates from approximately 1842. Designed by an unknown architect, it graces the shores of Pelham Bay, the last of the country houses in the area.

Learn more:

Shutter Shop on Shore Road – An Adventure in Preservation

Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum

How to Spend a Summer Becoming a Preservationist

Summer is just around the corner and with it opportunities for students to gain some professional experience in their chosen field. If your field is historic preservation, heritage conservation or some other related aspect, there are plenty of organizations that could use your help –  and help you kick-start your preservation career.

Preservation can be a particularly challenging field to enter. Given the small size and specialized nature of the field, it’s often difficult to get a job without experience and it’s hard to get experience without finding a job. For that reason, internships have been a mainstay of preservation training for years. Internships provide a boost to non-profit organizations that can use the staffing and energy young preservationists provide, and sometimes turn into permanent positions.

If you’re casting about for ways to gain some preservation experience, here are a few pointers. Of course, there’s plenty of opportunity for hands-on preservation work with Adventures in Preservation!

The National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Program is  the granddaddy of them all. Begun with the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Survey (HAER), it has expanded to include to include the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) and Cultural Resources Geographic Information Systems (CRGIS). Their mission is preservation through documentation, and each summer, they hire research and documentation teams. The programs last 12 weeks, beginning in May or June. The resulting documentation is placed in the Library of Congress. Employment is limited to US citizens; the application deadline is generally early February.

International opportunities are available via the US/ICOMOS international exchange program, which provides opportunities for young preservationists to work with international organizations. The program has been running for 25 years and has placed 600 professionals in preservation organizations. US volunteers have worked in Australia, Italy, Lithuania, Pakistan, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, among many others. Interns from outside the US often work at or with units of the National Park Service.

The program is very competitive. At a minimum, applicants must have an undergraduate degree in a preservation-related field. While there are no age restrictions, the program is designed for those nearing the end of their graduate programs (usually second year students) or those who have been working professionally for 1-3 years.

Good online sources for internship opportunities – and jobs – include PreservationDirectory.com and PreserveNet. Recent postings there included a Building Preservation/Restoration Intern, Stratford Hall, in Stratford, Virginia, and Historic Preservation Intern, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, in Jacksonville, Florida.

Check with your local or statewide preservation organization and see if they would welcome an intern. The advantage of this approach is the ability to define your own project. Initiative could lead to some very interesting projects.

Whatever you decide to do with your summer this year or next, I hope it’s a good one!

Virginia is for History Lovers

Ships docked at Historic Jamestown Settlement, founded 1607

One of the United States’ original Thirteen Colonies, the Commonwealth of Virginia is rich in culture and heritage both old and new.  The Middle Atlantic state is often referred to as the “Old Dominion,” an apt nickname speaking to its influential legacy in the national narrative.  Over 400 years since the establishment of the renowned Jamestown Colony, Virginia is indeed a genealogist’s paradise, with some of the oldest records capturing the lives of the nation’s first citizens preserved both tangibly and intangibly.  Churches and courthouses, barns and bridges dot the landscape–visible, tangible reminders of Virginia’s long social, economic, and religious history.  Yet where these structures no longer stand, there are other signs – literally – indicating prior existence and significance.

Traveling along scenic state routes and winding country roads, visitors cannot ignore the hundreds of black-lettered, silver-painted historical highway markers.  These informational plaques installed by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources serve to commemorate important people, places, events, and institutions in local, state, and national history.  First erected in 1927 and now numbering over 2,200, they offer contextual evidence and a glimpse into Virginia’s distant and more recent past.

Virginia's historical markers are maintained by the Department of Historic Resources

Virginia’s Middle Peninsula features 90 historical highway markers scattered throughout its six counties.   The majority of markers are grouped into specialty themed tours emphasizing a certain element of the Middle Peninsula’s history, for example, American Revolution, Native Americans, Civil War, Homes, and People.  The tours allow history lovers to engage with the local history according to individual interests: by following Francis Bacon’s path as he prepared his rebellion; by admiring former residences of early-18th century Virginians; by recognizing the historical contributions of native cultures and peoples; and more.  Whether in search of a specific plaque or just passing through on the way to sunny Virginia Beach, visitors are able to engage with history on a personalized basis and any way they desire

AiP Volunteers at the 1930 Edge Hill Service Station, Gloucester, Virginia

Between May 20-28, 2011, Adventures in Preservation will partner with archaeologists from the Fairfield Foundation to restore a building from Gloucester’s history and part of our shared heritage, the 1930 Edge Hill Service Station.  Preservation work on this iconic landmark, one of the original Texaco gas stations built in Virginia and a remnant of America’s early automobile age, will remind history lovers that elements of recent 20th century past are fast deteriorating as well.  The upcoming project, Glazing at the Gas Station, will allow volunteers to experience historic preservation first-hand as they help to restore the windows’ original appearance with clean, environmentally friendly materials. Caring for historical sites through hands-on participation and exhibiting a commitment to Gloucester’s community heritage in the form of sustainable historic preservation is at the heart of our mission.

Rosewell Ruins, former home of the Page family and testament to 18th century colonial architecture

When not assisting trained professionals with this important preservation work, volunteers will have an opportunity to experience the area’s rich, diverse architectural and archaeological heritage.  Throughout the week group field trips are scheduled to visit Gloucester’s Downtown Historic District, of which the gas station is a part; the Fairfield Plantation Archaeological Site; Werowocomoco, the home of Pocahontas; and the Rosewell Ruins.  In addition, AiP volunteers will be treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of Colonial Williamsburg, where Staff Archaeologist Meredith Poole will explain ongoing archaeological and curatorial work at the site.  The tour will mark the end of this AiP project but for many will inspire a lifelong appreciation of the Old Dominion’s remarkable heritage.