Written by Annie Gray Dixon, National Trust Intern
Whether it be insane asylums or old family homes, preservationists are all connected through their one common cause: love of preserving the past, one building at a time. Now, one young preservationist has made it her mission to save historic places by spreading awareness of buildings that have been neglected and are in danger of demolition.
Madeline Feierstein, a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, started her own nonprofit organization, Speak Up For Buildings, to “address historic preservation concerns.” Her focus right now: Henryton State Hospital, located in Eldersburg, Maryland.
Henryton was built in 1918 but first opened in 1922. Originally created to treat tuberculosis patients, it was established as the Maryland Tuberculosis Sanatorium for African-Americans and was one of the first facilities to offer equal medical treatment to its patients. It wasn’t until 1962 that Henryton was converted into a hospital to treat the mentally ill. The facility remained open until 1985; it has been abandoned ever since.
Henryton is scheduled for demolition in May of 2014. Despite the town trying to push that date forward, Madeline is working hard to speak on behalf of the buildings in her community, as well as the rest of the country, that need a voice. I was able to hear from Madeline and see just what it is about these old buildings that drives her to save them.
How did your passion for preservation begin?
I ended up just one day researching the local preservation community and was surprised how many different organizations they are. I'm a really driven person, and I was driven to do this for the rest of my life.
So how did you decide to start your nonprofit?
What led me to start my nonprofit was the fact that so many buildings are neglected and overlooked in our society. Buildings have feelings, too, in my opinion. They are like animals; they can't speak up for themselves.
Speak Up For Buildings is a cause dedicated to making the public aware of the impending dangers facing historical sites in America. Right now, Speak Up For Buildings is focused on hospitals and asylums such as Henryton, along with The Hebrew Orphan Asylum and Eastern State Penitentiary, which are located nearby.
A documentary, Behind Closed Walls, is scheduled to be released no later than September of this year on the Speak Up For Buildings blog. But in the meantime, anyone who visits the Facebook page can see the preview of this documentary.
Why asylums and hospitals?
I chose them because they are ignored by a lot of people in the communities surrounding them, and they could be used for something much greater than just sitting around. I believe they could be turned into other productive, reasonable facilities since most of them are so large.
Why specifically did you choose Henryton?
I decided to focus on Henryton because, for one, it was the closest asylum to me, as I live in Bethesda, Maryland. I saw that it was an abandoned building that needed someone to speak out for it, and fast. Sadly, it's due for demolition within the next year.
What plans do you have to continue preservation, and can you offer any advice to other young preservationists?
I want to study preservation in college and would love to work with preservation when I'm older. I would say to young preservationists that they should start getting involved by volunteering with local organizations, then build up to the "big leagues" with internships, just to put their foot in the door.
Last question: What do you love most about preservation?
It’s the capacity we have as human beings to come together and support a cause.
Annie Gray Dixon is from Edenton, North Carolina and a graduate of Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. She will be going to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in the fall and plans on pursuing historic preservation.