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Written by Anne Dodge

The Wollaston Theater in Quincy, Mass.

The Wollaston Theater in Quincy, Mass.

In my job as a circuit rider -- a person who works in the field to bring preservation programs, services, knowledge and resources to local communities -- I get to work with a wide range of historic properties all over eastern Massachusetts. However, although the properties can be very different from one another, the people who call the circuit riders tend to have a lot in common. But every once in a while, a property’s fate hinges on the participation of a racially and culturally diverse population. The Wollaston Theater is one of those properties.

The Wollaston Theater is a single-screen, classical revival-style movie theater on a bustling commercial street near downtown Quincy. Known locally as “The Wolly”, the theater operated as a first-run movie theater until the 1990’s, when it began to fall into disrepair. The Boston Globe reports that a group of individuals in the arts have entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the estate that owns the building; reportedly, the new owners intend to keep the theater in use as some type of performance or cultural center.

Since the 1980s, the Wollaston’s North Quincy neighborhood has also been home to many Chinese and other Asian immigrants. According to The Next American City, Quincy’s Asian-American population stands at around 14,000, or around 17% of the town’s total population. When I was contacted by a concerned local citizen about the theater’s recent sale, we spent much of our meeting talking not only about the theater, but about the community around it. My client worried that it would be difficult to form a collaborative, diverse coalition of advocates -– not because the theater didn’t matter to all of the neighborhood’s residents, but because she had no knowledge of any Chinese-Americans in Quincy who worked in preservation. And unfortunately, neither did I, and neither did my coworkers, although the city has no shortage of knowledgeable preservation professionals.

The doors of the Wollaston Theater.

The doors of the Wollaston Theater.

From my perspective as a circuit rider and someone relatively new to the field of preservation, the Wollaston Theater is not only a building to be saved, but an opportunity to start a conversation about the issues of diversity, relevancy, and communication that characterize the historic preservation field. The field has worked hard in recent years to broaden both its participants and the types of resources it celebrates, but there is definitely more work to be done. Riding the “circuit” around eastern Massachusetts has shown me how few new Americans are engaged with historic preservation. And I don’t believe that this is primarily because the buildings often represent Anglo-American history or because historic preservation is a luxury business, but because preservation organizations have failed to create sustained and meaningful relationships with new American individuals, groups, and organizations.

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Written by Rod Scott

The Wapsipinicon Mill, Iowa's largest historic mill, is owned and operated as a museum by the Buchanan County Historical Society.

The Wapsipinicon Mill, the largest historic mill in Iowa, is owned and operated as a museum by the Buchanan County Historical Society.

When 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties were declared disaster areas after last June’s devastating floods, preservationists jumped into action. As President of the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance (IHPA), a statewide volunteer membership organization, I traveled throughout the flood zone providing expertise, assistance, and moral support to owners of historic properties damaged in the disaster.

Iowa’s historic mills, located by necessity along the riverbanks, were hit with the full force of the floodwaters. The IHPA partnered with the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area and the Buchanan County Historical Society to bring experts from Trillium Dell Timberworks, a Knoxville, Illinois company specializing in heavy timber restoration of historic structures, to assess flood damage at three of Iowa’s historic mills.

The 1875 Wapsipinicon Mill in Independence, Iowa’s biggest and one of the largest historic mills in the Midwest, had been seriously damaged in the flood. The ground floor or meal floor, where goods were originally sacked, had uplifted and collapsed, and several of the original floor girts had washed downriver. Trillium Dell Timberworks determined that the severity of damage was significantly exaggerated by the loss of the original structural integrity of the floor system.

Norma Gates (Buchanan County Historical Society), Rod Scott (Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance), Lynn Beier (Buchanan County Historical Society), and Tim Narkiewicz (Trillium Dell Timberworks) assess flood damage at the Wapsipinicon Mill.

Norma Gates (Buchanan County Historical Society), Rod Scott (Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance), Lynn Beier (Buchanan County Historical Society), and Tim Narkiewicz (Trillium Dell Timberworks) assess flood damage at the Wapsipinicon Mill.

Perhaps because our ancestors better understood the inevitability of flooding when they built alongside the rivers, historic mills were specifically designed to withstand floodwaters. Motor Mill and Potter’s Mill, the two other historic mills assessed by Trillium Dell Timberworks, were relatively unscathed by the 2008 floods. In contrast, the meal floor of the Wapsipinicon Mill had been radically altered in 1906 when the original floor girts and posts were cut short and left unanchored to accommodate new concrete columns carrying building and machinery loads. This configuration effectively interrupted the originally well-engineered floor system, allowing the floodwaters to cause serious damage to the historic building.

The good news is that FEMA has now agreed to fund both remediation and mitigation at the Wapsipinicon Mill, and Trillium Dell Timberworks will oversee the work. Because the 1906 piers are now a part of the history of the mill, Trillium Dell Timberworks designed a mitigation plan that retains those piers while effectively restoring the structural matrix and flood-resistant design of the original meal floor. The plan also calls for all timbers and flooring to be rot-resistant white oak, as originally used in the meal floor, and to exhibit matching milling characteristics.

The partnership between IHPA, Silos and Smokestacks, the Buchanan County Historical Society, Trillium Dell Timberworks, and FEMA demonstrates that honoring historic means and methods not only preserves our cultural heritage, but is also cost effective: with the structural integrity of the floor system restored, future floodwaters are unlikely to do more than cosmetic damage to the historic Wapsipinicon Mill, allowing it to grace the riverbank for another 130 years- literally, come hell or high water!

Rod Scott is the President of the Iowa Historic Preservation Alliance.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by Amy Braun

The Hancock Village School in Vermont.

The Hancock Village School in Vermont.

The nation’s oldest operating schoolhouse, established in 1801, will close its doors late June this year.

When the building was first built, Thomas Jefferson was president. Back then, a wood-stove (not oil) was used to keep children warm. Many kids cooked their lunch potatoes on top of the wood stove while learning the three R’s right alongside their siblings. Teachers were paid for their services in cords of wood and when pencils needed to be sharpened they used a jack-knife. During the depression, no one in town had a job and the town fought to keep their school and identity alive. Times have changed.

Using the democratic process, 102 voters came together in the Town Hall in Hancock, Vermont on May 7, 2009. They held about a thirty minute discussion before voting to close the doors to their village school. Only 37 of the 102 wanted to keep the school open. The moderator announced the school had been closed, and some of the people in the room cheered and applauded. I watched, feeling sad and angry.

I am not a voter in the town so I could not speak at the meeting. This venue, an on-line blog about our country's treasures, is only my vessel for my right to speak and I am grateful to have that chance.

This was the third year we have been through this emotional process. There are two sides to this issue, absolutely no middle-road. Either a person respects and appreciates the history of the building or they don’t.

Those who want the school to remain open have remained strong for three years. This year we lost.

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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

 

Written by Dione Chen

The Free China junk is the oldest Chinese wooden sailing vessel of operable condition in the world and the last of its kind.

The Free China junk is the oldest Chinese wooden sailing vessel of operable condition in the world and the last of its kind.

The Free China junk made international headlines when it crossed the Pacific with an inexperienced crew of five Chinese fishermen and one American diplomat. The oldest Chinese wooden sailing vessel of operable condition in the world and the last of its kind, the junk sits abandoned at a Sacramento delta boatyard, and will be chopped up and burned if a new home is not found by the end of this May.

I never planned to spearhead efforts to preserve this historic vessel. But standing before it in late 2007 with my children, I thought that I must try.

Since then, I’ve traveled a steep learning curve in historic preservation – and it’s been an amazing journey.

To California by Sea – A Story of Immigration

I have a personal connection to the Free China junk. My father was one of the 1955 crew. Growing up in California, I took my father’s story of how he came to America for granted. It was not until he passed away in fall 2007 that I visited the junk along with my young children, my mother, brother and a local journalist. We found the junk a mess, and on the verge of being destroyed.

I wanted to save the junk. I believed I could. I transformed that belief into a commitment by telling the journalist to state in her article that I was going to try to save the junk. It was a thrill to see the article on the front page of the San Jose Mercury News. And so my education began…

Preservation Vision

Knowing next to nothing about historic preservation and maritime restoration myself, I founded Chinese Junk Preservation together with a small group of historians, maritime experts and friends of the Free China junk. Our vision: to preserve the junk and the story of its transpacific voyage so that they may generate public awareness and appreciation of maritime, Chinese and California history and culture. We dream that the Free China--a distinctive, once-beautiful and now rare vessel--might serve as a tribute to past generations of immigrants who have traveled by sea to come to America, and a catalyst for inspiring others to explore their rich family history before the people and memories have passed.
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The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Boston's Sites Spark Poetry and Inspiring Stories

Posted on: May 5th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Written by James Igoe

I was amazed at April 14th’s Partners in Preservation launch by the significance of the 25 projects selected for the program, ranging from the oldest—The Old Ship Meeting House in Hingham, erected in 1681—to the most recent, Boston's New England Aquarium, constructed in 1969. As the statewide non-profit, we at Preservation Massachusetts were thrilled by the great turnout at the press conference at Faneuil Hall, which included Mayor Thomas Menino and Governor Deval Patrick, both promoting historic preservation and the importance of this National Trust/ American Express partnership.

Today, a little over two weeks into the voting period, the interest in the program and the voting turnout has clearly been incredible. We’ve talked to so many individuals who are working feverishly to promote their own favorite projects. We’ve also found that one of our favorite elements of the program has turned out to be the user-generated content on the Partners in Preservation website—the personal stories that members of the public have submitted about the 25 historic places. The other day I was particularly struck by a poem that a woman had posted which described her experience touring the United First Parish Church in Quincy. It was wonderful to see that a short visit to the church was enough to inspire serious reflection and creativity.

For us, reading these personal stories makes it even more impossible to select a winner, as it drives home the worthiness of all the 25 places—they’ve all shaped countless lives. If you’d like to make our voting decisions even harder by sharing your own experiences with any of the sites, go to that place’s page under the Explore tab, click “Learn More” and then “Add your story.” We’d love to see what you contribute.

And, of course, please continue to also contribute by casting your votes every day through May 17th. What a great way to promote historic preservation and provide funding for some great properties! Hats off to the National Trust and American Express!

James Igoe is the President of Preservation Massachusetts

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.