Author Archive

What We Lost, and Gained, in the Fire

Posted on: April 15th, 2009 by Guest Writer 14 Comments

 

Written by Justin D. Sanders

At 8:45pm last Wednesday I geared up for my favorite guilty pleasure—American Idol. I sat down on the sofa and noticed a missed call on my cell phone from Lori Ann, a local high school teacher with whom I’d been working on a restoration project. I found this odd as we had spoken a few hours earlier. I was still excited from the news she had shared with me earlier that evening.

Our first visit to the site in April 2008.

Our first visit to the site in April 2008.

I’ve been working with Lori Ann, and fellow teacher Amy, for a little over a year. Some of their students had discovered a lost treasure in the old Erwin (Tennessee) Municipal Building. A performance theater filled the second floor of this 1923 building; and while time and neglect had shadowed its former beauty, the essence of the place was still there. Amy’s Key Club students felt it only right to attempt to restore this piece of town history. Others joined from the Unicoi County High School’s theater program and the library’s Teen Advisory Group. The students quickly gained support of the school board, local government, and members of the community. The group and the project were reaching critical mass, planning fundraisers and community events, and recently beginning an oral history project to raise awareness of the building’s rich history.

So it was no surprise that I was still ecstatic when she called earlier that evening to tell me another group of students had adopted the Theater Restoration Project as its focus for the community Earth Day celebration. The students, who recognized the importance of reusing historic buildings, wanted to highlight what they called “recycling on the largest scale,” with proceeds from admissions to go to the restoration effort. I assumed she had more information, so I quickly returned her phone call.

Flames ravage the historic 1923 building.

Flames ravage the historic 1923 building.

Then, everything changed. I learned that a fire had started in the municipal building and was quickly spreading. I rushed out of my apartment and made my way towards Erwin. The calls from teachers, friends, and others started flooding my phone. At this point, the story had made it to the news media, and the images were bad. When I crested a hill entering the downtown historic district, the sight I was greeted with made my jaw drop. Flames had reached the roof of the four-story building and were at least another 15 feet in the air.

I rushed to find Amy and Lori Ann, and was met with a sea of people—mostly students, with tears in their eyes watching this project which they were so passionate about light up the sky. At that moment, the tears came for me as well. I watched the walls crumble as fire crews fought the blaze, and was told I had just missed the sound of the heavy balcony falling.

In that moment, it was easy to think that all of the past year’s work was lost. What I learned, however, is that you should never count out the determination of teenagers with a passion. Students came up to us saying that the project was bigger than one building. One student had tracked down the town mayor and asked him what other vacant building in downtown they could restore for use as a performing arts space. And another student added that “we’ll come back even bigger and better than before.”

The community of Erwin lost a venue rich with history, where music performances, countless dramas, and graduations were held. They lost a physical representation of a community rallying for a cause. But my hope is that what was gained, defiance and a resolve to move forward, will far outweigh that loss.

Justin D. Sanders is the Preservation Field Services Representative for Heritage Alliance of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia

News reports on the fire:

www.johnsoncitypress.com/09/News/article.php?ID=68175
www.erwinrecord.net/Detail.php?Cat=HOMEPAGE&ID=58780

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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.

Teaching Preservation: Where Is Potters Field?

Posted on: April 9th, 2009 by Guest Writer 2 Comments

 

Time for a little guessing game. Here are your clues...

This can't be it...

This can't be it...

It's two words. When you were in high school, it was something you liked more than movie day and substitute teacher day combined. And, regardless of how old you are or what you're doing today, it will always be the ultimate solution for when you will do absolutely anything (“Hmm, we haven’t had a fire drill in a while…”) to get outside in the sunshine.

It’s a beautiful little thing known as a mid-day (or if you're really lucky, all-day) field trip.

The other day in Research History began like any other, but ended in an exciting scavenger hunt through Good Hope Cemetery for a place called Potters Field. All of this started because Kelli M. discovered the names of 25 “paupers” in her research of the 1882-1897 deed records, which were given to us by one of the Good Hope trustees at the outset of our class project.

Potters Field is located at the rear of the cemetery, or so we thought. When we got to the location, all we found was dirt, grass and a little too much mud. We paced back and forth (not particularly cool given the conditions) and found absolutely nothing.

We didn't find Potters Field, but we did find some enthusiastic hand puppets who really love their state.

And then, out of thin air (or so it seemed), a red SUV pulled up and out came Mickey Mouse. Okay, not really, but the woman who emerged was wearing a sweatshirt decorated with those signature ears. Come to find out, she was the caretaker of Good Hope.

Mr. LaRue told her what we were doing and what we were looking for, and her answer surprised up. She said that Potters Field is located along the side of the cemetery, and the area we were canvassing wasn’t actually owned by the graveyard. Not convinced, Mr. LaRue showed her our map. This was by far the best part of the afternoon, especially when he said, “I know what I’m talking about, but I know that you also know what you're talking about.”

Needless to say, an agreement wasn’t reached, so we piled back into our cars and headed back to campus.

So, where is Potters Field and what’s the story behind it? Beats us, but stay tuned as we get to the bottom of this interesting mystery.

- Tyler K., Kelli M., Alyssa S. & Lynne M.

Tyler, Kelli, Alyssa and Lynne are seniors at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. For the remainder of this semester, they'll be working with their Research History classmates on a variety of preservation projects, including documenting and preserving local cemeteries like Good Hope. Stay tuned as they share their experiences here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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.

Teaching Preservation: Tracing My Family Roots

Posted on: April 7th, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment

 

This week, my period of Research History took a field trip to the nearby Mark Cemetery. When we got there, we were greeted by a special guest speaker – my dad.

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Research History in action (and finally in short sleeves) in Mark Cemetery.

That’s right; he’s a retired township trustee, and he met up with us to discuss the unique history of the cemetery and the people who are buried there, including members of my family.

Coincidence or what?

Come to find out, Mark Cemetery is where many of Fayette County’s first settlers are buried, and it is located right in the middle of where members of my family made their first homes here. In fact, they established their farms on what is now Staunton-Jasper Road and a housing development called Lake Wood Hills.

Our project that day started with taking measurements of the cemetery. We also sorted through the broken headstones located in the back corner of the property, which we pieced together and took pictures of so we could record the names and birth/death dates in our new cemetery record. In doing this, we actually discovered several broken headstones that had not been recorded in any previous databases.

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Piecing together history.

Back at school, I created three separate spreadsheets for the headstones: one for graves that were accounted for on previous lists as well as my own; one for the new graves we found; and one for the graves included on previous lists that we could not locate. I also uploaded all of our headstone photos and organized them by where they were found and what condition they were in.

One of my projects for the remainder of this semester will be to make a scale map of the cemetery that brings all of this research together, including data and photos for each headstone.

This research obviously means a lot to me because of my family roots in the area, so I hope that you’ll stay tuned to our blog as my work progresses.

- Marci M.

Marci M. is a senior at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. For the remainder of this semester, she’ll be working with her Research History classmates on a variety of preservation projects, including documenting and preserving local cemeteries. Stay tuned as they share their experiences here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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.

Teaching Preservation: Past, Present & Future

Posted on: April 2nd, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

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Notes from the Teacher's Desk

One of the coolest and most gratifying perks of being a teacher is, by far, hearing back from former students.

The other day, in the midst of our big move (which is still going on), I received a call from one of my former Research History kids who graduated some three years ago. As always, the conversation was totally out of the blue, yet totally heartwarming.

She is now a junior in college (geez, is time now moving at the speed of light?!?), and she was calling to discuss, of all things, her Spring Break plans. Now, if you’re connecting “college” and “Spring Break” and suddenly have dizzying mental images of underage mayhem, wipe that slate all the way clean and think again.

“Hey Lash! My family is headed to Washington, D.C. to visit President Lincoln’s Cottage over my Spring Break. Can you give me Erin’s phone number?”

Major brownie points.

By Erin, she was referring to the one and only Erin Carlson Mast, the curator and site administrator of President Lincoln’s Cottage who worked with my class back in the day on a project to develop a database of Civil War burials in the Soldier’s Home National Cemetery. This particular student spent her time with me studying individual soldiers and their regiments to figure out how each wound up in this particular cemetery. I will always remember her because she was one of those industrious students who completely digs their heels down into a project.

Needless to say, she did amazing work, and it meant a lot to me that she finally got to see and experience her contribution to President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Of course, Erin agrees: "It was such a pleasant surprise to hear from and finally meet one of Paul's students. While she is pursuing a career in medicine, she still has an obvious passion for history and preservation."

Looking around at the empty desks in my new classroom (which I know will be home to so many more extraordinary minds), I can’t help but be proud.

And, speaking of those desks in our new classroom, our Spring Break is over and we officially reported to our new digs this past Tuesday. All I have to say is, if you think it’s hectic to move between houses, imagine moving an entire building of high schoolers. Anyway, please stay tuned next week as my students resume their duties in the blogosphere.

- Paul LaRue

Paul LaRue teaches Research History at Washington High School in Washington Court House, Ohio. The ultimate “hands-on” classroom experience, his course takes students into the field to learn about preservation and community service. Stay tuned for what's left of this academic semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream. Also, keep an eye out for future “Notes from the Teacher’s Desk” columns from Paul himself.

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.

 

More often than not, protecting the places that matter in our cities and towns starts with local preservation ordinances. While they vary from place to place (after all, the best ordinance is one that is tailor made to meet the unique needs of a community), these land-use laws set forth rules and regulations for the designation of - and any subsequent alterations to - a community's historic properties.

But what happens when these effective lines of defense become threatened just like the irreplaceable resources they are designed to preserve?

Unfortunately, this is a question that is currently front and center for preservationists in Montgomery County, Maryland, where an entire local preservation program is under intense scrutiny following the introduction of amendments that would significantly alter an ordinance with proven effectiveness.

Announced last February, these amendments would establish an elevated threshold for designation should a property owner object to a nomination, effectively preventing the designation of new resources and potentially cracking the door for future efforts to de-designate already protected properties. They would also delegate final decision-making authority to the county’s Planning Board, which would enable it to disregard the informed recommendations of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission.

Last night, a well-attended public hearing was held before the Montgomery County Council, and as you can imagine, some extremely lively debate ensued. During the meeting, concerned citizens and national, state and local organizations – including the Maryland Historical Trust, Preservation Maryland, Inc., Montgomery Preservation, Inc., and the National Trust for Historic Preservation – rallied together in a strong showing of opposition to the proposed amendments. While all agreed that the current law could be improved, many questioned the legality and wisdom behind the proposed legislation.

More specifically, the legal staff of the National Trust for Historic Preservation prepared a memorandum in advance of the hearing that questions the county’s authority to adopt the proposed amendments under state law. At the hearing itself, Robert Nieweg, director and regional attorney of our Southern Field Office, delivered the following testimony:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation does not support the proposed amendments to Montgomery County’s historic preservation ordinance.

We respectfully encourage the County Council to table the proposed amendment and, instead, consider initiating a comprehensive examination of the county’s historic preservation program.

The National Trust believes that the amendment under consideration by the County Council would fundamentally alter the preservation program in ways which raise serious legal and public policy issues.

First, the proposed amendment would change key elements of the county’s current designation structure in a manner that would, to a large degree, leave final historic designation authority in the hands of the Planning Board, rather than the Council itself.

In fact, the proposed amendments would enable the Planning Board to disregard recommendations by the Historic Preservation Commission for reasons unrelated to the merits of the property.

Such a delegation of authority raises serious legal concerns.

- The proposed amendment would preclude County Council review of a Planning Board decision to deny historic designation. This change appears to conflict with the requirement of the Regional District Act that master plan amendments be made at the direction of the Council, rather than the Planning Board.

- The proposed transfer to the Planning Board of final decision-making authority for certain designation decisions would effectively delegate the Council’s authority to an administrative body that does not have detailed subject-matter expertise in historic preservation. This delegation of authority would be vulnerable to legal challenge.

Second, the proposed amendment would introduce special standards and procedures whenever a property owner declines to consent to designation.

- The Regional District Act requires that the criteria for designation of historic properties be “not inconsistent” with the criteria used by the Maryland Historic Trust to identify properties for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. These criteria focus specifically on the merits and significance of the property and do not consider the personal views of the property owner.

- The proposed requirement for a supermajority vote of the Planning Board in the absence of owner consent appears to conflict with the Regional District Act, which states that the Historic Preservation Master Plan is to be amended by three affirmative votes of the Planning Board.

- Adoption of the proposed owner-consent provision would jeopardize Montgomery County’s eligibility for Maryland state preservation funds, which the county has used to help support a wide range of projects such as research, community planning, training and public education.

Given the serious concerns raised by the proposed amendment before you tonight, the National Trust respectfully recommends that the County Council should initiate a comprehensive review of the county’s historic preservation program to fully explore the program’s challenges and a range of solutions with the goal of enhancing and strengthening the highly regarded program.

Thank you for considering the views of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

At the close of the hearing, the County Council announced that the record on the proposed amendment will remain open until May 22, at which time it would be taken up by the Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. Information on the bill and contact information for submitting written testimony is available on the Council’s website.

Please stay tuned to PreservationNation.org as we continue to monitor this situation.

- Julia Miller

Julia Miller serves as special counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.