Author Archive

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.


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.


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

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Teaching Preservation: Past, Present & Future

Posted on: April 2nd, 2009 by Guest Writer



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


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 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

Fires on Montana Main Streets

Posted on: April 1st, 2009 by Guest Writer 1 Comment


Bozeman, Montana (Credit: Michael Becker)

On Thursday, March 5, a massive natural gas explosion rocked the 200 block of East Main Street, in the heart of Bozeman’s historic district. The blast completely destroyed five buildings, and most tragically, one woman was killed. Windows were blown out of buildings in the surrounding blocks, and only the intense and efficient work of the first responders kept the fire from spreading to adjacent properties.

Whitehall, Montana (Credit : Justin Post)

The next day, another devastating fire ripped through four Main Street businesses in the small town of Whitehall, sixty miles west of Bozeman. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the brick and wood-frame buildings were gutted. Only the masonry exterior walls remain standing, which hopefully can be saved.

As these two communities rallied and began to clean up from the devastation, a third fire erupted. On Monday March 23, a fire began in the basement of a historic building undergoing rehabilitation in the 700 block of Main Street in Miles City. The fire rushed through the walls and to the roof, where high winds fanned the flames. Soon the adjacent buildings were aflame, and in the end, nine businesses, nearly the entire block, were destroyed. Happily, like in Whitehall, no one was injured.

Miles City, Montana (Credit : Kathy Doeden)

Now that the smoke has cleared, each of these towns faces the daunting task of recovery. A dialogue between those connected to the properties continues. Many of the owners are committed to rebuilding, and sensitivity to the historic architecture along each of these Main Streets is at the forefront of these discussions. Fortunately, Bozeman and Miles City have active local preservation programs.

The National Trust and Montana Preservation Alliance have been in close conversation with city officials, Chambers of Commerce, life safety officers, structural engineers, architects, insurance companies, and property owners to offer assistance and to help craft a plan for recovery in each of these towns. As the Partners in the Field representative, I will remain actively engaged with each community to aid with stabilization and planning efforts and will continue to offer technical and, where possible, financial support.

-Kate Hampton, Most Endangered Places Program Director, Montana 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


Watch it live!

Visit to watch a live stream of President Obama as he signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law.

Last Wednesday, a piece of legislation - which President Obama will sign into law in approximately one hour - was enacted called the Public Lands Management Act.

Why should you care? Clocking in at 1,300 pages and over 160 provisions, this is the largest conservation measure passed in over a decade, and it will protect innumerable areas that are rich in cultural and historic resources. Among those provisions is the National Landscape Conservation System Act. Introduced two and a half years ago, this bill congressionally establishes the Bureau of Land Management’s conservation system, which is comprised of 26 million acres of land in 14 states. It’s at these special places where one can truly experience the wild beauty of the American West.

In general, a lands bill of this size and scope takes about six years to pass through the ever-complicated process known as the United States Congress. To say we were ecstatic to get this one done in two and a half is the understatement of the century.

Now, unless you are a huge fan of the game of ping pong, the process to get something like this done may not be your cup of tea. The National Landscape Conservation System Act had a relatively typical start, with hearings and mark-ups in the appropriate committees of both chambers of Congress. It passed a stand-alone vote on the House side (see below for some fun tid bits about that adventure), and enjoyed wide support in the Senate. Then, it was packaged along with 159 other bills, and the game of ping pong (or hot potato, depending on how you look at it) officially began.

The legislation bounced back and forth between the House and the Senate at least six times. After a few rounds of this, my colleagues and I started feeling like Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football that Lucy would inevitably pull away. (How’s that for imagery?) However, with community support and the incredible leadership of our congressional champions, we made it through and got the field goal after all.

Looking back over the past three years, I will remember a lot about this campaign, but for now, here’s my top-five list:

5) The very start of the whole process when I was trying to convince colleagues that referring to the system as the “NLCS” was not going to help matters. See, I generally hate acronyms and I am not the biggest fan of baseball. However, if people insisted on wanting to discuss the National League Championship Series, I had to go with it, complete with a one-page fact sheet that was available upon request.

4) Working with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, a true mentor to me and a stalwart leader on this issue. Sitting behind him twice as he testified before both the House and the Senate committees was an amazing thing to witness.

3) Getting a stand-alone vote in the House of Representatives and then getting a terrible rule that allowed for six amendments to the bill, meaning seven votes for our team in one day. These amendments ranged from never funding anything that had to do with the System to exempting the entire state of Utah from it.

2) The real fun happened on a vote called a motion to recommit, which is generally the last chance the opposition has to kill a bill. In our case, it was on the right to bear arms in the System - a right that already exists, but a vote that can quickly divide Congress. After “lobbying off the floor” with our incredible team (this basically involves stakeouts to approach members on their way to vote), there was nothing left to do but head over to the Hawk and Dove (a Capitol Hill bar/institution) to watch the final vote come in. We won that day by only four votes, but the excitement and camaraderie was worth it.

1) Of course, the best memory of all is the final passage. After again “lobbying off the floor,” we were invited to House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn’s office in the Capitol. There, with all 30 of my colleagues assembled in an anteroom, we watched as the final passage vote succeed 285-140.

So, here we are with America’s newest conservation system, formally established with the force of law and the recognition of Congress. With this under our belt, we must now focus on ensuring that it is well managed, well funded and inclusive of the places rich in cultural and historic resources.

Let the games begin.

- Chris Soderstrom

Chris Soderstrom is a senior policy advisor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This afternoon at 3:00 PM EST, she'll be at the White House to watch President Obama sign the Public Lands Management Act of 2009 into law. Join her by catching a live stream at Also, stay tuned as we post our own pictures from the signing ceremony.

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