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Starting in the late 16th century through to the 18th century, rich, young Europeans (and later Americans) traveled around Europe on something known as the "Grand Tour." Meant to be a capstone to formal education, the Tour involved a period of travel to some of Europe's great cities with the intention of introducing individuals to society, art, and culture.

For the last two weeks, as I made my way to two distinctive cities, I wondered what a modern Grand Tour in the United States would be like. What would be the unexpected places that would serve as a window into our culture, our architecture, and our people?


Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward neighborhood.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, I spent the last two weeks traveling to Wisconsin and Texas. I'll be honest -- if given a choice, I doubt that Milwaukee and Fort Worth would have been high on my list of intentional personal travel destinations -- but while I was there, each city succeeded in opening my heart in unexpected ways to what they had to offer.

I don't know what expectations I had for Milwaukee -- aside from its robust brewing past and present -- but I'll leave that alone for now and instead talk about its Historic Third Ward neighborhood, replete with converted warehouses, a fantastic Public Market, shops, and a river walk. Added to the National Register in 1984, the neighborhood is made up of enormous brick buildings that used to be centers of manufacturing. While some of the spaces are still vacant, the neighborhood is very much alive with residents, businesses, and creative public spaces.


The Mitchell Park Conservatory.

I also got a chance to visit the Mitchell Park Conservatory. Three mid-century domes replaced the old conservatory (which is probably an interesting preservation story in and of itself) in 1959. They loom high, and house three different ecosystems, each arrayed with a magical array of smells, sounds, and temperatures: tropical, desert, and a show dome for fancy flowers. I took delight in the way the arcing lines of the dome mimick the curve of the earth upon which these plants grow. ... Read More →

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

 

Travel is almost always at least a little stressful, but it's also incredibly exhilarating -- because with it comes the chance to experience new (or familiar) places, and to make new stories both for yourself and about the places you're visiting. In my case I'm headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by five days in Fort Worth, Texas.

I have about two hours before I head out on the road (well, the air really) for two weeks. As usual, a few hundred thoughts are running through my head: Did I finish all the perishables? Did I pack enough clothing that will work in both climates?


Milwaukee's vibrant riverwalk and warehouses of the Third Ward neighborhood. (Photo: anaxila on Flickr)

But packing my physical bag is not enough. Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.

For instance, did you know that Milwaukee is where the typewriter was invented? Or that Fort Worth is where 60 percent of our money is minted? Both random, fun facts that I've encountered in my research.

The purpose of both trips is not limited to vacations in disparate parts of the United States. Rather, they already include time spent on preservation and history. My trip to Milwaukee is for the National Council on Public History/Organization of American Historians annual meeting, while my Fort Worth travel involves tours and conversations regarding issues facing preservation nonprofits across the country. But outside the meetings I want to make sure that I make the most of the time away from the office.


The historic Fort Worth Stock Yards. (Photo: samuel_belknap on Flickr)

So I'm feeling the pull -- that urge to make sure that I don't miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.

What do you go see when you visit a new city or town? Do you look for its history? The museums, the art, the culture? Do you look for the social scene or the main street?

And -- as I blatantly use this post for recommendations -- if you know Milwaukee or Fort Worth well, let me know what the "must see" places are. I promise to report back!

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Baltimore and Me: New Experiences in a Familiar Place

Posted on: April 4th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya

 

Staff for the National Main Streets Conference arrived into Charm City with the familiar refrains of Hairspray’s “Good Morning Baltimore” running through our heads. Obvious reference, maybe, but an apt one seeing as many of us had been waking up at dawn to prepare for the day's activities and sessions.


Baltimore's Washington Monument. (Photo: Gavin St. Ours on Flickr)

I grew up in the Washington, DC metro area, so taking a quick jaunt up to Baltimore from time to time has never been out of the ordinary. This time, though, I’m actually spending the night. It’s like I’m twelve again, with that giddy feeling you get from staying over in a new place.

And while sitting in on and tweeting about sessions has been great, I’ve had a few highlights of my own:

  • Seeing the original Washington Monument, a setting I know well from reading Laura Lippman’s mystery novels.
  • Visiting a co-worker's house in an Olmsted Brothers Homeland neighborhood, complete with the old estate ponds that were once used to harvest ice.
  • Being treated every morning with a magnificent dawn overlooking Camden Yards.

Speaking of Camden Yards … one thing you must know: I’m a tennis girl through and through -- although not totally ignorant about baseball. I've heard of Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken, but I never thought I would actually feel the awe of a baseball stadium.


Camden Yards at dawn. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

That is, until I took a tour of Camden Yards. I know it's a relatively new stadium (they're celebrating twenty years this Saturday at opening day), but when you walk around the underbelly you can see the historic features from the adjacent warehouse that was rehabbed for use as team offices, and how the stadium architects were determined to have the actual stadium merge with the building and landscape. We walked on the field, learned about the people, and saw the beams that connect warehouse with baseball field.

Totally awe-some.

I also learned about how every year on Edgar Allen Poe's birthday someone leaves a rose and wine for him on his gravestone, and how the church where he's buried is built partially on top of  (literally platformed over) the graveyard. Why? Because when it was built during the city's expansion in the 1840s and 50s, city officials didn't want graveyard land taken by buildings.


The roundhouse at Baltimore's B&O Railroad Museum. (Photo: Orbital Joe on Flickr)

Last night, the final party was inside the historic B&O Railroad Museum -- a roundhouse building built originally to showcase the promise of the American railroad. My twelve-year-old self reared its head and I stared up at the ceiling twirling around and around.

Baltimore was good to me. Although I have, on other trips, seen many other parts of the city, it was nice to see a familiar place in a different light.

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

On Memorialization in America

Posted on: March 26th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 2 Comments

 

They can be found in urban spaces, in rural places, spread across battlefields, and in neighborhood parks. Sometimes they're found in nature, and sometimes on roadsides, memorializing and recognizing the past.

But what makes a memorial tick? Some memorials are familiar, hewn of stone with great marble columns astride stunning life-like figures. Others are abstract, representational, evoking a feeling for a moment in time and space.


A statue of Abraham Lincoln in New York's Union Square. (Photo: 14eleven on Flickr)

Last week the commission in charge of a memorial to Dwight D. Eisenhower adjacent the National Mall came together to look at the latest design by architect Frank Gehry. Washington Post cultural critic Philip Kennicott describes some of the opposition to the current design, and asked some important questions about memorialization in America.

Paramount is his question: When is it too soon to memorialize someone? Can we really produce a testament to a 'great man or woman' without perspective? And who gets to make that decision?


The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. (Photo: Christopher Chan on Flickr)

As I read the article I found myself reliving my high school history classes where we often traveled to monuments to ask: Are all monuments and memorials created equal? Is meaning inherent in the topic being memorialized, or created by a complex set of factors determined by how we see the past? ... Read More →

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

Downton Abbey and the Pull of Place in Popular Television

Posted on: March 9th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 7 Comments

 

I think by now many of the regular readers on this blog know three things about me. I love history. I love writing about history. And I pretty much think about history, and place, and the past about 367 million times a day.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that I think about the power of place and the past when doing the most mundane things -- walking, cooking, and watching television.


The cast of Downton Abbey with the real star in the background. (Photo: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE)

Like many, many people, I've been enamored with the British period drama Downton Abbey, which just finished its second season run on PBS. For those that haven't seen it, it begins in pre-World War I England and gives viewers a glimpse into the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants through the intervening years.


Matthew and Lady Mary Crawley, the subjects of one of the great Downton love stories, inside the house. (Photo: Carnival Film & Television Limited 2011 for MASTERPIECE)

What I love about Downton Abbey is that the story centers around the estate, a magnificent house full of both grand (for the lords and ladies) and humble (for the staff) public and private spaces that serves as a mechanism for how a family and their employees lived in the early 20th century. The way the building is used over the two seasons reflects society and class as changes in women's roles, war, and disease take its toll. But Downton is used as more than a set piece. The home is a crucial character in itself, and plays a crucial role for how each of the characters defines themselves.... Read More →

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.