Author Archive

An Unexpected Find Along a Well-Worn Route

Posted on: February 24th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 4 Comments

 

Yesterday morning I walked to the office along a well-worn route. It's a route I've taken many times before, each building and curb and patio duly noted a hundred times before. When I lived further away, this was the path I would take when I stayed with a friend in the city, but since moving closer in, it’s been less frequently trod.


The grand and very well-preserved Heurich House. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

One of the reasons I chose this particular path (aside from distance and directness) was that it ends near the Heurich House, a Victorian home once owned by Christian Heurich, a Washington, DC, brew master. The interior is opulent, boasting a variety of technological marvels, and there is a gated garden in the back that is open for visitors on beautiful spring days. On this particular day, I had just enough time to smile at the building before barreling past.

It was then that I was struck speechless by a sudden jolt of creative happiness, because sometime in the last six months a commissioned mural had gone up across the street.

The colors are vivid, with bright emotion pulling passersby out of whatever day dream in which they're absorbed. You stop, stare. Shift your position to pull you closer to the fence, and stare again.


Peeking through to the mural. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

It’s a relatively simple tableau - a toy theater set with a view of two of the first mansions built in the surrounding historic district. Commissioned by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and designed and painted by Peter Waddell and a group of aspiring artists, the mural is an unexpected burst of joy.

Seeing this, however, made me think: What else do I not see amidst the familiar, the well worn, and the everyday? What exactly is it about the built environment that gives me (and I know others feel the same way) that rush of euphoria much like seeing the sun after days of rain?


The full Toy Theatre mural, in all it's vibrant glory. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Over the long weekend my sisters and I talked about place and happiness - about how much where we live and the particular spaces we inhabit affect our moods and contentment. Since we were in New York City, we discussed how for some people the city spurs on creativity and provides excitement, while for others it is often filled with loneliness and a lifestyle that is so fast it’s hard to catch your breath.

We talked about Frank Lloyd Wright and his use of using space to push where we lived out into nature, to have his homes be more organic, or as is the case with Taliesin West, mimic the flow of music - each detail meant to connect, to settle, and to allow us to thrive.

Place is just as important as the people you're with or the job you work in. So next time you’re walking along your well worn route, look to the left instead of the right or look up when you usually stare at the ground. Step over to another side of the street for a new perspective. You might just see something to remind you why this place, this city, this town is a part of your heart.

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.

The Byway to Gettysburg: A Vista that Inspires

Posted on: February 9th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

 

My earliest historical memories as a child involve a road trip up to Gettysburg National Military Park. At the time it felt like an epic journey (field trips rule!) with a group of friends. I must have been in elementary school at the time because my impressions of that first trip are mostly of being somewhere away from school, and not much about the battlefield itself.


The battlefield. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

Fast forward a few years later. I was a senior in high school and we were back over the Maryland border in Pennsylvania. What’s different about this time is context. We had spent weeks talking about the battle and its role in the Civil War. We watched Gettysburg, read The Killer Angels to see how the battle was interpreted, and recognized the love for a fictional Buster Kilraine. I knew more about what I was looking at, and where I was standing. Together the group - like many before us - reenacted Pickett’s Charge, posed in Devil’s Den like a Matthew Brady photograph, and tried to charge up Little Round Top - getting a clearer idea for tactics. It was a great trip. Public history at its finest.


The hills and woods of Gettysburg are covered in boulders. (Photo: macwagen on Flickr)

Although I've been to Gettysburg a few times since then, a day trip this past weekend made me think about the journey in a different way. For those of you not from this city, Gettysburg is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Washington, DC. It’s a straight shot up Interstate 270 and Route 15 just over the Maryland border into Pennsylvania. It is a beautiful drive with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising past you into a brilliant blue sky (in my case this was a surprisingly clear sky following a gentle snowfall). It is also a drive that includes the Catoctin Mountain Maryland Scenic Byway.


Scenic byway through Gettysburg. (Photo: fauxto_digit on Flickr)

I think the best definition of what a byway is from the New York Department of Transportation website which states “A scenic byway is a road, but not just a road. It's a road with a story to tell.” These roads push travelers off the beaten path and links together history, transportation and culture. In the case of the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway, you learn about the soldiers who marched to Gettysburg, Maryland’s Native American history, and Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American born saint.

Above all else, what pulled me in and made me grateful for the opportunity was how the byway linked the natural beauty of our country with our past, providing me with a vista that inspires.

The National Scenic Byways Program is just one of many preservation programs threatened in the new American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act (HR 7). Learn more about the bill and its effect on 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.

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.

Preservation Resolutions, Part Deux: Your Turn to Talk

Posted on: January 25th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

 

A few weeks ago I let slip my preservation resolutions for 2012. It was a great list (if I do say so myself), a challenging list, and well, one that isn't really all that measurable or specific. But it's out there. I figure the more people know about it the more I'll march to success.

Now it's your turn. Earlier this month Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, sent out a message to members asking them to share their preservation resolutions. And you delivered.


Just a few of your specific resolutions... (Image: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Since there were so many I decided to pull out four common themes. These themes reflect the commitment of the preservation community to work to save historic places - not only in a professional capacity also as a passion in your personal lives.

So here goes. In 2012, you vow to...

  • Take direct action: Many of you wrote that you are looking to take direct action to save a place or building that matters to you. Sometimes it is a 1920s craftsman bungalow, or a historic barn, a school, or a historic ship. Others wish to advocate for the cause based on their love of architecture or the role preservation plays in job creation and sustainability.
  • Participate in preservation in a hands-on way: This year you vow to refurbish floorboards, rehabilitate your wood windows, do a structural assessment on a 1850's barn, save a one-room school house. You vow to dig in and go to ground, reaching out to touch the tactile, the grooves of the past in the places and spaces of days long gone (but not forgotten) - spaces waiting to add many more years to their story.
  • Remember the War of 1812, 200 years later:  This is the resolution that I love. Before ending up embracing the history of early America I found myself fascinated by the reign of Napoleon. From his rise, to the tale of British impressment of Americans on the high seas, I was sucked in to what some call the second American Revolution. Many of you look to this commemoration as a way to identify and embrace history in your backyard.
  • Entering the preservation field fully as a professional:  Many of you are students and everyday learners. This is your year to look at the field more broadly, to write theses, intern, and persist in looking for a job in a field that you love. More importantly, many of you vow to keep on learning, interpreting, and advancing preservation in the world around you. Each and every one of you expressed the desire to learn more about preservation, from the “ABC's” to understanding the latest research in infill design and geo-thermal energy production in historic districts.

Above all else, each one of you exhibited a determination and recognition of your role in sustaining the preservation ethic. You look at preservation and embrace its ability to make life better in a real, tangible, economic way, and through its impact on the human condition. I can’t wait to hear all about it.

Have something to add? Sound off below!

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.

Preservation in Place: This is the House that Jack Built

Posted on: January 11th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 2 Comments

 

I woke up this morning with this poem in my head. I haven’t thought about it years, and am not entirely sure what prompted my mind to dredge it up from my childhood. But, as always, Mother Goose has a lesson in mind.

This is the house that Jack built...

This is the farmer sowing his corn,
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn,
That waked the priest all shaven and shorn,
That married the man all tattered and torn,
That kissed the maiden all forlorn,
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn,
That tossed the dog,
That worried the cat,
That killed the rat,
That ate the malt,
That lay in the house that Jack built.

The poem starts with a single idea: this is the house that Jack built. A rational expectation is that we’ll learn about Jack’s home - the timbers, the frame, the windows. Instead we are treated to a narrative of how the house is interlinked with individuals and events outside of the four walls.


This Is the House That Jack Built - illustrated book cover from 1878.

Those of us that love history know that preservation is about the broader context, both historically speaking but also in terms of present impact. How can preserving one building be an economic and worthwhile benefit to its neighborhood, town, city, state, and so on? Turns out there's a ripple effect. Like in the poem, each building has a ripple effect, encouraging growth, diversity, and investment.

The poem is simple, but somehow articulating this message to non-preservationists (or those who aren't sure where they stand) is often the greater challenge.

Over the holiday I had a conversation with an acquaintance about my job and why I love writing about history and the past. I was asked the inevitable question: what does any of this have to do with today? So I talked to him about neighborhood initiatives, local entrepreneurship, and community character, and wasn’t at all surprised when he said that he never thought of preservation from that angle.

It is not that the history “within these walls” is not important. It is not that significance and meaning don't play a key role in why we preserve. Rather, these are just the jumping off point to having these places continue to play an active and meaningful role in the community.

This is the man who trained in trade,
Who built the windows that were remade,
That brought the visitors to the block,
And the stores in which people could shop,
Creating a community strong as rock,
Beyond four walls that no one forgot,
Amidst the people whose lives it wrought,
This is the house that preservation built.

Is there a place in your community that had this ripple effect? Have you successfully changed minds about the importance and role that preservation can play in economic sustainability and neighborhood vitality?

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.

Preservation Resolutions 2012 (Or, 2011 Bites the Dust)

Posted on: December 28th, 2011 by Priya Chhaya 1 Comment

 

(Photo: Flickr user Carbonated)

I know it's a bit cliché to wax poetic about the passage of time, but 2011 has been one of those years that swung from January to December in a blink of an eye. One moment I'm looking eagerly to all that lies ahead in 2011, the next we are four days away from ringing in 2012.

So let's take a look back. The year has been filled with many changes, both personally and professionally. Through Buffalo Unscripted we've learned about how one city embraces preservation in its daily life, and we've seen preservation victories across the country with two in my home state of Virginia: Wilderness Battlefield and Fort Monroe.

It's also been another year where I've had the privilege to write here on the PreservationNation blog about subjects that I’m passionate about. My favorite post of the year? It's a toss-up between one I wrote a few weeks back about the materiality of preservation and a look at how preservation was portrayed on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother.

After looking back at my resolution post from last year, I realized that I accomplished all three, though not in the way I envisioned when I wrote them.

  • Attend an off-the-beaten track exhibition every month. Sure, it wasn’t every month, but I did succeed in seeing a few inspirational displays of culture and history. These included seeing a poetry slam inspired by historical art, a month long culture fest on India at the Kennedy Center in DC, impressive architectural displays of Buffalo, NY and wandering around Staunton, VA's main street on my birthday.
  • “Get my hands dirty” with an on the ground preservation project. Once again I did this in my own fashion. As an attendee of Preservation Leadership Training in Virginia I was able to catch a glimpse of what one of these projects look like as we worked in teams to re-imagine Woodlawn Plantation for the 21st century.
  • Continue to strive toward a sustainable lifestyle. A carryover from my 2009 resolution, I made some significant changes when I moved to a walkable neighborhood in August, while continuing to make my family and friends more conscious of the world in which they live.

So what about 2012?

Preservation is, at its root, a practice of the soul. Those of us who work or even just dabble in the practice believe in its ability to better lives in a real and visceral way. Preservation gives us pride in our community, our families, and our homes.

That’s why I see a year filled with opportunity - one where we take a hard look at our challenges and work to find new ways of making an impact, changing minds, and reaching out.

It is also a year of looking change straight in the eye, seeing where new roads can take us, and looking for the small acts where I can make a difference. Because, to quote/change/mangle a popular holiday movie - ”Preservation, actually is all around.”

So my 2012 Preservation Resolution is to not back down, to be inventive, to be engaged, and to look outside every box to find workable solutions in a challenging environment. For 2012 I vow to make connections and find tools that will allow preservationists to be all that they can be - to turn opportunity into something tangible.

And so, as the clock tick-tick-ticks away into 2012, it is now your turn: What are your preservation resolutions?

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.