By now, you're probably familiar with scenes of energetic volunteers learning how to hammer, new one-story homes rising up in mere weeks, and first-time homeowners receiving keys. It's all due to the work of Habitat for Humanity, the international nonprofit organization dedicated to building simple, affordable houses for families in need.

A restored Habitat for Humanity home in Newburgh, NY. (Photo: Pepper Watkins)

What you may not know, however, is that some Habitat affiliates are augmenting the traditional 'new build' model with rehabilitations and renovations -- and along the way, doing preservation as well.

Take, for example, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh. Located 60 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River, this affiliate has acquired dozens of abandoned homes from the City of Newburgh and turned them around with the help of thousands of volunteers. (For the full story, check out their case study featured in the National Trust's Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.)

This approach not only takes advantage of the city's available housing stock, but it also retains the character and history of the community -- a perfect dovetail to Habitat International's  Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which expands the organization's products, services, and partnerships to serve more families and better tailor solutions to each community's needs.

Of course, there are a lot of lessons learned along the way, and Newburgh has stockpiled some excellent advice on how to make rehabs work in other communities. In this video, Habitat Newburgh staffers and volunteers share their top tips:

We applaud Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh for their continued dedication to thoughtful rehabilitation, and hope they inspire other affiliates around the country to investigate if rehabs can support their local efforts too.

For more case studies and information, please visit the Habitat for Humanity Preservation Toolkit.

Julia Rocchi is an Online Content Provider for the National Trust's Digital + New Media team. She thinks that the opportunity to film this amazing project was totally worth getting stuck in a snowstorm on the way home.

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.

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi is the director of digital content at the National Trust. By day she wrangles content; by night (and weekends), she shops local, travels to story-rich places, and walks around looking up at buildings.

New Partnerships for West Baltimore's Green Spaces

Posted on: May 25th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Eli Pousson

Residents and advocates walk to West Baltimore's squares. (Photo: Eli Pousson)

The Friends of West Baltimore Squares is a new partnership-driven initiative connecting historic preservation, urban greening and neighborhood revitalization through the celebration of West Baltimore’s unique historic squares and parks. Working as a Partner in the Field promoting neighborhood revitalization in African American communities, I often discover parks, gardens, and vacant lots, some well loved and cared for and others not, just next door or across the street from the historic buildings that we're fighting to save at Baltimore Heritage. The aspirations of gardeners in West Baltimore have much in common with our efforts to reuse buildings - like the Sellers Mansion on the southeast corner of Lafayette Square - and return activity to a neighborhood that struggles with disinvestment and concentrated poverty. The Friends of West Baltimore Squares reflects these common goals of supporting more livable and vital neighborhoods through a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Parks & People Foundation, and neighborhood residents around five historic parks to organize events, conduct outreach to residents and visitors, and advocate for the long-term vitality of West Baltimore's parks and neighborhoods.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We launched this new effort in February 2011 working with neighborhood leaders in Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, Perkins Square, and Union Square. These five parks are used by over a dozen West Baltimore neighborhoods which include many more pocket parks and community gardens. While these neighborhoods are distinct and diverse, they also share many common challenges - vacant and abandoned properties, and illegal dumping all come to mind - but also share common assets such as handsome historic rowhouses, generous green space, and the potential for transit-oriented community development around the new Red Line light rail route proposed to connect West & East Baltimore through downtown. We decided to focus initially on organizing public events to engage a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents and begin growing a network of contacts across the area. Our first event, the West Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration, at the end of April. The walk connected over 60 residents from the area to four of the major squares, and ended with a community BBQ at Lafayette Square.

(Photo: Eli Pousson)

We're promoting our programs through neighborhood meetings, a growing e-mail list, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. This range of outreach efforts is essential to connect with the many young people and families who often do not participate in neighborhood organizations and also offers an opportunity to recognize the neighborhoods many real assets like the new Harlem Park School Community Garden. We're launching a new tour program in early June at the West Baltimore Farmer's Market that mixes interpretation of the area's Civil War history in the 1860s, struggles with urban renewal in the 1960s, and innovative new approaches to urban forestry and sustainable stormwater management.

This is a new effort for Baltimore Heritage and we are excited about the opportunities to reach out and engage, not only with people who love old buildings but also with those who are working hard to create more sustainable historic neighborhoods through supporting parks and gardens. Through building up community around a shared commitment to sustainable and unique historic neighborhoods and connecting our efforts to the transit-oriented development, we see a bright future for the residents and neighborhoods around West Baltimore Squares.

Check out this slideshow for many more photos of our Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration!

Eli Pousson is a field officer with Baltimore Heritage, in partnership with 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

Preservation Round-Up: View from the Street Edition

Posted on: May 19th, 2011 by David Garber


A block of Washington, DC's fast-changing H Street NE. (Photo: Flickr user tedeytan)

Another reason we love preservation? Because it helps deepen the context and expand the stories of the streets, neighborhoods, towns, and cities that our work is part of. The further we go in the past, the more important specific places were for where buildings were located. People relied on weather patterns, natural light, and horse-drawn carriage travel distances. This house was built on that hill because it needed a view of that field. This building was built on that axis because it needed sunlight in that room. This community was built on that land because of that soil. It’s easy to forget those contextual needs in an age when we can light any room at any time, buy any kind of fruit in any season, and travel great distances in a short amount of time. But there’s a richness to the historical context. Today’s round-up is the “View from the Street” edition because these stories are just as much about place and placement as they are about the structures themselves.

What got me thinking about this? Earlier this week, Knox Heritage released their “Fragile Fifteen” list of endangered historic places, and most of the buildings listed are treasured because of the way they add historical context to the changing areas around them. Interestingly, most of their sites are at or controlled by the University of Tennessee (alumni, raise your voices!), whose master plan eliminates many old and original structures. Another, the Martin-Russell House, in danger of being moved:

The Martin-Russell House has remained at its original location for 175 years, a rare feat in this part of the world. Its location was determined by the modes of transportation employed during the era it was built and it still stands at a heavily traveled crossroads.

But chin up, friends, there’s a lot of good news to be had.  The High Line Park in New York City is a total triumph of contextual preservation and adaptation, and Phase 2 of the elevated railroad-turned-urban-oasis is opening in June. Enjoy this crazy awesome video that celebrates the new section of emerald goodness:

Across the country in Los Angeles, the Glendale City Council approved the design for the Museum of Neon Art. If we’re talking about views from the street, this museum is kind of the perfect fit. You’re going to want to click through to see the renderings of this building (and, if you’re anything like me, fall in love with the Virginia Court Motel Diver sign that will serve as the museum’s figurehead). Most of the signs were designed and built for very specific contexts that no longer exist, so it will be interesting to see how the museum celebrates and examines the signs’ original homes.

Here’s a fresh idea: new art designed for an old building context. In Ensched, Netherlands (but this would most definitely work in America, too), URBANSCREEN came up with the idea to project a video onto a building’s façade that examines the relationship between inside and outside, privacy and publicity.

It’s easy to think of built context apart from people and population context. For the neighborhoods surrounding Washington, DC’s fast-changing H Street NE, it’s impossible to separate the two. Sarah L. Courteau at The Wilson Quarterly wrote a piece called “New to the Neighborhood: How can you be called an urban pioneer when you move to an inner-city neighborhood where families have lived for generations?” In it, she talks about the people, relationships, and power struggles at play as her neighborhood transitions.

Walking down H Street, it’s hard not to feel a heady sense of inevitability. Change! Progress! And to hold the conviction that all the choices I make about how I live—the way I keep up my yard, the restaurants and shops I patronize, the kinds of foodstuffs I buy at the local grocery store—are contributions to a joint project of incremental improvement that’s spread among thousands of households.

The places we interact with and invest in are all part of larger contexts, and preservation and adaptation are important tools for giving those contexts character, new life, and an increased communal pride of place. What are the pieces of your community that need to be highlighted? In what small ways can you give depth to the story of your street, neighborhood, or city?

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.


As most preservationists know, tax incentives can often be a critical deciding factor in getting a project off the ground. Convincing others of the awesomeness of tax incentives, however, can be a challenge - the words alone cause people's eyes to glaze over. And once this happens, they miss out on what a huge difference these incentives can make in revitalizing communities.

The National Park Service, by way of their YouTube channel, has come to the rescue with a short video that demonstrates the value of their Historic Preservation Tax Incentives program by looking at Washington, DC's Atlas Theater. The rehabilitation of the theater, aided by tax incentives, has contributed to the revitalization of an entire neighborhood - and speaking as someone who lives within walking distance, the change has been dramatic. (And so very welcome.)

One of the projects NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis mentions later in the video, the Crown Square Development in St. Louis, won our National Trust/HUD Award in 2010 - so it's not just projects in the shadow of the Capitol that benefit from these incentives.

So, tell your friends: historic preservation tax incentives rock! And when they give you that blinky, uncomprehending stare, show them the video. Then they'll get it.

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.

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern

Sarah Heffern is the social media strategist for the National Trust’s Public Affairs team. While she embraces all things online and pixel-centric, she’s also a hard-core building hugger, having fallen for preservation in a fifth grade “Built Environment” class. Follow her on Twitter at @smheffern.


Written by David Kimmerly

The Hawley Silk Mill (background) and the Cocoon Coffee House (foreground). (Photo: David Kimmerly, Preservation Pennsylvania)

In the past two and a half years as a Partners in the Field representative for both Preservation Pennsylvania and the National Trust, there have been more unresolved issues and outright failures than there have been successes in trying to protect historic buildings. But here is a success story. Hawley Silk Mill, also known as the Bellemonte Silk Mill, was built in 1881 and is located in the Pocono Mountains in the town of Hawley, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. Hawley is at the northern end of Lake Wallenpaupack, an artificial lake that now attracts thousands of visitors for sporting and recreational activities, but was created by Pennsylvania Power and Light Company in the 1920s to generate hydroelectric power. Prior to the damming of the Wallenpaupack Creek to create the lake, the waterway served as a source of power for the Hawley Silk Mill and the nearby American Rich Cut Glass Company (c.1890).

After converting uses to the Sherman Underwear Mills in the mid-20thcentury, the Hawley Silk Mill was finally abandoned in the late 1980s, used only partially as an antique store which utilized only a small portion of the building. In 2008, local hotelier Grant Genzlinger formed a partnership of local entrepreneurs to purchase the mill building and rehabilitate it using federal Historic Rehabilitation Investment Tax Credits.

The Solar Panels on the Hawley Silk Mill. (Photo: Hawley Silk Mill, LLC)

Not only did the development partnership go to great lengths to preserve the architectural integrity of the mill, they also found ways to make it more green. For example, solar panels were positioned to lie as flush as possible with the roof and are therefore not visible from the primary elevation of the building. The solar panels generate 58,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, and additional solar panels - and possibly even a geothermal energy system - are planned for the building.

Nearly complete, the restored silk mill includes educational, commercial and office space. Lackawanna College has already leased the third floor of the silk mill, and will hold classes there for hospitality-related majors - relating perfectly to the tourist economy of the region. The office space is partially leased to tenants that include lifestyle, health and technology services, and an art show is planned this summer to try to attract a gallery to permanently occupy a portion of the retail space. Marketing of the retail aspects of the building also includes efforts to attract an upscale antique store and a recreational outfitter. The adjacent cocoon building (remember, this started out as a silk mill) is now the Cocoon Coffee House.

The National Association of Preservation Commissions has recently released Sample Guidelines for Solar Panels in Historic Districts, and has practical advice for the appropriate installation of solar energy equipment on historic buildings.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has recently released an article entitled Solar Panels and Historic Preservation: The National Trust’s Position on Solar Panels as well as Design Guidelines for Solar Installations.

David Kimmerly is a Partners in the Field representative for both Preservation Pennsylvania and 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