Conference Gives Diversity Scholar New Vision and “Home”

Posted on: November 15th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Nancy J. Dawson

During the Underground Railroad field session tour, Nancy Dawson stands on a bridge similar to the one abolitionist Harriet Tubman led enslaved Africans to freedom in Canada. (Photo: Nancy Dawson)

“Is it real?” I asked myself, as I stood paralyzed listening to the raging waters--all while one foot was planted in Canada and other in the United States. As I looked over the rails of the walkway, I couldn’t help but wonder how Harriet Tubman, one of America’s most noted abolitionists, felt when she ventured across a suspension bridge in Niagara Falls, New York, nearly 150 years ago bringing enslaved Africans to freedom.

Although our guide was determined that our group forge on so that we complete our tour on schedule - for me, the hands of time had stopped. Even though I have a disdain for heights, it didn’t matter. Tubman and I were one for a moment as I felt the fears, anxiety, desperation, and anticipation of her passengers.

How serendipitous, that I (a descendant of runaway enslaved Africans from Quindaro, Kansas), was tracing Tubman’s trail during a field experience at the National Preservation Conference. This was one of several fantastic experiences that I was privileged to take part in as a conference Diversity Scholar.

After returning home, the networking and information that I gained at this year’s conference set me ablaze. Although, I have worked to preserve African American history and culture for decades, the conference gave me a special edge and helped me define myself as a true historic preservationist. I am eager to apply the knowledge gained to my work in Western Kentucky where I help to preserve Cherokee State Historic Park, a once segregated facility, which operated between 1951 and 1964. Today, Cherokee Park is one of only three known state-owned formerly segregated parks in the United States. Furthermore, I have no doubt that my conference experience will enhance my collaboration efforts with several organizations to support my research about African American Civil War soldiers and their families living along the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Already, partnerships with Fort Donelson National Battlefield, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and the New Orleans National Jazz Historical Park have led to development of a theatrical production entitled Stories from da Dirt, the creation of a quilt featuring runaway slave ads, and a two volume CD entitled Songs of the Lower Mississippi Delta.

All my projects were elevated by resources offered at the conference. The meeting also reinforced for me that the road I am on as a preservationist and the partnerships that I have developed are in harmony with many of the goals and objectives of the National Trust. I think my return flight home from the conference best sums up my new relationship with the National Trust. I was showing a picture of my (historic) home to a woman at the airport. A gentleman, sitting near us, chuckled and said, “while most people share photos of their children, National Trust people share photos of their homes and historic projects.” I smiled and said, “I guess that is why I feel so at home.”

Nancy J. Dawson, a former university professor, playwright and textile artist, has been working to preserve historic sites in Kentucky and Tennessee as well as in her hometown of Quindaro, Kansas. Nancy was a first time Diversity Scholar at the 2011 National Preservation Conference. She may be reached at

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The Top Four Takeaways of a Canadian Conference-Goer

Posted on: October 28th, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Kayla Jonas

Twitter in real life! (Photo: Kayla Jonas)

Before the conference started I wrote about my top reasons as a Canadian for attending the Preservation Conference: I wanted to learn about the American preservation framework, meet some of my virtual friends, and see Buffalo's industrial heritage. I'm happy to report that I did all that and came away with three strong lessons and one amazing experience:

Embrace your Industrial Heritage

The conference had over 250 field tours. On Wednesday morning I went on a boat tour by the grain elevators on the Buffalo waterfront. I was so excited because I’ve often driven by them and it was great to get up close. The tour was run by the Buffalo Industrial Heritage group who provided an in depth history of each grain elevator, as well as a general history of the area. I learned that Buffalo was, in the mid-19th century, home to the first-ever grain elevator, and was sad to see the Wheeler Elevator being demolished as we rode by. This tour, as well as the two education sessions on Industrial Heritage I attended that day got me thinking about Hamilton, Ontario’s industrial heritage.

Like Buffalo, my hometown of Hamilton a very industrial city. There are efforts being made to revitalize Hamilton and mark it as an arts destination. Though I support this movement, I had a sudden realization that maybe we have been too quick to dismiss our steel history, and wondered what we are doing to preserve the history of the two large steel companies, and earlier industries, that have helped to shape our city.

Be Positive, Take Action

As a resident of an industrial city I know how hard it is to overcome the reputation associated with such cities. I am sad to say that I had negative ideas about what Buffalo was like, but this conference proved me wrong. The citizens are working hard to revitalize their city. My feelings were cemented on Friday night when I attended the premiere of Buffalo Unscripted, an amazingly inspiring documentary film showcasing the people of Buffalo. There was so much energy in the room, it was stunning. Every city should have an authentic and emotional video like this. There was so much love for the city that it almost brought me to tears. I want to show it to everyone I know as an example of what we should be focusing on: action and positivity.

Make the Opportunity Count 

Buffalo seemed to embrace what the conference and the cloudburst of interest in local architecture could provide by taking every opportunity to show off their community to the conference attendees - but also involve locals in as many things as possible. Many of the main sessions for the National Trust’s Conference in Buffalo were open to the public. Locals could attend the opening plenary, as well as the two big morning sessions that set the stage, and then the closing speech. The evening activities, such as the candlelight house tour, were also open to the public - but they had to buy tickets. Local sites had special tours for conference attendees and many were open to the public for the first time. This mixing of attendees and the local community created a positive and exciting atmosphere. Everywhere you went, people were talking about the conference (including extensive media coverage). Not only were attendees spending tourist dollars in the community, but energy and excitement about these local places - and heritage in general - was shared by the local community.

Virtual Friends Made Real 

Though the learning opportunities were plentiful, the most amazing experience of the conference was meeting so many of the people in person that I know on Twitter and through blogging! We had several people show up for the #builtheritage chat tweet up (@RocchiJulia, @wanderu, @k10death, @urbanmatt, and @elipousson) and I also got to meet several other tweeters during the conference (@pc_presnation, @atheritagearea, and @heritagewriter). It was nice to turn virtual friends into real life friends and have a conversation with them in more than 140 characters!

Kayla Jonas is a heritage professional based in Southern Ontario and blogs at Adventures in Heritage.

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Preservation Round-Up: Reflecting on Buffalo Edition

Posted on: October 26th, 2011 by David Garber 1 Comment


A whole lotta... (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

Buffawhoa. That (and many other creative, lovable, and definitely-not-cheesy-at-all portmanteaus such as Buffalove and the ever-popular Buffalookatalltheseoldsilos) emerged as the general sentiment after last week's National Preservation Conference in Buffalo, New York. Conference attendees engaged with the city, and - with a sigh of "Finally!" and the help of efforts like Buffalo Unscripted - the city felt heard.

For our last strictly-Buffalo round-up (for now...), we wanted to spread the Buffalink love on stories that reflect back on conference week.

New for Buffalo: A superiority complex. The Buffalo News.
"Our inferiority complex as a downtrodden, Rust Belt city suffered a major blow over the past four days - and recovery may be difficult. ... To borrow a line from Sally Fields' 1985 Oscar acceptance speech: They liked you, Buffalo. They really liked you."

Impact from Preservation Conference Resonates Near and Far. WNED Buffalo Toronto.
"The head of the organization charged with boosting tourism in the region says last week's National Preservation Conference was "a game changer" for the community. Visit Buffalo Niagara President Dottie Gallagher-Cohen says the multi-year effort put into the conference was not just about its $4.5 million immediate economic impact. ... Gallagher-Cohen says many of the 2,500 preservationists were "blown away" by what they saw. She predicts the conference will be paying dividends for many years to come."

Preservation is the way – thoughts following #presconf.
"Here’s how I see it - yes, Buffalo has its problems.  But we’re not the only city that has problems.  We have great people, but we’re not the only city that has great people.  So what really distinguishes Buffalo?  What makes Buffalo Buffalo?  Location.  And History.  In one word -- Place."

Another Reason To Move To Buffalo: The Architecture Is Amazing.
"A year ago I wrote If You Really Want To Get Off Oil, Move To Buffalo, about its incredible infrastructure. What I didn't know at the time was that its architecture is absolutely extraordinary, and that the city is going through and exciting rebirth and revitalization."

As much as in buildings, renewal lies in the arts. The Buffalo News.
"...What may have floated under the radar for some conference attendees - at least those who missed the Trust’s extraordinarily moving and comprehensive documentary “Buffalo Unscripted” - is the head-spinning range and vitality of Buffalo’s active culture. That includes the city’s more than 20 professional theaters currently churning out work, its dozens of art galleries large and small and its growing trove of DIY art spaces - without which our storied edifices would serve merely as pretty headstones marking a monochrome landscape of faded glory."

Buffalo Unscripted moves a city.
"I arrived at Market Arcade Theatre a good hour and a half before the 7:30 p.m. film start time, and the place was already buzzing with excitement and Buffalove. By 6:30 p.m., rumors of the event selling out were already surfacing among event-goers in theater’s lobby and on Twitter. As guests were allowed into the theater shortly after 7 p.m., the excitement mounted, the #BUFunscripted tweets got heavier and the fun began."

David Garber is a member of the Digital and New Media team at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He's never actually stepped foot in Buffalo, but after weeks and months of editing Buffalo-centric posts on this blog is now ultra pumped to visit.

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.

Conference Digest: Wrapping Up, Not Winding Down

Posted on: October 24th, 2011 by Guest Writer 1 Comment


Written by Tatum Taylor

Looking through the stained glass at Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House. (Photo: National Trust for Historic Preservation)

My first Preservation Conference ended as breathlessly as it began -- but it isn’t over. I now have a chance to pause and reflect, and I know I will continue to do so in the coming days. The conference was truly a preservation whirlwind, and given all of the educational sessions, field sessions, plenaries, and tours filling over 50 pages of program listings, it is likely that no two preservationists took identical paths through the conference. This array of options allowed us to pursue the individual interests that make up our incredibly multidisciplinary field. Based on my own conference path, here is my conclusion about some of the affinities that we ultimately have in common.

Buildings: Okay, this one is self-evident; let’s admit that we are all possessed with an affection for the built environment that might seem borderline-obsessive to people from outside the field. And this year's Preservation Conference location made our ardor even more apparent: Buffalo has a giant wooly mammal’s share of lovable buildings. More than aesthetic admiration alone, we share a calling to instill new life in buildings, from the Guaranty’s double rehabilitations, which the restoration architect called “making a silk purse out of a silk purse,” to the historic properties of “Sacred Sites Renewed,” which have escaped threat by adapting to new uses like event venues and apartments while retaining religious services.

Stories: At the heart of much of the preservation work discussed at the conference was storytelling. The new interpretation plan at Buffalo’s Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site was based on the premise of visitors’ path through the house following a narrative storyline, with historic figures viewed as characters. The “Beyond Stonewall” panelists pointed out that hundreds of sites already on the National Register could and should be reinterpreted to reflect connected stories of the LGBT community. Sites related to the Underground Railroad in Ontario brought to light the stories of another previously underrepresented group. And all of the educational sessions centered on preservationists’ stories of their experiences in the field.

Food: My sense of the extent of preservationists’ love of food began as I followed #presconf on Twitter while awaiting my delayed flight to Buffalo and saw references to the scent of cinnamon buns floating through the Opening Plenary. I soon discovered the practical applications of our culinary addictions. At the TR Inaugural Site, sound effects of clinking china and coffee smell generators make the dining room come alive for visitors. Another session showed how house museums can be reimagined as sustainable sites, and food is the key. The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture, for example, promotes the local food movement through agricultural production at the historic Woodlawn property.

Change: This one might seem contradictory to a certain view of preservation as resisting the effects of time, but that view vastly oversimplifies the goals of our field. Every one of the sessions I attended focused on change as a necessary tool. The TR Site, aiming to create a “transformative experience” for visitors, first enacted transformation in its own interpretation. “Beyond Stonewall” called for change in the degree to which LGBT historic sites are officially recognized. And the sacred sites and sustainable house museums changed the way in which their spaces were used in order to maximize their relevance and contributions to their communities.

One another: I’ve heard it said that preservation is a field full of labors of love. As I interacted with thousands of preservationists this week, I witnessed their undeniable willingness to collaborate and swap ideas out of genuine interest, respect, and perhaps the security of a mutual appreciation for why signage or section drawings or shingles can be so awfully exciting. The Preservation Conference was like a family reunion where you find yourself mingling with the aunts and uncles and third-cousins-once-removed that you didn’t quite realize you had, but you are immediately aware that something at the level of your blood unites you. While I was sorry to see the conference end, I left feeling energized to share the preservation fervor of the conference with the rest of the world, knowing that a slew of amazing comrades, colleagues, and friends are on my side.

Tatum Taylor is a second-year student in the Historic Preservation graduate program at Columbia University. She tweets as @heritagewriter and blogs about preservation and place-based heritage at storybuilding.

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.

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Conference Digest, Day 3: Adaptive Use in Niagara-On-The-Lake

Posted on: October 23rd, 2011 by Guest Writer


Written by Asuka Ogawa

“We have to think creatively, or we’ll see these buildings die." This was the theme that emerged on our tour of three adaptive use projects in Niagara-on-the-Lake, led by Leah Wallace, Heritage Planner at the town of Niagara-on-the-lake in Ontario, Canada.

The Coach House at the Rand Estate. (Photo: Asuka Ogawa)

After crossing the American – Canadian Border, we first visited The Rand Estate in Randwood, an amazing 13 acres residential estate property that was the summer estate for the Rand family from 1872 to 1971. The site is listed on the town’s Register of Heritage Resources, and has recently been proposed to be reused as a 106-room inn with a restaurant, spa facilities, a conference center, and artists’ studios.

The first public meeting for this adaptive use was held in September; however, there are still a number of issues to be discussed, including the conservation of cultural and archaeological resources, natural landscape protection, and the impact on adjacent heritage properties and the residential community.

The second site, Fort George National Historic Site was an example of adding a contemporary layer to a historic military site. Fort George played a vital role during the war of 1812, serving as the headquarters for the Center Division of the British army. The War of 1812 laid the foundation of today’s Canada, and the site entails multi- layered values identified by different groups including the First Nations, Canadians, Americans, and the British.

The construction of the four season multi-use shelter “Agora” at the site was approved by The Parks Canada in March 2011. While this new addition would provide further opportunities for cultural tourism and education, our guide from The Parks Canada made note that there are still arguments both for and against this new addition.

Students working on window restoration at Willowbank. (Photo: Asuka Ogawa)

The last stop was at Willowbank, an emerging educational institution that hosts academic apprenticeship training in heritage conservation. The school uses Willowbank’s richly layered aboriginal landscape and the Classical revival mansion built for Alexander and Hanna Hamilton in the 1830s as teaching resources as well as the students’ place to study.

Throughout the tour, we encountered numerous issues and challenges in maintaining the intangible and tangible heritage values while dramatically altering the use. What do we want to preserve? For whom? Can a new addition be considered a “contemporary layer?” If yes, how far can we go?

Adaptive reuse is not a simple task. The field trip vividly showed us that our society is made up of many different groups that place value on a place in their own distinctive ways, but also that our society constitutes the environment in which heritage is conceived and managed. These three ongoing projects in Niagara-on-the-lake provided great examples of how we can save underutilized buildings and disappearing landscapes by giving them a new purpose, meaning, and use.

Asuka Ogawa is a second year student in Columbia’s M.S. Historic Preservation Program, has a BA in Anthropology from Waseda University, Tokyo, and worked as a cultural tourism planner in Japan before coming to New York.

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.

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Conference Digest, Day 2: An Evening With Buffalo Modern

Posted on: October 21st, 2011 by Guest Writer


Fellow Columbia University First Year Historic Preservation Students. (Photo: Hilary Grossman)

After a long day of education lectures, walking tours, and networking there was still one more event on Thursday's agenda: Columbia University’s Historic Preservation Program and TrustModern's reception and tour at the 1973 Buffalo News Building, designed by Edward Durell Stone.

Historic Printing Press - shown on the tour to show how far printing presses have come. (Photo: Hilary Grossman)

Walking into the solid concrete lobby with blocking detail, we were overwhelmed by the streamline modern theory that was applied to the 150,000 square foot building. After taking the elevator up the top floor we were greeted by two second-years and a 36 square foot garden growing inside the two-story atrium.

The tour was led by one of the managers of the Buffalo News. First stop: a historic newspaper where he explained the background of the company. Following his overall explanation he led us downstairs to take a tour of the editorial room and printing room. He showed us everything from the commercial printers to the printing press. He went over in detail how the press works and how the plates are made -- all highly informative. Concluding the night and tour we saw an actual plate being loaded on the press before it went into action.

I recommend anyone that didn’t go to the event to go see the Buffalo News Building. This modern Buffalo gem is open to the public at anytime.

Hilary Grossman is a Columbia University Historic Preservation First Year Master Student, member of the Social Networking and Historic Preservation Class, and  a graduate of Bachelor of Architecture from The Ohio State University.


Some other news and notes from yesterday's PresConf proceedings: Though we livestreamed Thursday's general session on "Preservation in the Age of Sustainability," we do not have a final recording for the event. Apologies to anyone who wanted to catch it later. The good news is, today's general session on right-sizing was captured just fine  -- we'll be sharing that tomorrow.

For tweets from yesterday's sessions, highlights of the Awards ceremony, and on-the-ground coverage of evening events like Museums by moonlight and the Candlelight House Tour, please check out the #presconf feed.

~Julia Rocchi

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