[10 on Tuesday] The Essential Preservation Reading List

Posted on: August 21st, 2012 by Emily Potter 4 Comments


We started you off on a reading list in a previous blog post a few weeks ago with a couple of books about how to research the history of your older home.  Today, we’ve put together a few more (10 titles to fit right in for this week’s "10 on Tuesday") for you to take a look at if you’re interested in delving in to the world of historic preservation for the first time or honing your professional skills -- or anything in between.

This list is certainly not comprehensive. In fact, we plan on growing it and would love to hear your recommendations for additions below in the comments.

Head to your local or online bookstore to look for these and other related good reads on preservation. Happy reading!

To Get You Started:

1. Historic Preservation: An Introduction to Its History, Principles, and Practice by Norman Tyler

2. Historic Preservation Technology: A Primer by Robert A. Young

Books to Help You Dig Deeper:

3. The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation by Steven W. Semes

4. Historic Preservation and the Livable City by Eric W. Allison and Lauren Peters

Putting Preservation into Practice:

5. Housekeeping for Historic Homes and House Museums by Melissa Heaver, edited by Byrd Wood (a National Trust publication)

6. A Richer Heritage: Historic Preservation in the Twenty-First Century by Robert E. Stipe

Some Helpful Guides:

7. A Layperson’s Guide to Preservation Law: Federal, State, and Local Laws Governing Historic Resources by Julia Miller, edited by Byrd Wood (a National Trust publication)

8. What Style Is It?: A Guide to American Architecture by John C. Poppeliers and S. Allen Chambers

9. The Economics of Historic Preservation: A Community Leader’s Guide by Donovan D. Rypkema

10. Sustainable Preservation: Greening Existing Buildings by Jean Carroon

And for a little lighter reading:

From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story by Ron Tanner

At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Some of you may remember the National Trust’s Preservation Books collection. While we are temporarily no longer selling these books through, you can find a list of titles still available elsewhere on the Internet.

There are so many helpful and comprehensive publications out there for both the historic preservation novice and professional. Please tell us in the comments about other preservation-related books you'd recommend!

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.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.


A long summer weekend finds me escaping the stifling D.C. heat back in my hometown of Cleveland and again in the thick of some innovative preservation work, this time at Crop Bistro & Bar, the dual-purpose restaurant and research and development kitchen of chef and restaurateur, Steve Schimoler, in the heart of the historic Ohio City neighborhood.

The kitchen specializes in modern American cuisine with a focus on local and seasonal ingredients and tonight, my quail stuffed with pecan cornbread, drizzled with a fresh plum sauce, and served on a bed of baby kale salad is exceptional. But perhaps the most impressive element of the meal is the setting.

To create both a viable restaurant and a legitimate research and development kitchen, Schimoler needed a big space. What he found was the United Bank Building. The classical 1925 structure designed by architects Frank Walker and Harry Weeks features six massive arched windows along the building’s facade, a coffered  ceiling, 12 bronze light fixtures ornamented in gold, and 17,000 square feet of floor space, including a 5,000-square-foot vault that now serves as a private dining room.

Diners can walk through the original vault into a private dining room.

The space was originally pitched to Schimoler as a manufacturing facility for special items designed in his test kitchens.

“So I came over and did the tour and I’m like, ‘No way,’” says Schimoler. “There’s no way you can turn this into a manufacturing facility. And I immediately was smitten with the space. I’m a total sucker for historic buildings and I knew at that moment when I walked through here, I said ‘I’m going to do a restaurant here.’”

Inside the vault.

Schimoler did much of the adaptive reuse planning and restoration work himself, including the design of the restaurant layout and the building of the bar, which entailed cutting and hand-polishing original white Carerra Marble that was discovered in the basement. He also restored the 1925 mural of a marketplace, which revealed billowing storm clouds in the background – perhaps a prescient nod, Schimoler suggests, to the October 1929 stock market crash that shuttered the building four years after its completion.

“It was almost like it was [originally] designed to be a restaurant,” Schimoler says of the building. “I have restaurateurs and chefs come in here from all over the country and they’re like, ‘we couldn’t have designed it as a better restaurant.’ It’s kind of scary.”

But the United Bank Building isn’t Schimoler’s first foray into historic preservation. He previously adapted a 200-year-old grist mill in Waterbury, Vermont that lacked running water and electricity into a similar restaurant venture, renaming it The Mist Grill (since closed).

Schimoler says his love for historic buildings is the result of his upbringing in an 18th century home on Long Island and a mother who was active in their local preservation society.

“One of the things that I’m really most proud of is that we have thousands and thousands of people that are coming through the doors of Crop who are getting a chance to see this piece of history,” he says.

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.

David Weible

David Weible

David Weible is a content specialist for the National Trust, previously with Preservation magazine. He came to D.C. from Cleveland, Ohio, where he wrote for Sailing World and Outside magazines.

Thoughts from the Summit at Green Mountain Lookout

Posted on: August 10th, 2012 by Brian Turner 5 Comments


Upon first gaping at the precarious perch of the historic fire lookout on the summit of Green Mountain, my backpacking companion captured the sentiment exactly:

“Yep, those old timers were crazy.”

The precarious perch of the lookout above a steep ledge.

The Green Mountain lookout stands on the crest of a volcanic ridgeline more than seven grueling miles and 5,000 feet higher than its nearest trailhead in the Cascades of Washington State. It was built in 1933 by a hardy work crew from the Civilian Conservation Corps who first carted its heavy wood windows, planks, and support beams on the steep climb up the mountain. Today, it remains a marvel of human ingenuity and backcountry engineering.

Since a federal court ordered the lookout removed from the mountaintop last April (background on the situation here), its future has been in limbo. Legislation was recently introduced to save it from demolition, but its passage is far from certain. So I decided to set out to see the site in its original setting, to see if the debate -- whether all traces of human influence should be removed from designated wilderness areas -- held up.

I began in Darrington, an old logging town two hours northeast of Seattle. Scott Morris, a volunteer with the local Darrington Historical Society, graciously offered to accompany me. It was not an easy hike. Road closures have made what was once a popular day trip to the lookout now require at least one night of camping on the journey.



We began on an old, unmaintained path at the confluence of the Suiattle River and Downey Creek and scrambled for three hours with our backpacks over downed logs, frequently losing and re-finding the trail. By early afternoon we reached the maintained trail that leads to the summit of the mountain with another 4+ miles of uphill ahead.

As we climbed higher, the rewards were tremendous. Near the wilderness boundary we spotted a black bear foraging on young huckleberries. A golden eagle sailed the ridge, hunting for unsuspecting marmots sun-bathing on the rocks. Fields of brilliant wildflowers greeted us in the high country, freshly emerged from the melting snow drifts.



At the summit of Green Mountain, we were in a cloud, the surrounding world barely visible. We found the lookout in its winter dormancy; the heavy wooden shutters that protected its paned glass windows were strapped down with an oversized belt. We opened them to the elements -- a seasonal ritual -- propping up the shutters with iron bars and inspecting damage to the catwalk caused by heavy snow loads. After setting up camp inside, we ate a warm meal and tried to forget about how terrifyingly close to the ledge we actually were.

Tufts of wildflowers and Glacier Peak visible from the lookout entrance.

By dawn the clouds had sunk below us and the tops of the high peaks of the Cascades appeared as islands in the sky. By the time we closed the lookout, the clouds had dispersed entirely, revealing expansive forests in every direction. During the entire trip we saw not another soul. I found it no wonder that some of America’s most influential environmental thinkers were inspired by their solitary summers in the lookouts of the Northwest: Ed Abbey, Gary Snyder, and Jack Kerouac, to name a few.


In some cases, a competing public policy may offer a compelling reason against keeping a historic place in wilderness -- when a historic dam threatens a rare species, for example. But the only thing at risk with the Green Mountain Lookout is an ideology, the mistaken notion the land must be clear cut of any tangible remain of human influence, regardless of how small of an impact it has on natural values.

In contrast, the relatively small amount of historic sites in our America’s wilderness are irreplaceable assets with potential to foster even greater environmental awareness -- to appreciate how land was used (and misused) over time. While some may see these places as an expression of ego, others are likely to be humbled by how small mankind really is in comparison to the vastness of the wilderness beyond.

In a mere flash of geologic time, natural forces will erode the Green Mountain Lookout from its perch, as they have already for many of its kind. Until then, it is a great privilege (for those who can bear the hike) to see those forces in action. In my view, keeping the lookout intact and accessible not only honors the hardy individuals who labored for it, but sustains a popular part of the American identity that takes pride in the careful stewardship of the spectacular land we inherit.

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.

Brian Turner

Brian Turner

Brian Turner is an attorney in the National Trust's San Francisco Field Office. He is an enthusiastic advocate for the protection of the nation's cultural and natural heritage.

[10 on Tuesday] 10 Ways to Research Your Home's History

Posted on: July 31st, 2012 by Emily Potter 6 Comments


When we make friends we like to learn about them -- we ask them where they grew up, where they went to school, and when they were born.

Our homes are a lot like that. We spend time with them, value them, and take care of them. So it makes sense that we want to know more about them -- who lived there before, how it’s changed over time, and when it was built.

If only walls could talk, right? Instead, here are 10 ways to uncover the story behind your older or historic home (or any other building you’re interested in):

1. Look closely at your house. Exposed rafters in the attic and bricks in the basement can tell you a lot about how old your house might be. You might find dates or stamps left by the builder; different-sized bricks will tell you that the house was built in different construction cycles.

Tip: Closets are great places to uncover clues like old wallpaper or paint -- certain paper patterns or color-schemes can be traced back to a popular period style.

2. Be your own archaeologist. Scope out your backyard the next time you’re in the garden and look carefully at buried treasure you might find, like old glass bottles or children’s toys. Items like that can tell you a lot about who lived in the house and when.

3. Talk to people. Talk to your neighbors, local business owners, even the mailman. They might be able to tell you who lived in the house before you and remember if any changes have been made to it over time.

4. Explore the neighborhood. Are there other older buildings that look similar? How does your house fit in -- for example, does your house face a different way? It could have been built on land that was once a farm while the rest of your neighborhood was built later.

Tip: If you live near a city, measure the distance to the city center. The farther you are from the original core, the younger your house might be.

5. Learn the history of the area. How old is the city or town you live in? Did any major events take place in the area? (For example: Was it the scene of a battle? Was your home, or any other nearby building, designed by a noted architect?) Answering these questions can offer important clues to your house’s own history.

6. Check your historic district status. If you don’t already know if your house is designated as a historic structure, you can check with your State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) or other local preservation office. They will also be able to tell you whether you live in a historic district.

Tip: Look for properties in your area on the National Register of Historic Places.

7. Research land and property records. A simple deed or title search can tell you who owned the property and when and tax records can tell you how the property has changed over time. Many city or county records offices also have Sanborn fire maps, which can date back as far as the 19th or 20th centuries and show the footprint of your house and layout of the neighborhood.

8. Look up local census data. Census records can tell you more about the lives of previous owners, like the number of children in the house, cost of the home, whether the home had a radio, and more.

Also: Stop by your local public library and look for a city directory -- a precursor to the modern phone book -- which might offer more details on previous occupants.

9. Contact your local historical society and visit your public library. Ask to see old photographs they might have of your house or the surrounding land, historical maps of the area, or newspapers with specific articles that reference history of the local town.

10. Read! There are many books out there to guide you further in your research, such as Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You by David E. Kyvig and Myron A. Marty; or Discovering the History of Your House and Your Neighborhood by Betsey J. Green. Search your public library or local bookstore for more titles.

You don’t need a master’s degree to learn about the history of your home, public building, or any other place. All you need is a little time, your eyes, ears, and feet … and 10 helpful tips to get you started.

Bonus: Check out the University of Maryland University Library’s webpage on researching historic houses. You’ll find the information there can be applied to places nationwide.

Let us know what you find out!

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.

Emily Potter

Emily Potter is a copywriter at the National Trust. She enjoys writing about places of all kinds, the stories that make them special, and the people who love them enough to save them.

Our Op-Ed about the Future of Woodlawn, a National Treasure

Posted on: July 27th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Woodlawn is a 126-acre estate that was originally part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The main Federal-style house was constructed between 1800 and 1805 for Washington’s nephew, Major Lawrence Lewis, and his wife, Eleanor “Nelly” Custis Lewis.

During the Lewis’ years in residence, Woodlawn comprised over 2,000 acres and was supported by scores of workers, at least 90 of whom were enslaved people of African descent. In 1846, the Lewis’s son sold the property to Quaker families who made Woodlawn a “free labor colony,” selling lots to free black and white farmers -- a tremendously controversial social experiment.

Today, Woodlawn -- which is a National Historic Landmark, as well as one of the Trust's National Treasures -- is facing a set of possible threats due to a planned widening or re-routing of Route 1, which currently crosses through the site.

The following is an excerpt from National Trust Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer David Brown's op-ed on the subject in the Fairfax Times:

Woodlawn’s historical and cultural significance cannot be overstated. The 126-acre estate originally was part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and its main house dates back more than 200 years. During the pre-Civil War era, Woodlawn was established as a “free labor colony,” selling lots to both free black and white farmers. The owners of the estate employed only free laborers to undermine the argument that the abolition of slavery would mean the death of the Southern plantation economy. Today, Woodlawn stands as a symbol of liberty and equality that we are honored to help protect for generations to come.

Making difficult choices when it comes to preservation issues is nothing new at the National Trust. Our privately- funded nonprofit is guided by its mission to take on-the-ground action to support and encourage grassroots preservation efforts and protect historic resources when necessary. The National Trust has helped to save and enhance thousands of places across the U.S. since its inception.

As the Route 1 project advances, we are committed to working with the community and the FHWA [Federal Highway Administration] to protect our most valuable asset: our history.

Read the entire op-ed online: Route 1 project leaves no good options.

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.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

The Not-So-Sad State of Carter's Grove

Posted on: July 26th, 2012 by Dennis Hockman 10 Comments


Since 1755 the Carter’s Grove plantation house and grounds has been variously a working plantation, a family home, a house museum and archaeological site owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CWF), and then again, in 2007, a private residence. Sixteen archeological sites have been identified on the Carter’s Grove property. One dates back to around 55 B.C. and many others are from the early 17th century, when the area was Wolstenholme Town, one of the first British settlements.

The stately 1755 mansion is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the United States.

More recently the stately historic mansion, which is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the nation, has been the topic of numerous newspaper and magazine stories focusing on current owner Halsey Minor, his financial affairs, the neglect of the architecturally- and historically-important structure, the attempted foreclosure on the property by the CWF, and the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of the LLC Minor established as owner of the estate.

The most recent story published in the Washington Post Magazine sparked outrage among preservationists as the writer detailed a “historic treasure…falling apart,” and “a valuable and once-beautiful piece of American history…being lost.”

Prior to the Post story, the Virginia Gazette published reports on the condition of Carter’s Grove including an essay by Halsey who described “a 4-foot hole in the wall on the second floor” of the house.

The dozens of stories that have been written thus far have primarily focused on the legal brouhaha that has ensued between Minor and Carter’s Grove’s former owners, using the condition of the house as backdrop to a scandal.  The controversy makes for a juicy read, but frankly I couldn’t care less about that. It was those dismal descriptions of an important Colonial era mansion in decline that got my attention, and set me down a path that included reading scads of salacious news stories and ended on site at Carter’s Grove so I could see all of this damage for myself.

Repairable buckling, splitting, and cracking of original interior paneling was the result of wood shrinking and expanding because of wide interior temperature and humidity fluctuations during the period of time when the environmental control system was inoperable. Damage was, in some cases, exacerbated by water infiltration from the roof or exterior walls.

There, I joined Matt Webster, director of historic architectural resources for CWF, and Megan Melinat,  easement program architect for Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources (DHR) who have been assessing conditions and recommending a battery of repairs to resolve the causes of the problems and restore the damaged areas.

“We first assessed the property in October 2011, around the same time foreclosure process started,” says Melinat. “From October on we’ve been there every month to evaluate and document the existing condition.”

Also along for the tour was lawyer Stan Samorajczyk, the court-appointed Chapter 11 trustee of Carter’s Grove, who is overseeing the repair work being recommended and then managed by CWF and DHR.

Samorajczyk’s charge under the law, he says “is to protect the property and ultimately liquidate or sell it to the benefit of all creditors.” Along the way it’s his desire, and, he suggests, the judge’s as well, to preserve Carter’s Grove as an important piece of American Colonial history.

Organic growth, possibly mold, can be found around some of the window and door frames. This was the result of an inoperable interior environmental control system and relatively hotter or cooler outside air infiltrating the house where woodwork meets exterior walls.

What I found on my visit was not a house in ruin or falling apart as just about everything I read has described, but rather a beautiful Colonial era mansion perched on a hill with a view of the James River. Inside I saw signs of neglect, for sure:

  • water damage to the original plaster walls caused by roof leaks and infiltration from clogged gutters;
  • buckled and cracked paneling resulting from a combination of water damage and an inoperative heating and air conditioning systems;
  • and what is likely sporadic mold, also a consequence of that inoperative HVAC system.

But such damage was limited, and most of the house was in beautiful condition.

More good news is that the underlying problems Melinat and Webster identified were discovered before irreparable damage was done. The HVAC is fixed, now regulating the building’s interior temperature and humidity and eliminating the problem that had allowed “mold” growth and contributed to the paneling damage.

Also completed were emergency flashing repairs to eliminate roof leaks and unclogging gutters and downspouts to prevent rainwater runoff from backing up into the house.  Next, all of the aging galvanized flashing will be replaced with copper, and then such interior work as plaster and paneling repairs will begin.

The interior plaster of this 18th century structure attaches directly to the structural masonry exterior walls, and as roof leaks allowed water into the exterior walls Carter’s Grove suffered some repairable failure of the original plaster.

The goal of the work being financed by CWF is to return the house to the condition it was in before the sale to Minor.  Trustee Stan Samorajczyk talks about his task not just as a disinterested third party, but as someone who has fallen in love with Carter’s Grove and will strive to make good not just for the creditors but for the house as well.

Though much ink has been spilled addressing Minor’s responsibility and the sad state of the Colonial mansion he acquired some five years ago, the stories also shed light on the dilemma facing important historic houses nationwide.  As demographics change, the “red velvet rope” house museum model is not as popular as it once was and attendance is waning.  This is one of the reasons CWF decided to sell Carter’s Grove with a preservation and conservation easement attached designed to protect the house in perpetuity.

A view of Carter’s Grove from the James River reveals the building’s classic 5-part Georgian design, which consists of the central structure, two wings, and two connecting segments, called hyphens.

As preservationists everywhere are redefining how important historic structures stay relevant to people today, the house museum is often being reconsidered and places that were homes often for centuries before being frozen in time as museums are becoming houses again.  Private citizens nationwide are becoming stewards of the historic sites where they live.

Financial incentives for taking on the added cost of preserving and maintaining historic structures come in the form of state and federal easement and tax credit programs.  Tax credit programs help minimize the cost of renovation and easements protect historic places into the future. (More on the federal tax credit program here.)

As more and more Americans take advantage of these programs, it’s a sign that they will be making an earnest effort to provide the same care and maintenance the buildings would have received as a museum open to the public.  And if not, as with Carter’s Grove, safety nets are in place to catch problems before they become disasters.

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.

Dennis Hockman

Dennis Hockman

Dennis Hockman is editor in chief of Preservation magazine. He’s lived all over the United States but currently resides in Baltimore where he is restoring a 1918 center hall Colonial.