Local Preservationists

 

As part of back-to-school season, we’re featuring several impressive young preservationists who are saving places all around the country. This is the second profile in the series.

Forget history class: At just 11 years old, Nate Michalak is learning the stories behind his Historic Old West End neighborhood in Toledo, Ohio firsthand as he helps his family restore the three historic houses it owns. The sixth-grader and budding preservationist is so knowledgeable and passionate, he caught the attention of Heritage Ohio and has been writing a column in the group’s quarterly magazine.

We caught up with Nate and asked him his favorite thing about restoration work, what he wants to be when he grows up, and what it’s like to be a magazine columnist before he’s even a teenager.

Your family is working to restore three historic houses, can you tell me about that?

The house we live in is from 1903, it’s the Julius G. Lamson House and when we got it, the earlier owners had totally gutted it and made it sort of modern, they modernized the kitchen and modernized everything. We’re working on the second floor, we’re almost done with the first floor.

And then we own a house next door (dating to 1904) where I’m planning to live when I grow up, and that was turned into an eight-unit apartment including the garage from 1913. The past owner painted the house rainbow colors, I mean literally pink, yellow, and green.

What we’re doing right now is there was a two-story addition that looked like a big rectangle that was on the back and they also put on a side porch. And just recently we took that off so we’re working on that and there were some really cool rafters that hung out, so we’ve got scaffolding up there, literally like 50 feet in the air, and it’s really fun to go up there. So we took all that off and the past owners, when they added the addition on, they took off about six rows of the green tile on the roof and we found somebody that tore down a school that had the exact same tiles so we going to get some of that and redo it.

The other house across the street (c. 1911), we’re trying to get my grandpa to move in. The house is really nice, it has a nine-car garage, we like hot rods so we’ve got a 1940 Willys and a 1953 MG TD. The house is stucco, it was painted brown originally, we’re painting the inside window [sash] green. There was a house next door but it had a fire and they tore it down, so it’s got a big side yard, which is really nice.

The original oak staircase was painted white when we got it and the people who lived here before were really big smokers so everything they had that was white is just yellow. In all of our houses all the radiators are painted white so we sandblasted those and painted them gold as they had originally been.

When you’re working on this, who all is working with you?

I work with my dad and my grandpa mostly. Every once in a while my mom helps out.

What kind of stuff do you get to do personally?

I get to do the whole shebang. I do the woodwork with my grandpa because the house next door has these pieces that hang off the roof and are really detailed. They have this swirl on them. My grandpa redid all of them in about a week and they were totally identical.

What’s your favorite thing about restoring old houses?

Tearing it apart, if you tear out the plaster on walls, let’s say, then you can see what the original wallpaper underneath that was like. So I think my favorite part of doing this, two out of three of our houses we have the blueprints to, and you just look at it and you think oh my gosh this is amazing and you think how could anyone take this house that’s amazing and turn it into an eight-unit apartment?

I told my mom it’s like finding buried treasure, there’s diamonds, there’s gold, there’s everything.

What do you like about history?

I like the architecture. Today everything is so plain, if you look at a fireplace today, it’s just a big hole in the wall.  But I’m sitting here right now and I see an oak wall, beautiful brick [fireplace] with a beautiful oak mantel coming over off the top, with beautiful scrolling that comes down. I think that’s not right that a lot of these kinds of houses are being torn down to make new houses or shopping malls and I wonder, why? Why would you tear down a beautiful old house and make something brand new?

What has it been like writing the column for Heritage Ohio?

It’s pretty cool. [The Heritage Ohio group] came here and we went through one house and then another and another and I was guiding them and then finally [Heritage Ohio Executive Director Joyce Barrett] said “Do you want to write articles for us?” and I said “Well, I’ll think about it.” But now that I think about it it’s pretty cool to be able to express my feelings about these old houses and just maybe some people will start to believe you don’t need to tear down these houses to put up a new modern one. Buy it and restore it to its original form.

The house next door is the house you’re planning on living in when you grow up. How did you choose that? Why do you like that one best?

I just like that one best because it’s a beautiful house and that way I can remember when I grew up that I fixed this and I did that. With the house we live in right now, I didn’t do much of this stuff, my parents did. And when I have kids I want to be able to say, “Look at this, I did this.”

Is this something you want to do when you grow up?

To be honest with you I have no idea. I look at how my grandpa does all this stuff and I might want to be a carpenter; I might want to design things. I’d love to do this for a living, it’s just I think it’s really cool to be able to live in a house that goes back 110 years ago.

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.

Balancing Preservation and Development in the Rapidly Growing Capital

Posted on: October 17th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Ari Gefen, Public Affairs Intern


Streetscape in Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, Washington DC.

On Friday, October 12, I had the pleasure of attending two of the afternoon sessions at the DC Preservation League's 2012 Conference at the Charles Sumner School. The talks gave great insight into unique concerns that preservationists face in a city that is changing at an intense pace.

The first talk I attended was on streetscapes, which may not be what you think they are. Streetscapes are the trees, planters, and other breaks in the concrete and asphalt that line every street in Washington, DC.

These small patches of flora make the District one of the best stewards of green space within a dense urban center in the country, and are actually quite historic in nature. In fact, these streetscapes date all the way back to the Parking Act of 1870. Facing road deterioration due to weather and Civil War troop movements, as well as severe budgetary restraints, Congress came up with the inventive solution of “parking” its roads.

This parking created a distinctive “greenprint” for DC streets that now covers over 9,000 acres of space on District sidewalks. Besides providing practical benefits such as reducing crime, flooding, and pollution, these parking spaces also create a pleasant and consistent aesthetic that makes DC one of the most walkable cities in the nation.

Trees and planters on the sidewalks are probably not the first thoughts that pop into people’s mind when they think of DC, but this talk definitely made the point that the small things in a city are also an important part of what makes it great.

The second seminar concerned the subject of new developments in historic districts, and covered a wide array of approaches to the issue. The first speaker, James Appleby, spoke about the Bryan School, a disused but historic property in his neighborhood that was falling into disrepair.

Through the formation of a neighborhood association with the school as its landmark property, Appleby was able to work with developers to reuse the school as condominiums, revitalizing a community around a property that most people had written off.


Mural in U St. corridor, Washington DC.

Sheryl Walter, who is the current head of the U Street Neighborhood Association, discussed the challenge of maintaining the historic nature of a community that has become a serious entertainment hub with very desirable and underdeveloped space.

Though Walter seemed mostly welcoming of the massive development coming to her neighborhood, she was attempting to restrain overambitious and tall development that would obscure the nature of the neighborhood. Considering the breakneck pace of development in the U Street corridor, however, it was unclear how much power her community will be able to wield in holding back the onslaught of apartment complexes and retail space.

The third speaker spoke about perhaps the most unique preservation concern -- preservation of a community, rather than a building. Jim Myers lived through and wrote extensively on the horrible murders and mismanagement surrounding the Kentucky Courts public housing project in the 1990s. The Kentucky Courts were built in the modernist style and at first created a successful community in Capitol Hill East. Its interconnected stairwells and open courtyard fomented a sense of togetherness and encouraged neighborly interaction.

However, the same elements that made Kentucky Courts a pleasant place to live eventually came to serve a different purpose, as the building began to fall apart and its passageways became a perfect setting for a gang fortress in the 1990s. Through strong community activism, and with eventual cooperation from the DC government, Myers and his neighbors were finally able to bring down the infamous project and replace it with mixed income housing funded by a private-public partnership.

Myers’ story brought up an interesting point about the diversity of preservation that I believe was well presented in these conference sessions. Preservation often focuses on a particular building or neighborhood, but the preservation of community and character is equally important.

The talks I attended demonstrated that preservation moving forward will have to address both issues while also accommodating necessary change. Successfully navigating these challenges will ensure that DC remains the captivating place it is today, even as it continues to grow at a rapid rate.

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.

Crossing the Rappahannock: A Pilgrimage to Freedom

Posted on: October 15th, 2012 by Rob Nieweg

 


Crossing the Rappahannock, September 2012.

It is a privilege to witness grassroots preservation in action, discovering nearly forgotten historic places and raising public awareness of almost-lost chapters of our shared heritage. On Saturday, September 22, 2012, I joined some 300 people along the banks of the Rappahannock River near Remington, Virginia, to commemorate the extraordinary courage of the enslaved women, children, and men who freed themselves from bondage during the Civil War.

The public event was hosted by the new African American Heritage Alliance and co-sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Between 1861 and 1865, more than 500,000 enslaved people liberated themselves and, thereby, influenced the wartime public debate about slavery and hastened the formal Emancipation Proclamation.

They did not wait to be freed; instead, these self-emancipators risked their lives to liberate themselves. Unfortunately, little has been written about the Civil War-era freedom seekers, and most Americans are unaware of this part of our heritage. And, too little has been done to preserve and interpret historic places associated with emancipation. That is beginning to change, and the National Trust is doing its part.

Preservation magazine’s May-June 2011 issue covered Fort Monroe and other historic places that are beginning to be recognized for their associations with the end of slavery. In May 2011 the National Trust convened 75 experts at President Lincoln’s Cottage to discuss ways in which emancipation sites can be interpreted to tell the unvarnished truths of this chapter of American history.


Crossing the Rappahannock, August 1862.

Cow’s Ford near Tin Pot Run on Virginia’s Rappahannock River is one of those historic places along the road to freedom whose meaning for American heritage merits our attention. One hundred and fifty years ago, on August 19, 1862, a group of five fugitive slaves was photographed crossing the river and entering Union Army lines in Culpeper County, where they would have found freedom and relative safety.

The 1862 photograph is a rare and evocative record of enslaved people escaping to freedom -- one of many millions of acts of resistance against the injustices of slavery. As historian John Hennessey has written:

“The men, women, and children who crossed the river -- people whose names were not recorded, whose lives have rarely been honored -- helped force a wayward nation onto a path that permitted greatness. It was the slaves themselves who by simple acts helped unleash a heroic struggle for liberty and equality that has overspread the world, enriched the life of every single American, and continues still.”

The 1862 image is well-known to Civil War scholars. Until very recently, however, no one realized that the historic photograph had been taken at Cow’s Ford or, importantly, that the riverside landscape of the historic ford itself survives today unchanged since the war.

The public commemoration on September 22 -- the first ever on this hallowed ground -- was organized by Howard Lambert and Zann Nelson, co-founders of the African American Heritage Alliance, and was convened on the original historic site with the gracious permission of the private property owner. After remarks by historians Clark Hall, John Hennessy, and Dianne Swann-Wright, and with the strains of traditional gospel hymns echoing across the Rappahannock, a group of people entered the river to retrace the footsteps of the fugitive slaves.

It was an honor for me to participate in the river walk. Next year, the African American Heritage Alliance hopes to repeat and expand the Rappahannock River celebration on August 17, 2013 (tentative). In the meantime, I encourage you to visit Arlington National Cemetery where almost 4,000 self-emancipators lie buried. (More than four million people visit Arlington Cemetery each year. How many know about the Cemetery’s connection to the Civil War-era freedom movement?)

When you visit Section 27, one of the oldest parts of Arlington National Cemetery, you’ll note that there is a regrettable lack of public interpretation offered by the cemetery, generally, and virtually nothing said to explain why thousands of civilian women, men, and children -- freedmen and contrabands -- rest there. Someday, perhaps, Arlington National Cemetery will recognize the sacrifices and struggles of the Civil War-era freedom seekers buried in Section 27.

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.

Rob Nieweg

Rob Nieweg

Rob Nieweg is a Field Director & Attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He leads the National Trust’s Washington Field Office, which works to save historic resources in Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. He has worked as a preservation advocate since 1989.

 

As part of back-to-school season, we’re featuring several impressive young preservationists who are saving places all around the country. Enjoy the first profile in our series!

Her blisters may have healed, but Millicent "Millie" Pepion’s work isn’t over.

This summer, the 27-year-old, a senior at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan., trekked 1,300 miles from her Midwestern college town to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the Wakarusa Wetlands. The only remaining indigenous wetland prairie in Lawrence, the sacred site is threatened by proposed highway construction.


The Wakarusa Wetlands.

The land has been used as a space for ceremony, prayer, and education since the university was founded in 1884. For Pepion, whose origins are in Navajo and Blackfoot tribes, these wetlands have both historic and personal significance.

"I go there every week," Pepion says. "Walking around, putting energy into it, I feel better. It’s holy to me."

Saving the wetlands, she says, means honoring the children who died there in Haskell’s early days, as well as saving the more than 400 indigenous plants and 260 migratory birds that have been documented on the grounds.

As former president of her university’s environmental group, Pepion felt compelled to take action.

"Some people have been like, 'Just build the highway. It doesn’t matter; it was a long time ago. How will we ever move forward?'" she says. "But I think we can move forward. If something is truly special, it shouldn’t be destroyed just for a freeway."

Naming the walk the Trail of Broken Promises, she wrangled together a group of 13 students and community activists, plus one intrepid dog, to call attention to the wetlands and the challenges that come with preserving sacred places within Indian Country.


The walkers pause at the Trail of Death marker in downtown Paris, MO. Top row (l. to r.): Jackson Shaad, Wayne Yandell (Choctaw), Leonard Lowery III (Choctaw), Isacc Mitchell (Osage), Chad Buttram, Mary Iorio (3 Affiliated Tribes of ND), Shireen Ohadi-homadani (Creek), Michael Ofor (3 Affiliated Tribes of ND), and Millie Pepion (Navajo, Blackfeet). Bottom row (l. to r.): Julia Trechak, Mark Olsen (Citizen Band Potawatomi), and Chad Crisco (Kaw).

Setting out on May 13, the group covered eight states, taking turns to walk in groups of three or four while the others rode in cars, and arriving in Washington, D.C., seven weeks later.

Along the way, they visited little-known Native American sites and participated in events like the Great Lakes Native American Cultural Center’s powwow in Portland, Ind. They also met former President Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference in Chicago on June 8, delivering a proposal to create a CGI Native America convention.

Once in the nation’s capital, Pepion and her group presented to Congress a piece of legislation to amend the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, "to provide a right of action to protect Native American Sacred Places" -- like the Wakarusa Wetlands. They also met with the Committee on Indian Affairs, National Congress of American Indians, and U.S. Department of Agriculture and Forestry to discuss the wetlands and the importance of preserving Native American sites.

Back in Lawrence, Pepion will continue to educate people about the importance of the wetlands and raise support for the legislation she presented to Congress.

"The walk is over, but we’re not done yet," she says. "We still have a lot of work to do."


Outside Congress. From l. to r.: Chad Buttram, Millie Pepion, Leonard Lowery, a fellow walker from the Navajo tribe, Stanley Perry (Navajo), Julia Trechack, Jackson Shaad, and Michael Ofor.

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.

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based Field Editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about history, art, architecture, and public space.

 


Front view of the church. The dated stone’s translation reads: “Evangelical Lutheran German and English Church A.D. 1863.”

In June 2009, a small story appeared in Brian Brehmer's church bulletin looking for interested people who wanted to work towards preserving and promoting their historic church -- the Salem Lutheran Landmark Church, the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod.

Despite his lack of preservation background, Brian was inspired to help the place where he'd been a lifelong congregant, and so joined with other preservation-minded community members to form the Friends of the Landmark Church.

Now, three years later, the Friends group is continuing its work to repair the building and catalog the history of this local treasure. We caught up with Brian to learn what the church means to his community, and how these local preservationists are shaping the future for a historic place.

Describe your personal history with Landmark Church and the community. What does the church mean to you?

I have been a member of [Landmark Church] my entire life (40 years) and am the fifth generation of my family to be a member. I was baptized in the old church and had both my kindergarten and first-grade classes in the adjoining building. I live in the same city (Milwaukee) as my family has since 1858.

The church is important to me both as a reminder of my religious home, but also as a reminder of those people who lived and died before me. It also allows me the opportunity to give something back to those who gave something to me.

Tell me more about the historical significance of the Wisconsin Synod. What is it, why is it important to your community, and how is it tied to the church you’re working to save?

The Landmark Church, built of cream city brick in 1863, served as the home of Salem Lutheran Church's congregation from 1863-1977, before a new church was built to accommodate more members. It is important as it marks the birthplace of the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran church body (albeit across the street from where the original log cabin church stood).

This church, now a museum for the work of the Wisconsin Synod throughout the last 150 years, reminds not only us but the community as a whole about the importance and continuance of the mission started by a handful of families long ago, a mission we still continue to do. This church is also one of the oldest remaining buildings in the city of Milwaukee and has been recognized as such.


This original altarpiece and the other white chancel furnishings were donated in 1922 (the 75th anniversary of the congregation) by the Ladies Aid.

When you first saw the notice in the church bulletin about helping save the church, what went through your mind? What convinced you to pitch in and help save it?

When I first saw the notice, I saw it as an opportunity to use my education and my history with the church at the same time. I felt that since the Brehmers have been attending the church for 100+ years, I had an obligation to help preserve it and draw attention to the cause at hand. It was an opportunity for me to use my education and to give back in some way to the church that had served my family for so long.

I also could not see another historical building lost as so many have in the city of Milwaukee. Plus I wanted to learn about the history that I myself was not a part of, the history that existed before I was born.

How much preservation experience did you bring to the table at the outset? What have you learned over the course of working with the Friends?

Absolutely none, actually. While one of my degrees is in history (the roots of which were started by my 7th grade teacher at Salem, Mr. Bruce Bintz), and I have a lifelong love of archaeology and the study of the past, I had not been able to actually get my hands dirty in actual work, nor did I know just what went into saving a building and its artifacts.

I have learned that while not easy, working towards a common goal is actually fun and full of personal opportunities. I have also learned the importance of something as simple as a photo that lay in a drawer for years which was able to fill in gaps or answer questions.


This stained glass window depicts Jerusalem -- originally called Salem.

What’s your dream for the church?

My dream for the church is that it continues to serve as a reminder for those who are still living and for those who have not yet been born. I want it to continue to draw people to it and to remind them of the sacrifices that have been made on a private personal level as well as on a more communal level.

I'd also love to see the archives and the stories documented and presented in such a way that others can learn and grow from the work that we have done and will continue to do.

What’s your biggest piece of advice to people in other communities who want to save a place that matters to them?

The biggest piece of advice is to not give up. There will be both highs and lows, but all of them will be learning experiences and will pay off in the long run.

Also, be willing to constantly look for and accept help and input from others. Work is much easier if you have many workers than just a handful of dedicated ones. Plus, you never know what skills or abilities that one may bring to the table.

Lastly, I think that its important to have a clear-cut and constant goal. But don't carve it in stone, [and remember that] just because you have to adjust things doesn't mean you have failed yourselves or your mission.

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 associate director for 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.