Local Preservationists

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.

[Interview] Morgan Devlin, Preserve Rhode Island: Rhody Rules the Roost

Posted on: September 21st, 2012 by Julia Rocchi

 

Morgan Devlin's favorite new colleague is ... a rooster.

As marketing manager for the Historic Sites Coalition of Rhode Island, Preserve Rhode Island, Devlin is part of the team behind a colorful, cartoon rooster named Rhody the Rambler, the mascot for the coalition's Rhody Ramble program.


Rhody and a new friend participate in "Learning Colonial Games and Crafts" at Smith-Appleby House in Smithfield, RI.

This new effort, designed to connect families with historic places in Rhode Island, launched over the summer with a coalition of 21 historic sites ranging from working farms to waterfront mansions. The program focused on events for children 5-12 and their families, with activities ranging from concerts to treasure hunts to specialty kids tours. The core concept: create opportunities for families to have quality time together at Rhode Island’s unique places.

Devlin says of Rhody Ramble: "The scope of our project is local, but our goal is to create a program which can have a much broader impact on how historic sites interact with families. Our sites range from small, volunteer-run sites to those with a professional staff. We believe that the chance for wonderful encounters with historic places is possible, no matter the size of your budget."

We caught up with Devlin, a 10-year resident of Rhode Island, recently to see how the families, the sites, and the rooster are faring so far.

What’s your elevator pitch for Rhody Ramble?

The Rhody Ramble is a family adventure to explore Rhode Island’s unique and historic places. It is a great way for kids and parents to interact with local history, even for those who do not consider themselves history lovers. It includes a wide variety of events: concerts, scavenger hunts, festivals and hands-on activities. So there truly is something for everyone.

What burst of insight inspired you to create Rhody the Rambler?

Rhody was a natural ambassador for the program. He was born during a brainstorming session among the staff at Preserve Rhode Island. Once we thought of him, it was clear that he was a perfect representative for our historic sites, as he is a heritage breed Rhode Island Red Rooster.

We also wanted to make sure the graphics spoke to kids and immediately conveyed that this was a program for them. Animals have a universal appeal, so parents connect with him too! We were fortunate to work with talented local graphic designers who brought him to life. At one point, I had several possible Rhodys hanging on my office walls, but he quickly became the favorite.

We are all very fond of Rhody, including our partners who immediately embraced him. We even purchase a stuffed animal rooster to travel around the state to various events and photographed him participating in the activities, as you can see in the photos. Rhody helped us to share the fun nature of the program and the family-friendly side of the historic sites, which can sometimes be a challenge to convey.


Rhody enjoys some traditional RI johnnycakes at Windmill Wednesday at Prescott Farm in Middletown, RI.

How did the Rhody Ramble help existing historic sites show off different sides of themselves?

By bringing together 21 sites under the umbrella of the Rhody Ramble program, we were able to highlight the fact that family programming is an important part of many historic sites. Since people often do not associate historic places with kids’ activities, creating a summer passport filled with events for families was in itself revealing a different side of many places.

In some cases, it inspired the sites to create new programs for families. A couple examples were the Fly a Kite Day at Watson Farm, a property of Historic New England, and the Explore RI History tour at Smith’s Castle.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for other organizations who are interested in doing something similar in their communities?

Understand your audience. If you wish to draw families to your historic site, think about what will attract them. Review your current programming and see what may be appropriate for children. If you are creating a new event, understand that it doesn’t need to be complex. An outdoor concert, an open house with kids’ activities, a scavenger hunt or even a story hour could be simple ways to draw in family visitors.

Consider pricing that will make it easy for families to attend such as free admission for kids or a ‘per family’ rate. See if there is an opportunity to partner with other attractions for families nearby and create a half-day or full-day experience in your community.

Also, make sure to communicate with families through channels they use. We were fortunate to work with a local family blogger who featured several of our events. Look for the resources that are being used by families in your area. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask someone with kids for suggestions.


Rhody listens to the band at the Concert Under the Elms at the John Brown House in Providence, RI.

Why is it important to expose kids to history and preservation? How does a program like Rhody Ramble reinforce those lessons?

History is exciting. It is the story of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. I love historic places because they embody the lives of people who lived in our towns and cities before we did -- it is the closest we can come to meeting them!

The big misconception is that history is a bunch of dry, dull facts. However, a historic place can bring that history to life with activities like grinding corn, carrying a yoke and buckets, dressing up in costumes or playing traditional games like graces. By introducing children to their history in an engaging way, we can help to build future stewards of our historic places.

I believe the strength of a program like the Rhody Ramble is its ability to reach out to new audiences of families. Many historic sites are run with limited staff and volunteers. Their time is stretched between many different activities. The Rhody Ramble is focused on marketing the great work that they do every day.

If we can help to attract kids and parents to explore a place they have never visited, it may inspire them to return. It may help them to better relate the history they learn in school to their community. It opens the door for many great possibilities!

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.

[Interview] Dave McNally, Restorer (and Resident) of Smith Point Lighthouse

Posted on: July 19th, 2012 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

 

Written by Laura Wainman, Preservation Magazine intern

As a young boy, Dave McNally dreamed of living in a lighthouse. He wanted to wake up to the sunrise over the water every morning and watch it set in the evenings from the comfort of his home. And in October 2005, his wish came true, with $185,000 -- and a little help from Google.

After scouring eBay for lighthouses to purchase and coming up empty-handed, McNally Googled "lighthouses for sale."

"Right away, four popped up. They were the first four under the [National Historic Lighthouse] Preservation Act, and I bought mine in an online auction, sight unseen," says McNally.

McNally purchased Smith Point Lighthouse, a 60-foot structure made of cast iron and brick three miles off the Virginia shore on the Chesapeake Bay. Built in 1897, the current caisson structure was preceded by four lighthouses and several floating lightships, dating back to an 1802 version of an iron frame tower.

Though the Coast Guard still maintains access to the lantern room on the fourth floor, McNally was an early pioneer of renovating historic lighthouses and turning them into residential dwellings.

At the time he was one of only a handful people to privately own a lighthouse, and his plan was to turn Smith Point into a family getaway. Smith Point is now a four-bedroom, one-bath home that is currently on the market for $600,000.

We recently caught up with McNally to learn what life at a lighthouse is like, how he went about renovating Smith Point, and why he put his dream house on the market.

What restoration work was needed when you bought Smith Point?

Everything. The entire interior needed to be re-done and everything, except the brick and cast iron casing, on the exterior needed to be replaced.

Was this your first historical restoration?

No. As a contractor in Minnesota, I have restored five or six historical buildings, but this was the first time I worked with the historical preservation folks myself. Usually someone does that for me.

What is the difference between renovating a historical property versus any other building?

On regular projects, there is no one telling me what I can and can't do. I had to submit my plans three times before they were accepted, and I think they were each about 30 pages. It was a process. But I take great pride in restoring old buildings. The first thing I do on any historical project is visit the local preservation society to see if I can get a photo of the original structure. Then I do my best to get it looking like itself again using modern materials.

What were the issues with your proposals?

The windows were the big hold-up. They wanted the originals to be kept, but once I detailed each window they realized that it was impossible. They eventually let me hurricane-proof them. The front door was another gray area, because they thought it was an original and we knew it wasn't. It was just a big, rusty steel door that needed to be replaced. I went all the way to Chicago to make an exact replica of the original, three and half inches thick. It cost me $6,000 just for the front door.

What was the biggest challenge in renovating Smith Point?

It was really just the logistics of getting materials to Virginia when I was in Minnesota. We got out there about five or six times a year, and some days it would just be too rough to do any work. Being a Minnesota boy, the roughest waters I was used to were a little Mississippi River chops, and here I was facing 4-foot swells in the Chesapeake. The worst I dealt with was a 28-foot wave hitting a window on the first floor while I was in the lighthouse. You get braver as time goes on, though.

Why are you selling the lighthouse now?

Grandbabies. My oldest daughter just has her first child, and I'm hoping for more. She notified me that there was no chance she would bring the baby there until he was much older. So I need a family getaway that is safe for my family.

If you had to do the whole thing again, would you?

Absolutely, yes. I had a blast.

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.