Reflections

Unlocking the “I Love History” Gene

Posted on: June 4th, 2012 by Priya Chhaya 17 Comments

 

I didn’t just fall into my love of history. My parents had some part, teaching me about my Indian heritage through language, music, and dance, and instilling in me an awareness that we all come from somewhere. But it wasn't until I took a course called "Applied History" in high school that I realized history was more than just a given interest -- it was something I actually love.

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to speak before a group of history teachers about that course. My talk was part of a keynote address by my history teacher, a man who inspired countless students to acknowledge the value of history in the world around us.

I chose to focus on what I learned in that course -- how learning about the tangible fabric of history impacted each of my senses and opened my eyes to real life, to a world beyond the words in a textbook.

But my speech was just as much about the teacher who chose to spend his career inspiring others, not just through the coursework, but also by his actions, attitude, and passion.

It's hard to believe that those lessons are almost fifteen years old, and that my teacher, Jim Percoco, is retiring after over thirty years in the profession. His career is an inspiration to me because considering why history is important helps me do my job every day. ... Read More →

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

My American Road Trip, Part 1: Leaving Town

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Lauren Walser 17 Comments

 

Two years ago, almost to the day, I drove my little hatchback from Los Angeles to Washington, DC, with nothing more than a couple boxes of kitchen items, some books, and my boyfriend, Blaise. I had said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and headed out to become an assistant editor with Preservation magazine. (Writing about old buildings and the people who save them? Definitely worth the 2,500-plus mile drive.)

Other than a few brutal battles with humidity (I lost), I have loved every second of my time here. What’s not to like about a city that’s immanently walkable, with traces of history around every corner? And from my little perch in a 1909 row house, I’ve watched my neighborhood of Columbia Heights change, grow, and welcome new residents who have restored their own old houses or started businesses in empty storefronts.

But now Blaise and I are packing up the car again and pointing her west, back to Los Angeles, where, I’m happy to say, I’ll be continuing my work with Preservation. In my new location, I’ll be bringing you all the latest news from the West Coast -- and, for the next two weeks, from many of the places I’ll pass on my way there.

After all, the best part about driving between coasts is being able to investigate all the nooks and crannies that you miss when you fly over them.

I leave DC today (gulp). From there, I’ll be driving to Nashville to check out the historic sites, then on to do the same in Columbia, Missouri; Boulder, Colorado; Jackson, Wyoming; Butte, Montana; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Davis, California; and finally, Los Angeles. That’s a lot of ground to cover in such a short time, but if there is something in any of those cities -- or on the roads in between -- that I absolutely must not miss, I am all ears.

Rest assured, my laptop and my camera are fully charged, ready to document those places that make the United States such an exciting place to explore.

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.

Why I Love Old Houses

Posted on: May 11th, 2012 by Scott Austin Sidler 11 Comments

 

When I was a kid, my parents lived in an old Colonial house built in 1759 in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. The house was incredible for a kid! There were secret hiding spots everywhere -- from the stone cistern in the basement, to the hidden attic door in my closet.

I loved learning about the home's past from my father as he slowly unearthed its secrets. The small town we lived in was apparently incorporated at a meeting in our house that George Washington himself attended. The property line was marked by a centuries-old, sturdy, dry-stacked stone wall. All fun stories and bits of history. But the stories that I discovered myself were the most intriguing.

One time while I was mowing the lawn I noticed a flagstone peeking out from the grass. Curious about what it was doing there, I cleared away the grass to find it was rather large. I proceeded to poke around the area and see what else I could find. I soon came across another flagstone laid in line with this one just a couple feet away.

I continued my excavations and after awhile had uncovered a flagstone path that started from the back of the house and led out about 75 feet before my mom made me stop. I never did find out where that path led, and sometimes I still wonder about it today. Where did it go? Who put it there? When? How long had it been buried? I was like an explorer uncovering uncharted territory and it was exciting. I wanted to know! I still do.

Old houses tell a story. They have a history. There is something about running your hand down a banister that generations of people have held in their hands for centuries. It gives you a sense of place and time, and a perspective on where you fit in this huge, sometimes impersonal world. You are a part -- a small but important part -- of a much greater story. ... Read More →

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.

Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler

Scott Austin Sidler is the owner of Austin Home Restorations in Central Florida, and spends his time blogging about all things preservation, salvage, and historic on his blog, The Craftsman.

 

Starting in the late 16th century through to the 18th century, rich, young Europeans (and later Americans) traveled around Europe on something known as the "Grand Tour." Meant to be a capstone to formal education, the Tour involved a period of travel to some of Europe's great cities with the intention of introducing individuals to society, art, and culture.

For the last two weeks, as I made my way to two distinctive cities, I wondered what a modern Grand Tour in the United States would be like. What would be the unexpected places that would serve as a window into our culture, our architecture, and our people?


Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward neighborhood.

As I wrote about in an earlier blog post, I spent the last two weeks traveling to Wisconsin and Texas. I'll be honest -- if given a choice, I doubt that Milwaukee and Fort Worth would have been high on my list of intentional personal travel destinations -- but while I was there, each city succeeded in opening my heart in unexpected ways to what they had to offer.

I don't know what expectations I had for Milwaukee -- aside from its robust brewing past and present -- but I'll leave that alone for now and instead talk about its Historic Third Ward neighborhood, replete with converted warehouses, a fantastic Public Market, shops, and a river walk. Added to the National Register in 1984, the neighborhood is made up of enormous brick buildings that used to be centers of manufacturing. While some of the spaces are still vacant, the neighborhood is very much alive with residents, businesses, and creative public spaces.


The Mitchell Park Conservatory.

I also got a chance to visit the Mitchell Park Conservatory. Three mid-century domes replaced the old conservatory (which is probably an interesting preservation story in and of itself) in 1959. They loom high, and house three different ecosystems, each arrayed with a magical array of smells, sounds, and temperatures: tropical, desert, and a show dome for fancy flowers. I took delight in the way the arcing lines of the dome mimick the curve of the earth upon which these plants grow. ... Read More →

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.

 

Travel is almost always at least a little stressful, but it's also incredibly exhilarating -- because with it comes the chance to experience new (or familiar) places, and to make new stories both for yourself and about the places you're visiting. In my case I'm headed to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, followed by five days in Fort Worth, Texas.

I have about two hours before I head out on the road (well, the air really) for two weeks. As usual, a few hundred thoughts are running through my head: Did I finish all the perishables? Did I pack enough clothing that will work in both climates?


Milwaukee's vibrant riverwalk and warehouses of the Third Ward neighborhood. (Photo: anaxila on Flickr)

But packing my physical bag is not enough. Mentally, the historian in me battles with my inner foodie and urbanist. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to see, what to eat, and what makes these cities tick.

For instance, did you know that Milwaukee is where the typewriter was invented? Or that Fort Worth is where 60 percent of our money is minted? Both random, fun facts that I've encountered in my research.

The purpose of both trips is not limited to vacations in disparate parts of the United States. Rather, they already include time spent on preservation and history. My trip to Milwaukee is for the National Council on Public History/Organization of American Historians annual meeting, while my Fort Worth travel involves tours and conversations regarding issues facing preservation nonprofits across the country. But outside the meetings I want to make sure that I make the most of the time away from the office.


The historic Fort Worth Stock Yards. (Photo: samuel_belknap on Flickr)

So I'm feeling the pull -- that urge to make sure that I don't miss a minute, a site, or a story, and to walk away from both these places seeing them as more than just a meeting room space.

What do you go see when you visit a new city or town? Do you look for its history? The museums, the art, the culture? Do you look for the social scene or the main street?

And -- as I blatantly use this post for recommendations -- if you know Milwaukee or Fort Worth well, let me know what the "must see" places are. I promise to report back!

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.

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is Associate Manager for Online Content, Preservation Resources at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. A public historian at heart, she sees history wherever she goes and believes that it is an important part of the American identity.