Examining the Life of Mary Todd Lincoln

Posted on: March 27th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Mary Todd Lincoln, c. 1863 (Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Mary Todd Lincoln, c. 1863 (Credit: Library of Congress)

Mary Todd Lincoln, a deeply controversial figure of her day, continues to draw an intense amount of public interest, sympathy and even scorn. As much as we continue to debate Abraham Lincoln and his presidency, so too do we dissect his wife's actions and role in the overall Lincoln story.

Mary Lincoln was intelligent and highly educated (fluent in French, she received ten years of formal schooling to Lincoln's aggregate one year), with a well-connected family (Dolley Madison was a kinswoman and Henry Clay a neighbor and family friend), and had a keen interest in politics. Mary was one of the first to see the promise in Abraham Lincoln and, to her family's initial dismay, wed the prairie lawyer who was virtually unknown, unrefined, and lacking formal education and familial and political connections. Not unlike other first ladies, Mary Lincoln appears to have been intimately involved in Lincoln's political career, even at a time when overt involvement in politics by females was regarded as inappropriate or unwelcome.

It cannot be denied that when the Lincolns arrived in Washington, D.C., they entered a social and political minefield as the Civil War loomed. Opponents wasted no time deriding and ridiculing the Lincolns. Not unlike celebrity gossip rags today, the public gobbled up outrageous stories about Mary Lincoln, always eager for more. But for every sensational story - whether based in truth or not - published about Mary, you can find a redeeming one that drew little press attention. And for every judgment of Mary, you can find a great deal of context that's omitted.

Much is made of Mary's spending habits, but little is made of her frequent visits to hospitals to bring supplies and to help care for wounded soldiers. Fewer know of Mary Lincoln's letter to her husband requesting $200 to be donated to Elizabeth Keckley's Contraband Relief Association (CRA). The Lincolns' $200 donation was the largest donation received that year by the CRA, which provided relief to formerly-enslaved African Americans who had fled to the District after the D.C. Emancipation Act was passed in April 1862.

With her patriotism frequently questioned, Mary was called a traitor and a spy in large part because of her Kentucky roots and her Confederate family members. The theme of divided family is integral to the Civil War story, and was experienced first hand by the Lincolns while they were living at the Cottage. Yet Mary never publicly mourned the loss of her siblings who died fighting for the Confederacy, once saying in private, “They would kill my husband if they could, and destroy our government - the dearest of all things to us.”

Like all humans, Mary Lincoln had her faults and weaknesses. Her faults cannot be denied, but her strengths and admirable qualities deserve equal attention.

President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site, strives to offer a balanced story of the Lincolns and their time at the Soldiers' Home. For those interested in learning more about Mary Lincoln, we welcome you to join us in May for Cottage Conversations, during which Catherine Clinton will talk about her new book, Mrs. Lincoln: A Life. Click here for more event information.

-Erin Carlson Mast

Erin Carlson Mast is the curator at President Lincoln's Cottage, a National Trust Historic Site.

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 editorial@savingplaces.org.

John Hope Franklin's Contribution to American History

Posted on: March 26th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 3 Comments

 

Photo Courtesy: Duke University

Many of us remember watching African-American-themed documentaries in which historian John Hope Franklin testified about significant moments in our nation’s history. Franklin was a pioneering scholar in African-American studies whose expertise was constantly sought. How saddened I was last night to see news of his passing stream over the internet, for his life work communicated to me as an African-American that my community’s experience was legitimate in the larger discourse on American history.

Born in Oklahoma in 1915 to a lawyer and a teacher, Franklin attended Fisk, the historically black university in Tennessee. There Franklin opted, rather than to follow in his father’s footsteps, to pursue graduate studies in history. Franklin obtained both a Master’s Degree and a PhD at Harvard University. He taught at several institutions of higher learning over the next sixty years, culminating as the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University where the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary & International Studies, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and the John Hope Franklin Collection for African and African American Documentation are located. His accomplishments include having worked on the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) case, joined protestors in a 1965 march led by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama, and headed President Clinton’s 1997 national advisory board on race. Additionally he received numerous honors and published several books, many of which are core texts in African-American Studies and U.S History courses.

John Hope Franklin was a focal point of the closing plenary speech of former Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University, Nell Irvin Painter, PhD at the 2008 Tulsa National Preservation Conference. Franklin had graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in Greenwood, the black neighborhood in Tulsa where the 1921 race-riots occurred. He was featured in public television’s the American Experience episode "Goin' Back to T-Town" which my father’s colleague Sam Pollard produced in 1993. In 2007 Franklin gave testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, in favor of the Tulsa Greenwood Riot Accountability Act of 2007 which would have enabled victims of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 to sue for damages. Tulsa’s John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, a memorial to the race riots, is planned to open in late summer.

Listen to Nell Irvin Painter discuss John Hope Franklin at the 2008 National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, OK.

Also, take a listen to this powerful story from the late John Hope Franklin about being a Boy Scout in the 1920's. (Courtesy of StoryCorps, America's largest nonprofit oral history project).

- Tanya Bowers

Tanya Bowers is the Director of Diversity for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Visit our African- American Heritage page to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to U.S. History.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation encourages you to share your thoughts on John Hope Franklin's contributions to American History and how his life connects to the preservation and interpretation of African American historic places.

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.

Forum on Historic Windows: Part 1

Posted on: March 26th, 2009 by Guest Writer 4 Comments

 

Check out window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

Check out helpful window tips from the latest issue of Preservation magazine.

A few weeks ago, a member on Forum-L (the discussion list for Forum, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s professional membership) raised a question regarding window deterioration. And, as is the case with many topics pertinent to energy efficiency and sustainability, the thread got a lot of attention.

As a result, we asked three of the contributors to the conversation to answer two follow-up questions on the topic. The first question dealing with reasons behind replacement is answered below. Tomorrow, we will post the answers to the second question involving cost considerations.

And of course, please feel free to discuss your own thoughts and opinions on historic windows by leaving a comment below.

Question: What are the most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window? What are the reasons that homeowners should not replace a historic window?

The most common reasons that homeowners use to replace a historic window are that they’re hard to open or that the ropes are broken. Drafty. Some of the windows are showing signs of decay. People want to save energy.

As for reasons they shouldn't. Original windows look better and have character. It is cheaper to fix them and put on storm windows. They are usually a hundred years old and will last another hundred if they are cared for. New windows will last fifteen to fifty years tops, and they will need new glass in five to twenty years usually, and their plastic parts will break down sooner than that, and they are mostly not replaceable. The payback in real energy savings is slight and the cost recovery time is something like 40 years.

- Chris Sturbaum owns Golden Hands Construction in Bloomington, IN. They have been in operation since 1979.

This is a loaded question because the reasons are broad and all encompassing. However, that said, the calls we receive for window restoration fall into three general categories: a) new homeowners planning to replace all of their windows (this is particularly problematic when the call comes from "flippers," or owners buying older houses to simply rehab and sell with no intention of living in them and no personal care for the property, just maximizing profit.), b) new or existing homeowners planning an addition or remodeling to include new windows, or c) a cold winter, hot summer or high energy bill that spurs them to consider replacements.

We are most often called when a new owner has acquired a property and is planning major rehabilitation work to the entire house. They are weighing window restoration against complete window replacement. They typically need to be personally enlightened (i.e. consumer education) in the first place because the window replacement market is very accessible and convenient. Most architects, contractors, sales people and suppliers financially benefit more from window replacement, so no one should have difficulty comprehending why the window replacement market is so prolific; many of these professionals simply want a known quantity and zero-risk approach.

As for the second part of the question, not replacing a window, the answer is "all of the above." A properly-restored historic window provides better service over the life of the window; is more comfortable (with a proper storm window); will perform better in terms of energy over the life of the window if properly maintained (with a proper storm); is easy to maintain compared to new windows after the first few years of service; and will cost less than replacement over the life of the building.

That said, window restoration is not convenient, as it requires some personal sacrifice on the part of the owner if the house is occupied during the work. One way we have tried to address this is to use translucent board-up materials (with or without temporary operable vents) so they at least get daylight and/or ventilation through the openings. More often than not, the work is staggered around the house. Meanwhile, reducing removal/reinstallation to just a few windows at a time increases logistics and costs substantially unless they are dealing with a local handyman one window at a time.

And of course, sustainability!

- Neal Vogel of Restoric, LLC, a firm located in Wilmette, IL that provides restoration of historic structures.

I think that most “average” homeowners look to replace their windows because of their concern over energy bills, and their expectation that a newer-insulated window will help to reduce the energy loss associated with their existing windows, and that they’ll have a tighter seal and therefore be less likely to be “drafty”. Once a homeowner has decided to replace their windows, cost becomes a primary consideration.

I know that many of the staunch “preservation supporters” will be grinding their teeth about now – they’re thinking to themselves “people should have existing windows repaired, they shouldn’t be replacing them!” Unfortunately, that’s not always the preferred alternative for a variety of reasons. Some markets, for example, don’t have a ready supply of specialists that can provide restoration/preservation services. In some other areas, the most highly regarded restoration specialists don’t have the depth of staff to meet the needs of homeowners within a realistic time frame. Some may not be able to do the job for months because of their backlog. Once the homeowner has decided that they’re going to replace their windows, many will choose products with price as a determining factor. This is frequently because the homeowner has a shorter term view. The U.S. Census indicates that the median length of time in a home is nine years, so many homeowners will look for a shorter term “fix”, taking the stance that the next owner can use historically accurate windows if he or she wants to.

As for reasons not to replace your windows, I’ll be shocked and disappointed if someone doesn’t say, “The existing windows help to keep the home original, and therefore will enhance the value of the property”. True enough if you’re dealing with an educated buyer. However, that’s not always the case. Real estate is first and foremost about location, and since many historic neighborhoods are well-located, some buyers care more about the location than they do about the “authenticity factor." This is, in part, one of the factors that drives the McMansion effect, where historic homes are purchased and demolished in favor of constructing a new home. People want the location more than they want the structure.

So, in my opinion, the original windows will appeal to a certain segment of the buying public, but they’ll be a detriment to another segment of the buying public. Some will see it as an opportunity to own a more “complete” home, while others will see it as an expense that they’ll incur to replace the windows as soon as they close.

- Jeff Donohoe of Donohoe Associates, an economics and real estate consulting firm located in Manchester, NH.

Want to learn more? Visit PreservationNation.org for resources on historic windows, including Window Know How: A Guide to Going Green, our Green Home Tips and our Tip Sheet for Historic Wood Windows. Also, check out the National Park Services’ technical preservation services page for additional resources.

- Priya Chhaya

Priya Chhaya is a program assistant for the Center for Preservation Leadership at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Forum members can read past messages from Forum-L on Forum Online, which is now located at www.preservationnation.org/forum. If it is your first time visiting the new site, please follow these instructions.

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 editorial@savingplaces.org.

What Would You Reuse?

Posted on: March 25th, 2009 by Jason Clement

 

There's at least one in every neighborhood, and no I'm not talking about "that house" that is painted fuchsia or sea foam green. Or (gasp) both.

I'm talking about a once-great older or historic building that today sits vacant and perhaps forgotten.

On the struggling-to-survive main drag of my Washington, D.C. neighborhood, there are more than a handful of empty storefronts that have seen better days that I - as a newbie to the area - wish I could have witnessed. Today, their doors are tightly handcuffed with padlocks, their paint is faded and peeling, and their floor-to-ceiling show windows bear cracks and holes that look more like bruises and black eyes.

A constant daydreamer, I can't count the number of times that I've nearly rear-ended a city bus or been on the receiving end of a pedestrian's angry hand gesture (which I deserved), all because I was totally lost in Preservation La La Land. In fact, I'm sure the day will soon come when my response to getting pulled over for a routine traffic violation will be, "Sorry officer, but wouldn't that building over there make a fierce coffee shop?!?"

Today, however, there is good news for all of us daydreamers, as the National Trust for Historic Preservation has officially swung open the doors to its Preservation Green Lab. Headquartered in Seattle, this unique new field office is designed to (among many other things) make the undeniably green principle of adaptive reuse front and center among the people who are making decisions about the buildings we love.

So, as the Preservation Green Lab ramps up to start telling the world what we already know about the shared ground between preservation and sustainability, what can we do? How can we spread the message?

If you've made it this far in this post, here's your assignment: Tonight, take advantage of the longer daylight hours by grabbing your camera and heading out for a walk around your neighborhood. If you come across an abandoned building that really tugs at your heartstrings, take a photo (like the ones you see above) and share it in our Reuse It! photo group on Flickr. It only takes a few minutes to upload your shots, and hey, you get some cardio done in the process.

Much like reusing something that has meaning, it's a win-win situation.

>> Learn More About the Preservation Green Lab
>> Learn More About Reuse It!

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.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

Protecting the Story of Juana Briones & Her California Gem

Posted on: March 25th, 2009 by Guest Writer 7 Comments

 

Juana Briones (Credit: National Park Service's Point Reyes National Seashore Archives)

Juana Briones (Credit: National Park Service's Point Reyes National Seashore Archives)

On March 12, 1802, Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda was born in Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz), which was one of three secular villas in Alta California.

Juana’s father, a Spanish corporal, was a participant in both the 1769 Portola and the 1775-76 De Anza Expeditions. In 1812, the Briones Family moved north to the Presidio de San Francisco, and in 1820, Juana married Apolinario Miranda in Yerba Buena (current-day San Francisco), where she mothered 11 children between 1821-1841. In San Francisco, the Briones Family operated a dairy farm in what is now North Beach. In addition to being a rancher, Juana was a curandera, or a practitioner of traditional medicines, and was highly regarded by both early Californios and American settlers.

In 1822, Alta California shifted hands from Spanish rule to Mexican, and although the territory changed hands politically, little changed in regard to individual land ownership. In 1843-44, Juana purchased for $300 a 4,442-acre parcel (known as Rancho La Purísima Concepción) from Neophyte Indian José Gorgonio in the Palo Alto hills. Still standing today, the wood-framed, rammed-earth and adobe brick house is believed to have been built by American desertee sailors.

Juana Briones House, c. 1890 (Credit: Palo Alto Historical Association Archives)

Juana Briones House, c. 1890 (Credit: Palo Alto Historical Association Archives)

With the incorporation of Mexican California into the United States, land ownership for many early Californios was challenged by the requirement of proof of ownership. In keeping her rancho, Juana hired the best attorney in California, Henry Wager Halleck, and with her rich ancestry proved ownership to both the Land Commission and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1856, which allowed her to retain her property. At a time when American women could not own land, Juana’s case was unique, setting a precedent for other early settlers. In 1884, Juana moved to Mayfield (now Palo Alto), and eventually died in 1889 at the age of 87.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, and Juana lives on in the ambition of local preservationists who are fighting to save her 165-year-old house. Designated a California State Historical Landmark in 1954, the house has sat abandoned in an affluent neighborhood for over ten years, open to the elements and suffering from earthquake damage. In 2007, it was threatened by the possibility of demolition, which encouraged twenty volunteers to document the building with a Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

Just as Juana fought for custody of her lands, preservationists today continue to fight for her story in the hope of saving this early California gem.

- Corri Jimenez

Corri Jimenez received her master's degree from the University of Oregon in historic preservation. In 2007, she led a volunteer HABS documentation project on the Juana Briones House. She currently works as a preservation consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information on Juana Briones, see "Juana Briones of 19th Century California" by Jeanne Farr McDonnell (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2008) or visit online.

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 editorial@savingplaces.org.