Let's Do It For Our Daughters (& Our Sons)

Posted on: March 2nd, 2009 by Dolores McDonagh


The author takes her guys on a hunt for women's history at the Forest Glen Seminary in Silver Spring, Maryland.

I grew up in a very female-centric world – one mom, seven sisters and the ubiquitous nuns all through my Catholic school days. Sure, I had a dad and two brothers, but we definitely skewed "girl." But nature has a way of evening things out, so I wasn’t really surprised to be blessed with two sons. A little intimidated, but not surprised.

It turns out boys are pretty great - if for no other reason than they give me an opportunity to channel my inner guy. You see, I love trains, baseball and visiting historic sites (including battlefields). And since we live in the Washington, D.C. area, there are plenty of those to go around. There’s the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia, Fort Stevens in northwest D.C., and one of the National Trust’s newest sites, President’s Lincoln Cottage, in northeast D.C.

But I recently got to thinking, "What if I’d had two girls?" Would it be as easy to find historic sites that daughters could identify with? Sites that told the story of the girls and the women who helped forge our nation? Well, it turns out that it’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. A perusal of dc.about.com lists just four "women’s" historic sites, and one of those is an art museum.

So then I think, "Maybe it’s just D.C." But sadly, it seems to be a more widespread phenomenon. When I asked our National Trust Historic Sites staff for information about women’s history at our own sites, more often than not the I answer I received was "Well, the house was donated to the Trust by a woman."

The fact is, we (and I include the National Trust in this indictment) do a pretty bad job of telling the story of women’s history – and of the role of women in historic preservation. Kind of ironic as it’s often women who are at the forefront of preservation battles. Hell, the movement was "birthed" by a woman – Anne Pamela Cunningham, who in 1853 thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to let them tear down Mount Vernon. She galvanized a national fundraising effort to buy, restore and operate the home of the "father" of our country, and today, Mount Vernon is still faithfully stewarded by the Ladies’ Association of Mount Vernon.

So, let’s change this sorry state of affairs, shall we? Starting right now on just the second day of Women's History Month, let’s take some time to recognize and  celebrate the accomplishments of women – undaunted and unsung, famous and infamous, daring, and yes, domestic.

We’ll start with a few stories on our own Women's History Month website on PreservationNation.org, but we really want to hear from you. Post a picture to our This Place Matters photo-sharing campaign or share a story of a women who made a difference in history (yours or our nation’s) by posting a comment below.

Let’s do it for our daughters – and our sons.

Dolores McDonagh is the vice president for membership development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn more about how the National Trust is celebrating the accomplishments of women in preservation by visiting our new Women's History Month website.

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.

Teaching Preservation: There's Good Hope For Our Future

Posted on: February 26th, 2009 by Guest Writer


Last November, I had the distinct pleasure of joining Paul LaRue on a panel about youth service learning at the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Now, truth be told, I wasn’t particularly psyched about the trip all the way out west (I’m a New Yorker), nor was I excited to hear that our session had been scheduled towards the very end of the convention’s schedule of offerings. In my mind, this represented far too closely the way so many preservationists prioritize and approach outreach to young people. They are, after all, the future of our movement and our work - not afterthoughts.

Despite my misgivings, the panel attracted a small but engaged audience of teachers and community organizers eager to discuss youth programs. And of course, with his signature enthusiasm and inspiring stories, Paul stole the show.

Before our session in Tulsa, my team at A&E Television Networks and History awarded Paul's Research History class from Washington Court House, Ohio with a national Save Our History Award for their inspiring work on the Staunton Cemetery. That was such a worthwhile and touching project. Not only did Paul’s students learn an enormous amount about the Civil War and race relations in the United States in the late 19th century, they figured out how to work with the VA to acquire headstones for forgotten soldiers.

My father was a World War II veteran, and when he turned 80, he reminded my mother and me to get the VA to provide his headstone when he died. "It's my right, and my due,” he would say. Between this touching personal experience and a general love of history that stems from an unusually empathetic response to events long past, I was enormously touched by Paul’s kids working so hard to get headstones for those African American soldiers' burial sites. Take a second to imagine being buried anonymously after going through what those men went through in their lives. Nothing makes me more proud than knowing that it was young people who ultimately got headstones for them.

To quote my dad, it was their right and their due.

These days, I hear a new Research History class from Washington Court House, Ohio is rolling up its sleeves and digging into history and archeology, this time at Good Hope Cemetery. What an apt name for their project - Good Hope. See, I know America is not - and never will be - a perfect place, but there is more justice and equality out there than ever before, and these kids are the future of that. Under Paul’s wing, they will learn so much…about process, about history, about memory. They are lucky to have him as their teacher and mentor, and I know Paul well enough to recognize that he feels lucky to have them as his students.

To Research History 2009: You are the future of historic preservation! Good luck and good hope!

- Libby O'Connell

Libby O'Connell is the chief historian and senior vice president for corporate outreach at A&E Television Networks. Stay tuned this semester as Paul and his students document their project at Good Hope Cemetery here on our blog and on their Flickr photostream.

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.

A Fractured Fairytale of Preservation Parables and Possibilities

Posted on: February 25th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation


Earlier this month, an email popped into the inbox of individuals subscribed onto Forum-L, the email list for members of National Trust Forum, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s professional membership program. It’s the kind of topic that may seem like a simple question on the surface, but eight days and 28 messages later it proved to be a hot button discussion.

The question: Does an old addition gain significance if it is poorly designed?

The situation: A conversation between a neighborhood association and a local preservation commission regarding an 1890s structure with an addition dating back to the 1920s.

Our email list members presented many a solution—asking about context, significance, and what the intentions were for the home if it was not restored or rehabilitated. Some inquired if the structure and the addition contributed to a historic district, or if it was listed the National Register. Most, if not all emphasized the need to document the addition regardless of the decision.

A few days later, in response to the variety of responses, Forum member Dan Becker presented all of us on the list with “A Fractured Fairytale of Preservation Parables and Possibilities” — his take on the spirited discussion. It had "blog post" written all over it, so here it is:

Once Upon A Time, there was the 100 block of North Bloodworth Street in Oakwood. Echoes of an 1880s neighborhood of commodious frame domiciles were pressed into post-WWII rooming houses, later beset with societal ills where you would not want to be caught dead stroller-rolling your precious patrimony of precociosity, because you might find yourself dead.

The late 1960s design answer to such vexing virulence was of course a bisecting four-lane submerged Boston-style expressway squeezed between the flanking feeder streets with access ramps zooming up and down, bringing the downtown-saving automobile quickly and efficiently into a cavalcade of car parks flanking what remained of downtown after you demolished one-third of it to build the decks, ensuring that there was no there there when you got there.

... Read More →

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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.

Help Give Away ONE MILLION Dollars!

Posted on: February 25th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment


Vote for your favorite historic sites in Boston from April 14 - May 17, 2009.

The Boston skyline.

The Boston skyline.

American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation have just announced that Greater Boston has been selected as the next region for the community-based Partners in Preservation program. With your input, the program will give away $1 million in preservation grants in Greater Boston.

American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and our Northeast Office have identified 25 historic places throughout Greater Boston that reflect the region’s rich and diverse cultural heritage. Those sites will be revealed on April 14 at www.PartnersinPreservation.com.

From April 14 - May 17, you  -- and everyone you know -- can cast votes at www.PartnersinPreservation.com for the places you would like to see receive preservation funding, and share your personal stories and photos of the 25 sites. Each person can vote once daily for any of the 25 historic places. The winner of the public vote is guaranteed to receive a grant, so your votes really do count!

The Greater Boston area is the fourth region to receive funding from American Express under the initiative. American Express has already given away $2.5 million in preservation grants to sites in the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicagoland and New Orleans.

-- Caroline Barker

Caroline Barker is a communications coordinator at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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.

Dispatch from Dubuque: Luring People Back to the Heartland

Posted on: February 24th, 2009 by Patrice Frey 2 Comments


Las Vegas sprawl. (world.mongabay.com)

Las Vegas sprawl. (world.mongabay.com)

For awhile now I’ve been pondering the huge challenge presented by American demographic shifts –- that is, the massive movement of population from the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest to points south and southwest. For the last few decades, Americans have fled the heartland as manufacturing jobs went overseas, for cities such as Las Vegas, Atlanta, Houston, and Phoenix. Ahh the painful, troubling reality of masses of people fleeing smaller, sustainably designed older cities for the sprawling, largely soulless tracts of suburbia -- albeit with the promise of warmer winters and much needed new jobs. All of this while the planet heats up.

And what is to become of these smaller industrial cities? The Pittsburghs, Buffalos, and Clevelands? These paragons of sustainability? Don’t laugh -- I think that these places are paragons of sustainability. Designed before widespread use of the automobile, these communities were built more compactly out of necessity. These neighborhoods tend to be dense, walkable, feature mixed uses, and are very often accessible to public transit. These places contain the very features that are promoted by Smart Growth and New Urbanist advocates today.  And that's to say nothing of their charm and character.

But we have nearly abandoned so many of these special places -– in favor of, well, the photo above. But there’s hope yet.

My colleague Jennifer Sandy and I spent two days in Dubuque, Iowa last week with National Trust for Historic Preservation President Richard Moe, attending a conference on Sustainability and Historic Preservation where he gave the keynote speech. We spent some time touring the city and meeting with local leaders and property owners to learn about Dubuque’s plans for the sustainable redevelopment of their Historic Millwork District. This area includes 28 buildings comprising one million square feet that are largely vacant or underutilized.  (See the city's masterplan for the Millwork District.)

The warehouse district in Dubuque.

The warehouse district in Dubuque.

Historic preservation is at the very core of Dubuque’s sustainable redevelopment effort; the city recognizes the need to reuse existing buildings in their efforts to be more sustainable, and is determined to improve energy efficiency, and reduce water usage in these buildings as well. The Historic Millwork project also includes a significant social component, and is connecting disadvantaged youth to jobs produced as part of the project.

And their work is already starting to pay off. Just a few weeks ago IBM announced that it would locate a service center in Dubuque -– bringing 1,300 new well-paying jobs. And the reason IBM chose Dubuque over the 350 other cities under review? That would be because of the city’s commitment to public-private partnerships, and its commitment to sustainable development. Seems the IBM executives are just as enthusiastic about the vision for the sustainable redevelopment of the historic Millwork District as many of us nerdy preservationists…since the warehouse district revitalization will produce highly desirable (and affordable) housing in a dynamic and vibrant historic setting. That makes it a whole lot easier to attract talent to fill those jobs.

I left Dubuque optimistic –- thinking that perhaps this is the beginning of a way to address our seemingly intractable demographic challenge.  And I’m wondering if the National Trust would be interested in opening a field office in Dubuque. I know exactly where I want to live.

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.