The report, which examines Civil War battlefield preservation over the past twenty years and offers some recommendations for the future, went online today at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/battlefields. The NPS will be taking comments until October 12, so take a look and sound off.
Category Archives: historic preservation
In 2010 a judge ordered Gettysburg National Military Park to re-evaluate its plan to demolish the Cyclorama building. The park just finished that review, and tearing it down remains the best option as far as the NPS is concerned. The Recent Past Preservation Network is apparently putting together a response.
For whatever it’s worth, I wouldn’t miss it. Its removal would help conform the landscape more closely to its 1863 appearance, which is the park’s primary preservation aim. The painting has a new home in the visitor center, so as of now, the building is an empty shell that doesn’t really serve any interpretive function. The architect’s son would like to see it turned into a Lincoln museum, but since the visitor center exhibit has pretty thorough coverage of the Gettysburg Address and the larger context of the war, another display doesn’t seem like the best use of a crucial piece of battleground.
And aesthetically…well, this pretty much comes down to personal taste, but to me it looks like some sort of sacred kiva built by ancient aliens, which isn’t the kind of thing that seems at home on a Civil War battlefield.
Still, I can see where the building’s supporters are coming from. It’s an interesting example of twentieth-century architecture, and it’s been there so long that it’s sort of a Gettysburg institution. The whole situation is reminiscent of the Electric Map ruckus. You’ve got an interpretive tool that’s outlived its original purpose—in fact, it’s standing in the way of advancing the park’s long-term goals—but the tool itself has become so venerable that some people see it as an integral part of what makes the site such a special place. In other words, when you have a longstanding connection to a particular historic site, the individual level of personal and sentimental memory gets woven into the larger fabric of collective, historical memory.
Of course, sentiment isn’t the only point at issue; opponents of demolishing the building argue that it’s got enough architectural significance to make it inherently valuable. Thus we have an unusual situation in which some of us history buffs oppose a preservation effort, albeit with the aim of restoring the landscape around it.
Hey, the most logical option is to burn it down so the fire department can get in a little practice, and then build something else there.
STOCKBRIDGE — An historic home is scheduled to go up in flames today.
The controlled burn of the Hightower House, named for its owner, Dr. Richard Hightower, is part of a ceremony hosted by the City of Stockbridge.
The burning, which also serves as training for county firefighters, will be Thursday, at 7:30 p.m., at 117 East Atlanta Road, in Stockbridge.
“The control training burn will be directed by the Henry County Fire Department,” said Henry Fire Capt. Sabrina Puckett.
The Hightower House was built in the 1800s, prior to the Civil War, according to officials. Its original purpose was to be the only medical facility in the area, having a doctor’s office, drugstore and small hospital. The Hightower House has been used in several capacities over the years, including a private home, a business, and recently to train Henry County firefighters.
City officials said they are burning down the historic house in order to make room for city improvements.
Preservationist that I am, I obviously find this depressing. On the bright side, however, the mayor provided a sound bite that is nothing short of unintentional comedy gold:
“It is only fitting that we stop to remember the historical significance this house has played in the development of Stockbridge, and Henry County,” said Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart. “The Hightower family history shows that [family members] have always been committed to community, serving [in various capacities] as sheriff, medical doctor, firefighter and emergency medical technician… We look forward to having the citizens of Stockbridge participate in the final chapter of this grand old house.”
“My fellow citizens, it is only fitting that we stop to remember the historical significance this house has played in the development of Stockbridge, and Henry County. Now pass the lighter fluid, so we can burn this sucker right down to the ground.”
Historic site preservation keeps getting more and more complicated.
The reality of imminent commercial space tourism is exciting — and threatening. The temptation for tourists to visit Tranquility Base, to walk in Armstrong’s footsteps or to pocket some small treasure as a keepsake may be too strong to resist. Artifacts too small to notice may be trampled. Those too large to move may be vandalized. The three-dimensional relationship of these objects — which tells the story of the Apollo 11 crew’s activities and makes the site so significant — could be destroyed. The integrity of this historical site could be irreparably damaged. It is imperative that these artifacts be protected in their current positions.
Your homework assignment is to design a brochure for Tranquility Base National Historical Park using the venerable Unigrid System.
Eli Lehrer wishes the National Trust for Historic Preservation would get out of everybody’s way.
While nobody disputes that certain areas do deserve preservation or the Trust has done good work in protecting them them [sic], many places on the 2012 list have little to do with actual history and much to do with a busy-body attitude that seeks to diminish private property rights and waste tax dollars on dubious “preservation” efforts.
Judging by his op-ed, I think Lehrer’s main criterion for whether a site merits protection is that it be deemed worthy and interesting by none other than Eli Lehrer:
Many courthouses in rural Texas (another item on the list of “national treasures”) are in poor shape but it’s not clear why they’re of any national significance — most have hosted nothing beyond workaday civil and criminal trials and few are architecturally distinguished. There’s no reason why Texas taxpayers should do what the trust wants and shovel millions more into “protecting” them if their own counties don’t see a value in doing so. Likewise, there’s no reason why a building that once housed a gym where boxer Joe Frazier trained is of any importance at all: while Frazier himself does have importance to sports history, it’s not typical or expected to preserve sports figures’ practice sites so tourists can visit them. They just aren’t very interesting. The same goes for utterly ordinary corrugated steel warehouses in the Port of Los Angles and an unexceptional small town in Ohio. Nothing truly historic happened in either place.
Personally, I might give his opinions more weight if he wasn’t such a sloppy and uninformed commentator. Citing the controversy over proposed housing at Princeton Battlefield, Lehrer claims that “local busybodies still want to prevent Princeton University from building some housing in any area near the battlefield because they believe, among other things, that soldiers en route to the battle marched across it.” In fact, it’s not Princeton University that wants to build the housing, but the Institute for Advanced Study, which is completely independent of the university.
More importantly, the Princeton Battlefield Society has identified the portion of the field in question as core battlefield land. Indeed, the very PBS document to which Lehrer links in his “local busybodies” quote identifies the parcel as such. Is it too much to ask that an op-ed writer read a little about the subject of his piece, especially that he read the documents to which he refers directly?
Lehrer also writes that the Princeton battlefield is “already a state park.” The implication that historic sites are out of harm’s way once they receive designation as a park betrays ignorance of a seemingly obvious point. Such sites do not contain all the historic ground relating to a particular event. They only contain what preservationists and agencies have been able to acquire. The existence of a battlefield park only means that part of a given battlefield has obtained protected status, not that all the ground on which the battle took place is within the boundaries of a park. Even land within park boundaries is not immune from the traffic congestion, ruined viewsheds, and other problems that come with encroachment. In some cases, parcels of historic parks aren’t even contiguous, but instead are separated by other parcels of land over which park agencies have no control.
Preservation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We can have informed, reasonable discussions about this stuff—but we can’t do it with people who don’t really know what they’re talking about.
About the time I was first getting seriously interested in early American history, my parents and I took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. We planned to visit Carter’s Grove, the plantation home of Carter Burwell (and before that, site of a seventeenth-century English settlement excavated by famed archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume), but it was only open on certain days of the week and we got our schedule mixed up, so we missed it. CW sold the property five years ago.
Now it’s falling apart, because Halsey Minor, the tech investor who bought the place, has evidently overextended himself and can’t afford to keep it up.
Inspectors from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have been monitoring the property and have noted in reports the continuing deterioration of the mansion.
“Very little general maintenance work has been conducted,” inspectors said in a March report to the court after a visit to the mansion earlier this year.
“Of critical importance is the need for repairs to the failing HVAC system,” the report says. “During this site visit, there was visible standing water in the mechanical room in the basement, emanating from the chiller water pump. The risk for flooding is very high and could result in an explosion should water make contact with the gas burner.”
The inspectors found water leaks and worsening signs of rotting, cracking and mold throughout the mansion. It was unclear, they said, whether recent repairs actually stopped the water intrusion.
On the outside, they found more shingles missing from the roof, more bricks missing from the walls and more mortar cracked.…
[A court-appointed trustee] discovered that the insurance on the property had lapsed, the property’s caretakers had not been paid in a month, and that utility companies were threatening to shut off the gas, electric and water services for lack of payment. The Carter’s Grove bank account had only a few dollars left.
Pretty sorry outcome for one of the most significant pieces of architecture in the country.
A news item out of Georgia. I’m never happy to see potentially significant ground torn up, but one can’t help but be impressed by this developer’s honesty.
The Jonesboro City Council cleared the way this week for a funeral home to be built on about 11 acres on Ga. 54 just off Tara Boulevard after a contentious fight to preserve what is believed to be the last piece of unspoiled Civil War battleground in the county.…
Representatives for Weisbaden told city officials and residents at Monday’s meeting Jonesboro is a sensible place for a new funeral home because of its aging population.
Hey, all you elderly folks in Jonesboro—the people at Weisbaden Investments have big plans for you!