The House of Representatives can now vote to allow the NPS to acquire important Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites. Drop a line to your representative and tell him or her to support the American Battlefield Protection Program Amendments Act (H.R. 2489). It’ll only take you a few minutes.
Category Archives: historic preservation
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!
Knoxville historian Jack Neely has written a fascinating article on the legacy of East Tennessee’s own Admiral David Farragut, with an update on the disappearing birthplace monument.
The current status of Farragut’s boyhood home and the marker that once stood there is…well, complicated. Very, very complicated.
What I didn’t know before reading Neely’s piece is that Farragut has become a hero among Americans of Spanish-speaking descent. His father was a native of Minorca who settled in the Knoxville area back when Tennessee was still the Southwest Territory.
Knoxville historians once assumed they were the only ones who’ve ever heard of George Farragut, the early settler. But there’s a high-quality portrait of him at the Smithsonian. He’s the one Knoxville settler of whom we have the clearest physical image: a robust fellow on the verge of a chuckle. Now he has his own Wikipedia page. George Farragut has emerged as a Spanish-American patriot of the Revolutionary War.
His son who became an admiral has also gained new attention. “I am extremely proud of sharing the same heritage as Admiral Farragut,” says Coral Getino, the Spanish-born leader of Knoxville’s HoLa Hora Latina, hosts of the popular annual festival. “Farragut is a role model for us: A first-generation Hispanic-American, hard-working family man, who earned the highest Navy rank for the first time in history,” she says. “His bravery, determination, and perseverance—in battle and in life—exemplify values we want to teach our children. He is a national hero who was born right here, almost in my neighborhood.” Learning the Farragut story, she says, helped inspire her to get involved in the Knoxville community.
Navy guys, Civil War buffs, and various other constituencies are also keenly interested in the fate of Farragut’s birthplace. A pity more people from the admiral’s own neck of the woods aren’t as concerned. Neely notes that at the time of its dedication, the birthplace monument was probably the most prominent marker of its kind in the Knoxville area. You wouldn’t expect a rock like that to fade from memory, but then you wouldn’t expect it to grow legs and walk away, either.
If you want to see a stellar example of what happens when a community embraces historic preservation, you should visit Jonesborough, TN. It’s the oldest town in the state (founded in 1779, when eastern Tennessee was still part of North Carolina) and a history lover’s paradise. My cousin and I paid a visit the other day, after our tour of Carter’s Mansion in nearby Elizabethton.
The first thing you’ll want to do is stop by the visitor center to pick up a walking guide. These brochures are only $1.00, and they point out all the important historic structures and locations, most of them within easy walking distance. The visitor center also has a nice little exhibit on various aspects of Jonesborough’s past, including some nifty antique fire pumps.
Jonesborough has, at various times, been the seat of Washington Co., created by North Carolina out of some of the western districts across the mountains; a capital of the abortive State of Franklin, which ceased to exist in 1788; a government and economic center for the Southwest Territory, when North Carolina ceded her western lands to the federal government; and finally, a county seat for Tennessee. A monument in front of the current courthouse building marks the approximate spot where a log courthouse sat over two centuries ago.
One of the oldest structures you’ll see in Jonesborough (one of the oldest structures you’ll see in the whole state, actually) is the log home of Christopher Taylor, built in 1788. A young backwoods lawyer named Andrew Jackson lived there for a short time before moving on to Nashville and national fame.
Later, after his election to the presidency, Jackson was a guest at the Chester Inn. Built in the late 1790′s, this building has also hosted Presidents Polk and Johnson, along with various other historic luminaries. Now it’s the home of the National Storytelling Festival. Check out the exhibit on the first floor; it offers a fine overview of the town’s history, and includes some pretty neat artifacts.
Next to the Taylor cabin is the site where Elihu Embree published two anti-slavery newspapers, The Manumission Intelligencer and The Emancipator. The latter was the first newspaper in the country devoted solely to promoting the eventual eradication of slavery. The son of Pennsylvania Quakers, Embree was actually a slaveowner himself until age thirty, joining a Tennessee manumission organization in 1815. The Emancipator circulated as far as Boston, but its run ended when Embree died at a young age in 1820.
Our last stop was the town’s old cemetery, which sits on a hill near the historic district. Noticing a couple of small Confederate flags on one monument, I walked over to have a closer look. Turned out to be the grave of Brigadier General Alfred E. Jackson, who served as a quartermaster and paymaster before spending much of the rest of the war engaged in the small-scale actions that often flared up in the mountains of Appalachia. Jackson was quite unpopular among other Confederate officers; subordinates in Thomas’ Legion (which constituted part of his brigade) considered him “morally and physically unfit” for command and asked Jefferson Davis to give him the boot. The end of the war found this formerly prosperous businessman farming rented land in southwestern Virginia. He was eventually able to recover some of his antebellum prosperity and died in Jonesborough in 1889.
There are plenty of other stories and buildings to check out in Jonesborough, along with quite a few historic inns and small restaurants. The town is just a short drive from some of Tennessee’s best parks and historic sites—Sycamore Shoals, Rocky Mount, Andrew Johnson’s home, and Tipton-Haynes Historic Site, to name a few—so if you’re looking for a place to spend a history-soaked weekend, it’s hard to beat.
From Planet Princeton:
Opponents of the Institute for Advanced Study’s plan to build faculty housing have filed a lawsuit to block the project, arguing it will destroy the site of Washington’s counter-attack in the Battle of Princeton, the historic battle that changed the course of the American Revolution.
The lawsuit, filed in Mercer County Superior Court by the Princeton Battlefield Society, also claims the project is barred under the terms of a 1992 settlement agreement between the Institute and Princeton Township.
“The development, intended to provide housing for 15 faculty members, will completely obliterate the Battlefield site that has remained untouched for the last 235 years,” said the group’s attorney, Bruce Afran. “The Institute housing plan will destroy what is probably the most significant Revolutionary War site left in the United States, along with critical archaeological and historical evidence.”
The suit alleges that the construction, intended to build housing for 15 Institute faculty members, is barred under the terms of a 1992 settlement that the Institute reached with Princeton Township that was intended to preserve the Battlefield site from future residential development.