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Our professor gave us an assignment to write a newspaper article on heritage resources for the fictional local newspaper of Gabbs, Nevada, the "Gabbs Gabfest." This term paper says a lot about my views of historic preservation. It explains what motivates me to preserve family history about everyday people rather than just preserving the history of the rich and famous. Many of the statements in this essay are surprisingly still very current after 22 years.
Gabbs Gabfest, Fall 1995Heritage Resources Preservation in the Twenty First CenturyBy Nick Cimino, "Cultural Affairs Editor"
This story is about you ... and me ... and our ancestors ... and the ships they sailed on ... and the halls where they used to meet...and the house where an American hero lived ... and the songs they used to sing ... and the church where they worshiped ... and the pipes which held their tobacco. It's about long ago and not so long ago--big things and little things and all the things that make us what we are today.
Our heritage is something inherited from our cultural past: no judgement of good or bad is made. Heritage resources are the things that make up that past. Heritage resources include both natural and cultural resources. The preservation of heritage resources includes a wide range of activities. Efforts to preserve natural areas like the Grand Canyon from air pollution and saving a family Bible can fit under the term "heritage resources preservation." The United Nations World Heritage List is comprised of a vast array of sites from the natural and built environment: the Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, the city of Quito, Ecuador, Mesa Verde in Colorado, and the Great Wall of China. The initial focus of heritage resources was on buildings but it has broadened to included places of association. The U.S. federal government has a long list of cultural resources under its care.
The great majority are archaeological sites. Over 25,000 such sites have been identified in the state of Nevada. This number only represents about 10% of the potential total of cultural resource sites in the state.
The term historic means an inheritance from the past that carries a definite connotation of value or importance or fame. Historic resources can be defined locally or nationally or internationally. We are motivated to preserve those things that establish our identity. Who are we? How will we know it is us, without our past.
The first successful effort to preserve a vestige of the early history of the United States came in 1813 when the State of Pennsylvania proposed selling the Old State House in Philadelphia, now known as Independence Hall. A group of petitioners was successful in winning a temporary stay of execution for the obsolete State House based on its role as the birthplace of our nation. Three years later the City of Philadelphia acquired the hall and the surrounding square for $70,000 after the state had proposed to sell it off for building lots. At the same time it was being preserved, Independence Hall lost its wing buildings to make room for new ''fireproof" buildings. A workman was authorized to remove the historic woodwork from the Assembly Room. The visit of Lafayette in 1824 was the occasion that marked the end of the period of neglect for Independence Hall.
In the 1820's and 1830's several private individuals became interested in historic sites. Monticello and Fort Ticonderoga were examples of sites being held by private individuals who secured them from vandalism and further decay.
Citizen groups were beginning to form in the 1840's but encountered problems raising sufficient funds to acquire historic sites. The legislature of New York was persuaded to preserve George Washington's headquarters in Newburgh, New York in 1850. Two major preservation victories occurred in 1856. The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, was purchased by the state of Tennessee. A private group, the Carpenters’ Company of Philadelphia, was the owner of Carpenters' Hall, which was the site of the first meeting of the First Continental Congress in 1774. Recognizing the importance of their historic meeting place, the carpenters voted in April of 1856 to renovate their hall, taking care ''to preserve, as much as possible, every feature in said HaIl as it now exists indicative of its original finish." The City of Philadelphia tried to buy the hall from the carpenters but they preferred to hold the building "as a sacred trust committed to us by our predecessors."
The seminal event in American historic preservation was the acquisition of Mount Vernon by a private group known as the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. Nineteenth century Americans regarded Washington as a great liberator. He was revered like a Greek god and his home had become a patriotic mecca. The organizer and publicist of the Mount Vernon preservation movement was Ann Pamela Cunningham. She was a small frail spinster who came from an upcountry South Carolina plantation called Rosemont. She was supported in her effort by Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, former Senator and well-known orator. Their efforts for acquisition began in the decade immediately preceding the Civil War.
Cunningham and Everett called upon the patriotism of a nation to preserve the home of its greatest hero. But it was Cunningham who overcame the greatest obstacle facing the preservationist group. John Washington, the owner of Mount Vernon, had established a price of $200,000 for the property. He had raised objections to the terms of the Virginia charter for the Mount Vernon's Ladies' Association. Cunningham was instrumental in gaining the cooperation of John Washington.
She also contributed her administrative skill and energy to the fund raising effort. Through vice regents representing various states, the Association appealed to the American people in a campaign to raise the funds needed to acquire Mount Vernon. The association was formed to be a "national" association and it managed to survive throughout the period of the Civil War.
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association was the first national historic preservation organization and is the oldest women's patriotic society in the United States. Its pioneering efforts in the field of preservation set an important precedent. Many historic homes were preserved following the Mt. Vernon model but none became a greater shrine for the nation. "Second only to Mt. Vernon" became a rallying cry for the preservation movements that followed.
Historic buildings, sites and landscapes have intrinsic value for their aesthetic and educational benefits. To know who we are we must know who we were. The appreciation of material culture has grown in direct proportion to the industrialization of our society. In this era of mass production and homogenization of culture, we have lost contact with the prototype in art and architecture. The poster shop has replaced the gallery. The uniformity of the tract houses blur the senses. Old buildings have character and ornamentation and beauty that has been lost in buildings of more recent vintage. The original article has a delightful ability to inform, entertain and amuse. By better understanding the people of the past, we can only achieve a better understanding of ourselves. The philosophical principles that structure and give form to the historic preservation movement are stated as follows in the goal of the National Trust for Historic Preservation: we must save things from the past that have cultural and historical value in order to instill in the American people a full appreciation of their legacy and heritage.
Historic preservation is concerned with a variety of sub-fields that support, enhance and compliment its purposes. Prehistoric archaeology is usually considered under the broader umbrellas of heritage resources or culture resource management. The sites of archaeological resources present unique challenges to the historic preservationist. The resources at the site must be protected from the natural and human pressures such as erosion and decay, foot traffic and vandalism. Sites and ruins require continuing maintenance to prevent their total destruction.
Historical archaeology plays a major supporting role for historic preservation. It adds a historical context to preservation of buildings and sites since it is truly the study of material culture in historical perspective. Underwater archaeology compliments and cross fertilizes land based archaeology. Sunken ships can be perfectly dated time capsules of material culture. By combining the archaeological and historical records, the methods and theories of both fields can be tested.
Maritime preservation is a sub-field of increasing interest in the United States. Americans have taken a personal interest in the preservation of ships. Most of our immigrant ancestors came in ships. Replicas of the Mayflower and restored taIl ships fascinate many visitors. Naval vessels like the U.S.S. Constitution and cruise ships like the Queen Mary have become popular exhibits. Our seafaring past is chronicled in the dozens of maritime parks that have sprung up across the country.
Historic preservation is committed to the care, management, preservation and interpretation of the things of the past. Historic buildings, ships, trains, and gardens frequently become museums. Museology is an interrelated field to historic preservation on several fronts. James Marston Fitch in his book on historic preservation has called for those interested in the field to apply the methods of the museum curator to the management of the built world. A curator is a researcher, an educator and a custodian of their collection.
Outdoor architectural museums have been created to preserve buildings from the encroachments of urban development or to collect representative styles in one location. Examples of outdoor museums are Henry Ford's Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan; Electra Webb's Shelburne Village near Burlington, Vermont; and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Several of these types ofmusewns have recently evolved based on the display of replicas or duplicates. Old Salem in Massachusetts, new Salem in Illinois, and Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts are representative examples of outdoor musewns that seek to recreate every aspect of the material culture based on research and scholarship that replicates period processes and lifestyles.
The historic house museum has been the forerunner of the historic preservation movement. Usually associated with some famous person or historical event, there are hundreds of these museums throughout the United States. These houses are enormously popular. Mount Vernon is the classic example. It is open to the public every day of the year. More than fifty million have toured the estate in the years since the Mount Vernon Ladies Association took charge. Since 1950, annual visitation has rarely fallen below one million. The main deficiency given contemporary attitudes towards a more inclusive approach to history has been the elitist, upper class bias of their interpretation, educational programs and publications. Mount Vernon has prepared a supplemental brochure on slavery and the slave burial ground in recognition of this deficiency.
Aside from merely presenting single objects in display cases, museums have sought to create historic rooms which display decorative arts, furnishings and implements. These rooms are often the product of demolition of historic buildings. Due to the destructive nature of this type of display, museums will only accept historic buildings or rooms when there is no possibility for them to remain on their original sites.
Museums provide a storehouse of artifacts that support the studies of historic preservation and historic archaeology. Museum collections of ceramics, metalwork and glassware can be compared to similar archaeological finds. Museums also have many items that the archaeologist rarely has access to such as leather, paper, fabric and wood. Museums have developed a vast body of expertise on restoration and preservation of material objects which must be applied to the field of historic preservation.
Other sub-fields of historic preservation include industrial archaeology, commercial and transportation archaeology. These fields are committed to the study and preservation of the various elements of industry, commerce and transportation. Industrial buildings and equipment have been the subject of preservation efforts. Factories and warehouses of every sort have been preserved or adaptively reused. Canneries, chocolate factories, mines, piers, stamp mills, and wineries are all examples of industrial preservation. A review of points of interest in California and Nevada shows twenty eight exhibits or collections of vehicles including cars, trains, cable cars, stagecoaches and wagons not to mention the aviation exhibits. Commercial archeology has developed in countless fields of commerce. Some of the more popular collections have centered on the American fascination with the automobile. Everything from diners to service stations, to neon signs to movie theaters is studied in commercial archaeology.
All of these sub-fields are committed to achieving a full appreciation of our cultural and historical heritage. The legacy of the past is prologue to our future. These studies are dedicated to helping people find their place in time.
Only recently have professionals become involved in historic preservation. The movement has historically been fueled by the energy of volunteers and amateurs. The opportunities abound for local citizens to become productively involved in preservation. Every aspect of historic preservation involves tasks that are suitable for volunteers. A docent is a volunteer that agrees to lead tours through museums or historical districts. Historical groups are always looking for volunteers to do research, catalog, file, or answer phones. Archaeologists often need volunteers on digs. Old buildings need constant maintenance. Funds are always needed to acquire and maintain historic resources. Every element of the past is crying for your voice to support its preservation. Public education and political action for preservation require lots of helpers.
Both government and private agencies are involved in preservation on the state and national levels. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association was the first private group to become involved in preservation. Hundreds of other private groups are involved either directly or peripherally with preservation. For example, Monticello is owned and operated by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc., a private nonprofit organization formed in 1923 to purchase, preserve and maintain Monticello as a national monument to Thomas Jefferson. The premier private group on the national level is the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the United States. Other active national groups are the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings and the American Institute of Architects. Federal agencies include the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the National Park Service, and the Office of Technology Assessment. The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management as stewards of the public lands, have offices that focus on cultural resource management.
The Nevada Department of Museums, Library and Arts has several offices under its jurisdiction which are involved in historic preservation. The State Office of Historic Preservation is the lead agency and is supported by the State Council on the Arts and the State Library and Archives.
The Museum and History Division is headquartered in the Old Carson City Mint building which is their principal museum. The Nevada Historical Society in Reno and the State Railroad Museum in Carson City are also active in preservation efforts. The Nevada Humanities Committee is a private group that has funneled private and federal monies to historical activities.
The State Parks Division is responsible for a variety of historic, cultural and archeological sites including the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. This 1,127-acre park is located 23 miles east of Gabbs via State Route 844. The park has fossils of reptiles that once swam the ancient ocean covering Nevada 225 million years ago. The ghost town of Berlin which dates to the late nineteenth century is also within the park boundaries. Interpretive signs outline self-guiding tours among the town's 13 preserved buildings.
Guided tours of the townsite are offered Friday through Monday at 10,2 and 4, Memorial Day through Labor Day. The park is open 24 hours (weather permitting); it may be inaccessible in winter. Guided tours of the Ichthyosaur Fossil Shelter are also given. Admission to the park is free and guided tours cost one dollar. For more information call the park office at (702) 964-2440.
Here in Gabbs, the oldest buildings are of the World War II era so not much has been done in historic preservation yet. There are a few older buildings over in Ione but the best local historic attraction is Berlin. The Gabbs Community Library has a small local history collection. For more information on library services call (702) 285-2686. The Nye County seat in Tonopah, seventy six miles south of Gabbs, is host to the Central Nevada Museum. The history of the area is depicted through displays dealing with American Indians, settlements, boomtowns, railroads and mining. The grounds contain heavy industrial and mining equipment .. For museum hours and information call (702) 482-9676. Nye County offices in Tonopah can provide assistance with land, court and historical records relating to buildings and sites in the Gabbs area.
Several books and magazines can be consulted to learn more about heritage and historic preservation. A textbook used by colleges and universities throughout the United States is Historic Preservation by James Marston Fitch. An expert on architectural history and historic preservation, Fitch is Director Emeritus of the Historic Preservation Program of the Graduate School of Architecture and Planning at Columbia University. His writings have helped to shape and inspire the American ethic of preservation. Charles B. Hosmer, Jr. is the author of a series of volumes which profile the history of the preservation movement in the United States. His first book published in 1965 covers the period before Williamsburg and the second, published in 1981 is entitled Preservation Comes of Age: from Williamsburg to the National Trust. The National Trust has published dozens of titles on the subject and in addition cooperates in publishing The Historic Preservation Yearbook which profiles the progress of conservation and restoration of historic buildings and sites. The periodic journal, Historic Preservation, is published by the National Council for Historic Sites and Buildings. Other joumals and magazines that cover historic preservation topics are Architectural Forum, Architectural Record, Colonial Homes, American Heritage, and House Beautiful.
The future of heritage resources preservation will take the field in new directions. The new emphasis in American cultural studies is to broaden the perspectives to include multiculturalism, feminism and the history of groups which have previously been under represented. This country has been intolerant of the diversity of traditional customs and lifestyles of immigrants, Afro-Americans and native Americans. For many years a major goal in the United States was the ''melting pot" philosophy. The idea was to ''melt'' all cultures into a new American lifestyle. What we failed to realize was the strength of each heritage.
Historic preservation has too often been associated with an elitist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant world view. Historic preservation has not been embraced as enthusiastically by these under-represented groups because the social elites which have been glorified by history have been anti-heroes to the underprivileged groups. Historical preservation must seek to be more inclusive of working class values and everyday life. It must preserve examples of the commoner as well as the noble. Americans need to learn an appreciation for all cultures that have woven together to form the fabric of American society.
Historic neighborhoods became minority and ethnic neighborhoods as they increased in age and fell out of fashion. Historic preservation with its emphasis on physical renewal has tended to displace the resident populations. The "gentrification" of neighborhoods has transposed the slums and the ghettos instead of eliminating them. The United States has only begun to explore the new levels of socio-cultural engineering which will be required in the twenty first century.
A new emphasis of historic preservation will be to include vernacular architecture and folk culture from the United States and throughout the world. Scientific examination of folk and primitive building techniques will be necessary to develop the study of the theories and practices of the past and for protection of the forms that make up this artistic heritage. Preservation is an infant science in developing nations. The citizens of the developing world have found that their own indigenous past is the best resource for building their artistic and cultural future. Western preservationists will be called to support this resource with their science and technology. They will also be called to support this view in the foreign policies of their respective nations.
James Fitch claims in the closing chapter of his textbook that "every independent nation in the world today is committed at least in principle, to the theory that the protection of the national artistic and historic heritage is a responsibility of the state." Fitch wrote this comment before the recent assaults began on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The new emphasis on "reinventing government" and privatization of public services raises new questions for the preservationist concerning the role of government in curatorial management of our cultural resources. Federal deficits and state tax limitations have sharply curtailed the ability of governments to enter into bold new initiatives. These factors combined with the need for multicultural emphasis and sensitivity to indigenous populations in historic districts will require a new approach towards citizen participation. It will not be enough to have the support of a vocal minority or the moneyed elite. Preservationists will have to produce a much broader base of support in the twenty first century.