Archive for the ‘Local Economy’ Category

Everyone has felt the effects of the recession that we’re mired in.  Add to that the rising costs of everyday necessities, including gasoline, fuel oil, clothing and food, and we have a crisis that is straining small businesses located in our historic downtowns to their limit (and sometimes, beyond their limit to the point that they’re forced to close their doors forever).  What’s more, it isn’t just small businesses feeling the pinch (look at Borders, for one).  But take heart!  There are ways to find that toaster or those tube socks or that snow shovel you’ve needed for so long without turning to the local big box store.  Consider what the townspeople of Saranac Lake, New York, have done to remedy their shopping needs:
Nestled high in the Adirondack Mountains, this town of 5,000 residents turned down the advances of WalMart, opting to establish a community-owned department store instead.  The Saranac Lake Community Store was built on shares sold $100 at a time to the same people who will be walking the aisles to find a new sweater or some aspirin, and since its interests lie exclusively in offering services to Saranac Lake, it won’t be sold up the river when an investor makes an attractive offer, or close down when its parent company gets too deep into debt.  This business model will help to keep money in the community it supports, which will help to preserve Saranac Lake as a vibrant, viable place for generations to come.

I’d like to send out an emphatic, “Great thinking, folks! Keep up the good work!” to Saranac Lake.  Here’s hoping that other small towns around our great nation that have been struggling might look to the model set by the Saranac Lake Community Store as a fresh, new idea that could breathe new life into their downtowns.

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Hello everyone. Today I wanted to share another bit of our Virginia trip with you: our stop at Barboursville.

For those who might not know, Barboursville is a ruin. The house was designed for Virginia Governor James Barbour by Thomas Jefferson. Many architecture buffs will be able to guess that this means it has an octagonal feature to it. Indeed, Barboursville had an octagonal drawing room.

Tragedy struck Barboursville on Christmas day in 1884.  The house was consumed by fire, leaving only the masonry walls, chimneys, columns and foundations.  The ruins remain today as a point of interest for Jeffersonians, architectural historians and folks who visit the vineyard established on the rolling hills surrounding the house. You can enjoy a nice wine tasting and take a small stroll around the ruins when you are done (Ash recommends their barrel-fermented Chardonnay).

I highly recommend visiting both the ruins and the vineyards for a destination which has broad appeal (not just for us architecture geeks).  You can find Barboursville Vineyards wines in many places near Barboursville, including Monticello!

Here are some photos that Ash took of the Ruins on his iPhone. Enjoy!

Have a good day.


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It is an unfortunate fact that Eminent Domain can be abused by towns and cities (and even federally) to ruin historic preservation efforts by tearing down whole blocks of historic buildings in the name of “progress” and “the greater good”.  For anyone who might not know what Eminent Domain is, here is a handy definition for you from expertlaw.com: “Eminent domain refers to the power possessed by the state over all property within the state, specifically its power to appropriate property for a public use. In some jurisdictions, the state delegates eminent domain power to certain public and private companies, typically utilities, such that they can bring eminent domain actions to run telephone, power, water, or gas lines. In most countries, including the United States under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, the owner of any appropriated land is entitled to reasonable compensation, usually defined as the fair market value of the property. Proceedings to take land under eminent domain are typically referred to as “condemnation” proceedings.”

Historically, terms like “blighted” and “run-down” and “worthless” have been applied to historic buildings in order to devalue them and turn public opinion toward favoring their demolition.  From the 1950s through 1980s, eminent domain went hand in hand with urban renewal and other public programs to “improve” our cities and towns by demolishing older building stock to make way for highways, parks, utility corridors and other public projects.  But today, eminent domain has been redirected towards demolishing entire neighborhoods or rows of homes on a street, in order to turn the vacant land over to developers who will build businesses that will generate more tax revenue than the ‘dilapidated’ and ‘worthless’ residences that used to take up the space.  An instance of this can be seen in New London, Connecticut, where a neighborhood was taken by eminent domain for an office park that was never built, leaving behind a huge swath of vacant land that generates a fraction of the tax revenue formerly earned.

Now, to the story at hand. A while ago, a reader named Jerome asked me to write a blog post about his hometown of East Wheeling, West Virginia, and the struggle several residents were having. The town wanted to demolish homes in order to build a sports complex, but these homes were historic, listed in the National Register as part of a historic district, and some are even in the town’s walking tour. At first, I wasn’t sure whether or not I should get into a local issue that was a bit far from me, geographically, but when I though about it I figured that as a professional Preservationist, if I could help in any way, I had better do it…. think of it as the Hippocratic oath for buildings…. the “histocratic” oath if you will. “I will remember that I remain a member of society with special obligations to all buildings”.

So, after I decided to tackle this, Jerome and I emailed back and forth and I got a bit of history from him.  Here it is in his own words. “The story regarding these tactics to take property is frightening. An unnamed not-for-profit tried to buy buildings in the neighborhood in 2009 and 2010. When no owners expressed interest, the City began “threatening” owners with Eminent Domain. Those owners that caved, their property was taken by a third party. Those who did not settle, were filed upon with legal Eminent Domain which my neighbors and I are fighting. The rumor is the nearby Catholic High School wants to build a practice football field where the homes are.”

Now, I’ve posted some photos of the homes included in the town walking tour below (which look like they could have been taken by one of the users on the forum mentioned later), and admittedly, some could use a little TLC.  There is a lot of talk around about how the homes aren’t worth saving because of their condition, but it seems to me that if these people are willing to fight to keep their homes, then they are worth saving. Not to mention that I see “good bones” in these photos and they just need a little elbow grease before they can shine again.  For anyone out there who thinks that these building should be torn down because they’re in need of some work, (like one comment I found on a forum that states: “I’d rather see these buildings knocked down rather than let them continue to fall apart because lets face it, given the economics of the area, the odds of someone/ something buying these structures and breathing new life into them are next to nothing.”), I have but one thing to say. Shame on you!  No, there might not be much money in the community, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! There are all kinds of options to pursue, like establishing a revolving fund to buy vacant houses, fix them up and then sell them to low-income families at an affordable price, or historic rehabilitation tax credits or CDBG (Community Development Block Grant for those not in on the lingo) funds. Just because a goal looks like will be an uphill battle doesn’t mean the view from the top wasn’t worth the climb!

Okay so… what is the point of sharing this with you fine readers? Simple: to get the word out. Maybe you can help Jerome and the other residents of 15th Street fighting for their homes, or maybe you have a similar situation in your town. The important thing is that Preservation exists because people care about their communities, places where they live and work, where they grew up and made memories and a large part of those memories is the environment that they took place in. All it takes to save these places are a few people who care standing up and make themselves heard!  So here’s to Jerome and East Wheeling’s fight to save these buildings.  Maybe if enough people stand up to show how much they care for their homes and towns, and refuse to accept eminent domain as a viable solution, everyone can sit down together and talk, to create a plan that will meet everyone’s needs!

EDIT: I have come to find out that the photos were taken by Jonathon Denson and that he has them on his blog which you can find here.

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I’ve been reading a lot about the London riots, and as a Preservationist I have to say I’m concerned not only for the social implications but also for the repercussions of the rioting on the UK’s built heritage, and so I got to thinking….

Once upon a time, I went to England to participate in a British National Trust working holiday. On this working holiday, I worked on an island off the coast of Devon (Lundy Island to be exact) rebuilding dry-laid stone walls and digging ditches (seriously) and various other maintenance tasks that needed to be done on Lundy. During this week long holiday, I met some great people and got an interesting prospective on how Preservation works in a country that has what many would consider “ancient” heritage. For example, part of our job was “Rhodie” Bashing (and no I don’t mean making fun of the state of Rhode Island), a task that consisted of eradicating century-old rhododendron bushes that were as big as trees and would be considered historic treasures in this country, but there, all the Rhodies managed to do was choke out an endemic species of plant that was the only food source for a species of beetle, and therefore, they had to go.  Plus, there’s a 13th century castle and the remains of an Iron Age settlement on the island.  Ancient heritage.

Below is a photo from my trip. It’s a view of the local pub and the church can be seen behind it. This is “down-town” Lundy.

I realize I’ve digressed a little, but the point is, I got to know a bit about the British National Trust and some of the great work they do, and that got me thinking… I wonder what the British National Trust is doing in light of the rioting. Then it dawned on me that they could provide a unique solution to part of the problem over there, which, as I understand it, is young people rioting because they are poor. Well, wouldn’t it be great if some of these poor kids could get some skills and then they could work to better their situation? Since they’ve caused all this damage to businesses and homes all over London and other cities, shouldn’t it stand to reason that they should be responsible for cleaning it up and fixing what they’ve damaged? I think so… so here is my big idea. The arrested “hoodies” or “ASBOs” or whatever you want to call them, could be given some sort of probation arrangement, provided that they attend trade classes for technical Preservation and Restoration (put on by the Trust… or an entity similar to the Trust) and then they use those skills to restore and rebuild the damage they caused.  Then, after it’s all done, they have a marketable skill to use to earn some money and improve their place in society.

I know that there are myriad of niggling little details that would need to be worked out for this plan to succeed, but it’s an interesting premise anyway. So, to my reading audience across the pond… What do you think? You’re in my thoughts.


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Hello again everyone.

Today’s blog post is more of a question for you all than any sort of informative talk. So here it goes… with a little background.

As you may recall, back on June 7th, I had written a quick post asking you guys to vote in the This Place Matters Community Challenge. Well, the challenge is over now and a winner has been declared.

A winner very near and dear to my heart actually: The Breakers  which is run by the Preservation Society of Newport County.  It is one of the most, if not the most, visited house museums in this country, and one that I got a chance to learn in as part of my Preservation education.  But I have a bit of a dilemma, and that dilemma is… as a preservationist, should I be glad that a building so well-known as the Breakers that draws thousands of visitors a year from around the world got the money?  After all, the Preservation Society of Newport County has several mansions to maintain and operate, and it isn’t getting any less expensive. Or, should I feel like that money would have done a lot more good somewhere else?  For example… one of the lesser-known properties that the money might have saved from demolition or restored so that it will last longer?  (I’m fairly certain the Breakers isn’t in danger of being bulldozed soon, and if it were, I’d be in line to chain myself to its massive gates!).

So… since I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer on my own, I’m polling you guys. Feel free to answer “other” and give a more in depth opinion.


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