Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

TGIF Readers! I feel like this is Friday #2 this week, with the holiday on Wednesday. Speaking of the 4th of July, since I am still coming down from my post-fireworks euphoria, I have decided to theme today’s Fantasy in honor of our recently passed holiday. As you may know (or may not, as I do have some foreign readers), Independence Day (often better-known as the 4th of July, for the date the holiday falls on) is an American Holiday in which the citizenry celebrates the signing of the Declaration of Independence, by which the Founding Fathers of our nation stated that America was its own country and should be free of British rule. This act of treason led to war between Britain and the American colonies, which eventually led to the creation of the country we know today… and it all began on July 4, 1776 (granted, that’s the thumbnail sketch of the founding of the United States, as there were many acts of rebellion that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War, not to mention some confusion among when the Declaration was actually signed, but to avoid writing a book that’s been written several times over, I’ll leave us with the understanding that the holiday is on July 4th and we’re celebrating America).

Today, the 4th of July represents patriotism and love of country, both of which I can wholeheartedly support.  In honor of those sentiments, today’s Fantasy is tied to one of America’s most beloved Presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln was America’s 16th President, responsible for leading the Union through the Civil War, writing the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, and he was also assassinated.  What many people don’t know about President Lincoln is that, although he loved the White House, he actually dearly loved another house in Washington, DC, more. This other  house was a seasonal retreat for Presidents.  It was (and still is) a cottage on the grounds of what was known as the Soldiers Home (Now known as the armed forces retirement home).

(Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) Photo, by way of wikipedia)

The Cottage was built in 1842 for George Washington Riggs (who later went on to found Riggs National Bank… Yeah, I’ve never heard of that bank either, but the guy had enough money to found a bank, so there you go….) in the fashionable Gothic Revival style. However, it did not remain a private home for very long, as President Lincoln had taken up residence there by the summer of 1862. It is even said he wrote preliminary drafts of the Emancipation Proclamation in the cottage. (Photo from lincolncottage.org and Armed Forces Retirement Home)

The cottage underwent a major restoration beginning in 2005, and opened to the public for the first time in 2008.  The site was declared a National Monument by President Clinton in 2000, as well as a being included in the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.   Today is is maintained and run by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (Photo from National Geographic)

Hope you enjoyed this look at President Lincoln’s Cottage. If you are in Washington, D.C., you should check it out. If you won’t be in the D.C. area anytime soon, you can visit the Cottage Website here.

Have a great weekend!


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I think it is pretty well established that I love Thomas Jefferson. I have written plenty of posts on his architecture (if you want a recap you can find them here, here and here ), so imagine my surprise when I found out that Thomas Jefferson is alive and well in Chicago, along with some of his founding father friends.

For those of you who might not know what I’m talking about, let me introduce you to my new favorite thing (I have a lot of favorite things. It’s something I have in common with Oprah… well, that and we have the same birthday). That thing is the website I Made America. “I Made America” is a website dedicated to the modern-day exploits of George Washington, John Adams, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton,Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who isn’t well after his trip to the here and now) and how these paragons of America are dealing with life in 2012 after being transported forward in time. Who could ever have imagined that paying an electric bill would be a task beyond the grasp of the Father of modern banking, or that Pop Tarts would hold such allure to a former French ambassador?

Here is a taste by way of the first episode.

I Made America Ep. 1

Though it’s more comedy than history, I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!


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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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Hey readers, I’m back!  Did you miss me?  Sorry about being MIA for a while, but Ash and I were on a much-needed vacation, which I will be writing about later this week.  I wanted to pop on and post a quick follow-up to a post I wrote in mid-September.  You can read it here.

If you recall, the federal Transpiration Enhancement program was in danger of being cut, but it was saved by the House… Now, it is in danger in the Senate, and Preservationists need to act swiftly to save one of our biggest sources of funding and YOU can help!

Just take a moment to click this link, read the Preservation Nation article and click their link so that you can contact your Senator and tell him or her to save the Transportation Enhancement Act and ditch the bad language.

Don’t forget to come back on Friday for our Fantasy.

Thanks for doing your part for Preservation, and have a great day!


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Today, I got to do something almost unheard of in my part of the office: I got to go on a site visit!  You see, at Old Stuff Inc., we don’t often have the time or resources to go into the field, but one of the projects I was involved with had a Grand Opening celebration, and I got to be there!

The Eustis Street Fire House, or ‘Torrent Six’ as it was called after its construction in 1859, will now be the headquarters to a great and very deserving Preservation group called Historic Boston Incorporated.  HBI’s mission is to carry out bricks and mortar preservation work, saving endangered buildings in Boston by fixing them up.

Below is a picture that I borrowed from their website (hopefully they won’t mind…. as I want to spread the word about their good deeds!) of the Fire House before its restoration. Talk about rough shape!

Also, below is another picture from the Boston Fire Historical Society which also has several great historical photos if you look at their site.

Finally, below is a picture of the rehabilitated Torrent Six sign and a bit of the building (Photo again from HBI).  Much of the Restoration work was done by students from the North Bennett Street School, which specializes in traditional craftsmanship and trade work.

It was wonderful to see a project through to such a wonderful conclusion. Good luck in your new home, HBI, and thanks for inviting me to join the fun!


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It’s been a good day today. The Transportation Enhancement program will be sticking around for another six months thanks to the Senate.

Read a bit more about it in this Preservation Nation Blog

I thought I’d share photos of these beautiful transportation resources in celebration.  The Keystone Arch bridges in Middlefield, Massachusetts are remarkable, entirely dry-laid stone edifices built to carry the Western Railroad over the Westfield River.  These soaring arches were constructed in 1840 and carried rail traffic for over 100 years.  Today, they stand sentinel over Massachusetts’ first-designated Wild and Scenic River on a bypassed section of the original 1840 railroad grade, which serves as an unbelievable trail for viewing the splendor of nature and man-made marvels side-by-side.  Providing access to natural and architectural treasures like these is what the Transportation Enhancements program is all about, and it can continue to bring the American public closer to our vast and unique country as long as we continue to support it.

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Hey everyone.

This post is a quick PSA.

It seems that funding is being cut everywhere you look in the current economic climate. However, Preservation doesn’t get much funding to begin with, and it seems even more of our funding is now in jeopardy.  The Transportation Enhancements Program may be on the chopping block and we Preservationists and Preservation enthusiasts need to speak up to save it!  This program has helped to preserve historic roads and bridges, to enhance historic downtown streetscapes, to maintain scenic and historic parkways and byways, and to rehabilitate and revitalize historic transportation resources that would have otherwise been abandoned or demolished.  It is the single largest funding source for historic preservation in the country, and has helped to save countless resources, from historic railroad stations and freight sheds, to stone arch bridges, to the acquisition of scenic easements to preserve our historic battlefields.  Examples of the great things that Transportation Enhancement funding has accomplished can be found at the National Transportation Enhancements Clearinghouse

For more information and a handy link to email your Senator, please visit this Preservation Nation Blog.

With so few jobs in our relatively small field, and with museums and historic interest groups reeling from the recent loss of funding to programs like Save America’s Treasures, the Preservation field desperately needs to save what little Federal funding remains, to keep professionals at work.  In a field that has been working over the past 40-plus years to gain the trust and assistance of state and local officials and the general public, working to ensure the preservation of our national, regional and local identity, and striving to be seen as more than the group of crazed anti-progress zealots often referred to as the “hysterical society”, we need all of the professional guidance and funding available.  Don’t get me wrong, volunteers are wonderful people and can often be the difference between a Preservation project succeeding or languishing indefinitely, but Preservation in this country can’t be accomplished by volunteers alone, and the sort of funding that keeps people in our field working is disappearing rapidly!

So, please get in touch with your Senator and let them know that the Transportation Enhancement Program is one that our country needs!


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