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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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Harpers Ferry is an area visited by founders and presidents including George Washington who surveyed the area at the age of 17, and Thomas Jefferson who also visited. Lewis and Clarke started their expedition from this spot. This was also site of the first crossing of the Potomac by railroad on the first structural steel bridge in the world. This was also the site of the John Brown raid which precipitated the civil war.

The Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation is a non-profit leading preservation and beautification efforts in Harpers Ferry. The Foundation works with local government, the National Park Service, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and businesses and individuals. This volunteer-led organization has taken on responsibility for preservation of historic structures, streetscape beautification, support to business, and education and promotion of Harpers Ferry. In many respects the Foundation operates as a Main Street program, albeit with an executive director or by formally endorsing the four point approach.

In the last 990 available for fiscal year 2008 ending December 31, 2008, the Foundation reported total revenue of $42,691 and total expenses of $33,649. In the statement of program service accomplishments the following activities were reported: "State guide for visitors to Harpers Ferry was produce and tourist kiosks bought", "Tour of historic harpers ferry houses with programs", and "Brochures and rack cards of historic Harpers Ferry" (were produced). Total program service expenses were reported as $14,907.

The Walking Guide to Upper Town Harpers Ferry is an excellent publication for other communities to follow. The guide is published by the Harpers Ferry Historic Town Foundation with financial assistance from The West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Walking Guide documents ten buildings dating from the 1830s to present. The heritage of the communities is divided into an "Industry" period from 1800-1861. This period was when Harper's Ferry was centered around the U.S. Armory, mills, and factories in Lower Town, while Upper Town was built to house workers and their families. Armory dwellings and boarding houses were the primary housing stock until the 1850's when private homes started to be built.

The Civil War marked a period of great displacement for Harper's Ferry. Nearly every structure in Upper Town was destroyed as this are continuously was reoccupied by the North and the South. Some houses were confiscated for headquarters, and the military used many Camp Hill homes, churches, and businesses as hospitals. Other houses were destroyed for firewood.

The last 35 years of the 19th century was a time of reconstruction and gradual growth for the town. In 1865 Storer Normal School was established on Camp Hill to teach former slaves, and grew to become Storer College. New Victorian houses were constructed in Upper Town, some as summer houses. From this time forward people sought out Harpers Ferry for entertainment, recreation, and Civil War history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation forming Harpers Ferry National Monument on June 29, 1944. This was established to commemorated significant historical events occurring here prior to, during and shortly following the Civil War. This is accomplished through on-site exhibits, museums, ranger-led interpretive programs and self-guided tours. The historic lower town represents a 19th century commercial district developed around water powered industry. Numerous other neighborhoods and geographic areas are recognized for their historic, natural, and scenic qualities.

Preservation Napa Valley, Napa Valley, California

At a time when Napa Valley is facing major challenges with limited consumer demand, and some wineries considering to sell their grapes outright, skipping a vintage, or simply leaving them on the vine, it is interesting to reflect on the preservation heritage of Napa Valley and the forces that brought this present-day situation about.

A New York Times article from February 16, 2010, stated that sales of wines priced at $25 and above have dropped 30 percent nation wide. While global wine sales increased, California wine shipments fell for the first time in 16 years. One response to these changing conditions has beenn to sign up new customers through social media, rather than waiting for people to drive to the wineries. Increasing pressure is also being placed on public officials to allow wineries to make direct sales out of state, rather than having to go through distributors.

Preservation Napa Valley was founded in 2008 by now present director Wendy Ward as a 501(c)(3) organization. Ward also serves as Vice Chair of the Cultural Heritage Commission for the City of Napa, a board member for the Napa County Historical Society, and a board member of Butte Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization. She also is a member of Napa County Landmarks, the California Preservation Foundation, the Association for Preservation Technology, the Vernacular Architecture Forum, and American Archeology.

Their stated mission of Preservation Napa Valley is as follows: "While embracing the past and looking toward the future, to preserve, protect and build awareness for Napa county's architectural and cultural resources through education and advocacy."

Among their programs are a "Preservation and a Pint" panel discussion on the Valley's agricultural future. These events feature speakers and are free and open to the public. The goal of the event expressed by Wendy Ward is "to have a convivial, casual and fun setting to bring together speakers and audiences to talk about things that need to be talked about."

While this approach to regional discussions is refreshing, there are real threats to Napa Valley in the form of development pressure, and bungled cooperation among all levels of government including with the federal government on a recently proposed "wine train."

The City of Napa Planning Commission recently was asked to weigh in on placement of a high-end St. Regis resort among the vineyards of Stanly Ranch. Commissioners endorsed the proposal 4-1, saying it would benefit the city economically and not hamper downtown revitalization efforts. Others felt this set a poor precedent for future projects as they came up.

Previous approvals had been provided for a Ritz-Carlton that would be a greater benefit for the downtown, though this is still awaiting financing. Getting this financing might be much harder with the St. Regis approval.

If the project goes ahead as plan 42 acres of vines will be retained on a 93 acre site "creating a wine country ambiance for guests" according to the Napa Valley Register.

Either Napa Valley is a wine country or not. Preservation Napa Valley has an excellent opportunity to burnish the valley's already strong reputation, and make sure that is passed on to future generations through preservation, preventing over-development, rebuilding traditional downtown areas, and protecting open spaces. Much like wineries who are being forced to find new ways to sell their product, Preservation Napa Valley has an opportunity to find new ways to sell the region and especially its image, historic buildings, and iconic landscapes in meaningful and authentic ways.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Preserve America and Save America's Treasures Threatened

Much discussion has surrounded the recent White House budget that provides zero funding for the Preserve America and Save America's Treasures program, to keep State and Tribal Historic Preservation Officers funding level, and to cut the National Heritage Area program by half.

A White House blog post titled "Tough Choices" on January 30, 2010, cited Preserve America and Save America's Treasures as two programs to be cut. The rationale provided was "Save America’s Treasures program was started to mark the millennium and was supposed to last for two years. Both programs lack rigorous performance metrics and evaluation efforts so the benefits are unclear."

A quick response was provided by Donovan Rypkema in his PlaceEconomics Blog:
Between 1999 and 2009, the Save America's Treasures program allocated around $220 million dollars for the restoration of nearly 900 historic structures, many of them National Historic Landmarks. This investment by the SAT program generated in excess of $330 million from other sources. This work meant 16,012 jobs (a job being one full time equivalent job for one year...the same way they are counting jobs for the Stimulus Program). The cost per job created? $13,780. This compares with the White House announcement that the Stimulus Package is creating one job for every $248,000.
As anyone who has been through a Save America's Treasures application process can attest, these applications are rigorously reviewed by career federal employees. Competition for these grants is intense and only the finest of projects receive funding.

Preserve America is a very different sort of federal program. This program provides an opportunity for communities throughout the United States to be named a "Preserve America Community". Nearly 800 have done so since 2003. Preserve America Communities may then apply for between $20,000 and $250,000 for heritage tourism, historic preservation planning, history education, and economic development projects. A summary of Total Grants Awarded through 2008 on their website shows since funding began, $17 million has been awarded through 6 competitive rounds. This has resulted in 228 projects being funded from over 601 project proposals requesting $30 million. Preserve America has provided advocates an invaluable tool to bring to local elected officials and get them on the preservation bandwagon.

As those familiar with the Preserve America program know, this is not the first time the program has been faced with a cut. A grant round in 2009 was postponed for lack of funding. Another grant round was announced and applications just requested by February 12, 2010. This was made possible through actions of the Congress to provide an additional $3 million for Preserve America.

Of all cuts submitted as part of the budget process, only around 60% of these make their way into law. So the burden now appears to be on advocates throughout the U.S. to make their case why these programs deserve to be funded. The best opportunity may be in the next two weeks when preservationists throughout the U.S. will come to Washington as part of Historic Preservation Advocacy Week. Pat Lally, Congressional Affairs Director, with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, describes the event as such:
We’ll be making a full court press on the Hill to oppose the elimination of SAT and Preserve America. We’ll also oppose other cuts to important preservation programs, and lobby for increased funding for State and Tribal Offices.
For those interested in attending Historic Preservation Advocacy Week, it is not too late to register.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Eddie G. Robinson Museum, Grambling, Louisiana

The Eddie G. Robinson Museum in Grambling, Louisiana, honors the memory of a college football coach who worked to overcome the stigma of racial segregation. Located on the campus of Grambling University this museum is the outgrowth of a volunteer effort to find a suitable way to honor Mr. Robinson. These efforts were greatly aided by an appropriation of $3.3 million from the Louisiana State Legislature in June 2008. This allowed for the original women's gym on Grambling's campus to be converted. The museum includes a small theater, a display wall with photos of every Grambling player who went pro, and a scale model of the Cotton Bowl scoreboard showing the final score of Grambling's victory over Alcorn State in 1985. The museum also houses primary source materials including oral histories, playbooks and game plans, and correspondence.

The museum is one of several attractions along the Louisiana African-American Heritage Trail, beginning in New Orleans and making its way through south and central Louisiana to the north end of the state. This program with the tagline "A story like no other" has a professionally produced website, with video and music introduction. Less a trail than a collection of sites throughout the state, this still represents a notable effort to present African-American heritage throughout Louisiana.

GMC Advertising is responsible for the "A Story Like No Other" campaign. They were the recipients of three "Addy" awards for this work. The Mosaic Award and the Judges Award-as well as a Gold Award for Sound Design-were given in recognition of a series of narrative vignettes featuring Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr. GMc+Company created, wrote and directed the series as part of a multimedia campaign to promote Louisiana's African American Heritage Trail, a project of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism.

Official Museum Website

Facebook Fan Page

Louisiana Museum Confronts Segregation, New York Times, February 12, 2010

Louisiana African-American Heritage Trail

A Story Like No Other