We have reprinted selections from John Leeke’s Historic HomeWorks™ Question and Answer column on the maintenance and preservation of historic (and just plain old) buildings. A wide variety of topics are covered.
By Meg Campbell
For over thirty years, the Preservation Trust of Vermont has been helping communities save and reuse their historic places. We’ve provided grants large and small and connected groups to preservation resource experts. We’ve provided technical assistance, training and advocacy work. And we’ve helped celebrate success all over the state. Every now and then, though, it is helpful to take a step back and look at why we are so passionate about our work.
Preservation Connects the Past to the Future
Vermont’s built environment is the tangible record of the stories of our predecessors. The history of our government, our schools, our civic structures and how we have lived over the last 200 years can be read in our buildings. These stories provide the underpinning of today’s society and the anchor for tomorrow’s. Preservation allows us today to honor the past, but also will allow future citizens of Vermont to continue to do the same.
Preservation is Local
In this global era, living a life that supports the local economy can be challenging. Restoring a historic building is the architectural equivalent of shopping locally. Restoration employs local trades people and managers, generally uses local dollars from local investors and funding sources, and in many cases provides a relevant services to local residents. Using traditional materials to repair an existing structure is much friendlier on the environment than building new. Preservation is good for the world.
Preservation is Economic Development
Once a historic building is restored, other kinds of economic development follow. Fixing up a run down building on Main Street creates an interesting space for a small business. A coffee shop opens next door. People take notice of the old theater across the street and decide to mount a community effort to save it. Preserving one building can cascade into a bounty of other projects. Preservation makes places better, and better places thrive.
Preservation is Beautiful
As the old saying goes, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.” The list of beautiful architectural features that are difficult if not impossible in today’s world to reproduce is endless: elaborate doors, hand-wrought hardware, carved cornices, noble domes, wavy-glass windows, water-struck brick work, marble carvings and so much more. These things are beautiful and humans need beauty. Beauty keeps us calm and happy. Preservation is good for the soul.
Preservation is Community
The bulk of Vermont’s traditional gathering places are in historic buildings in downtowns and village centers: town halls, churches, schools, general stores, shops and more. These are the places where you run into your neighbor, exchange the local news, and learn about upcoming events. In an increasingly digital age, maintaining real-time people-to-people connections is important. Preserving these places contributes to the dialogue and relationships necessary for a healthy community.
Preservation is People
There is no doubt that Vermont’s built environment is architecturally rich. But behind the iconic red barns, white churches, noble civic edifices, spectacular residential structures, and occasional sunning piece of unique construction, one thing remains: people. Every building holds a record of the people who built it and used it. And every preservation project today continues that thread with the people of today who care enough to bring it back, and the people of the future that will be well served by its very existence. Preservation is not about pickling; preservation is, above all, about people.
Preservation is Essential for a Vital Vermont
Vermont is a special place. While much of the rest of the country has lost valuable resources with modern development and sprawl, the essential character of our state remains intact. Working to preserve this character keeps our state vital. Preservation keeps Vermont, well, Vermont.