The Preservation Alliance, in preparing for its April 21 conference, checked in with some key observers to explore what’s trending and what’s classic. We asked, what’s working in preservation right now, what trends do preservationists need to know about, and what areas need work? Here’s what we learned.
Preservation activity is boosted by consumer desire for authenticity and community. Throwback Brewery in North Hampton and Sweetwater Farm & Distillery in Winchester use their historic buildings to reinforce their local vibe. Concord’s pedestrian-friendly Main Street project and associated redevelopment of historic buildings has sparked a surge in new eateries, a restaurant expansion, and a new nano-brewery. Ben Wilson, director of the Bureau of Historic Sites within the N.H. Division of Parks and Recreation, reports guests are looking to experience our authentic, well-maintained rural villages and scenic landscapes. “Relocating business owners often speak to the cultural, historic and recreational resources afforded by the state,” he said. “Visitors to our state’s historic sites frequently tell our guide staff how impressed they are by the stories of our cultural past and how accessible we make it to the general public. The preservation of our historic communities and rural architecture allows our visitors to experience a cultural landscape lost to the majority of the country.”
Barn-raising-type activity also continues to flourish. Recently, a group of Andover residents got together to buy the old town hall to save it. New Hampshire communities like Tamworth are adopting the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy (PARE) model of “barn-raising,” following the tradition of neighbor helping neighbor. PARE conducts “Energy Raisers” where volunteers help residents with energy-efficient systems installations to bring down costs, and increase understanding for property owners and tradespeople.
Large landscapes and cultural areas are getting more attention. It’s not just the buildings we’re trying to save. The Freedom’s Way Heritage Area, which includes Nashua, Brookline, Amherst, Mason, Greenville, New Ipswich and Milford and several towns in Massachusetts, celebrates a region linked by common history, evolution and current goals. Advocates involved in large energy project reviews, such as Northern Pass, are pointing to special places like the center of Deerfield and the White Mountain landscapes that may be impacted. Both types of initiatives benefit from models like recent National Register-related work around Squam Lakes and inventory and analysis done in Harrisville and Dublin a generation ago that looked at broad historical patterns of land use to refine preservation practice and priorities.
Preserving and celebrating social history and cultural diversity is another area of emerging activity. The leaders of the new Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire envision a network snaking through nearly a dozen towns and featuring as many as 60 sites — some of which are already recognized by their town’s historical societies or the state. JerriAnne Boggis, the new executive director, welcomes nominations and support. “The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire will work to visibly honor and expose a true, more inclusive history in our state through exhibits, programs and tours that can change the way our country understands human dignity when it is free of historical stereotypes,” Boggis said. “Given the heightening of racial tension in our country, the expansion of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail to include other towns across the state couldn’t be more timely”
Investors are mixing old business models with new tools for strong results. Hybrids aren’t just a type of car. We’re seeing more and more historic sites looking at long-term leases to compatible users as a viable business model that enhances ability to meet their missions of educating the public, as well as preserving historic buildings and materials. Strawbery Banke Museum’s Heritage House Program is a large-scale, strong-market model of this that can be scaled for others. In New Hampshire, legislators and other policy makers are considering new or enhanced incentives to add to the toolbox to promote preservation and economic development. For example, SB 185 ties local-option tax relief to private investment in resiliency to prepare for severe storms. Another proposal seeks to increase the tax credits available to the Community Development Finance Authority.
Dig into these topics (and many others) at the Preservation Alliance’s April 21 conference, Preserving Community Character: Critical Issues and Opportunities.