Historic preservation symposium addresses timely issues
A large and enthusiastic audience attended the historic preservation symposium that took place on June 26, 2019 at the Delaware Public Archives in Dover. Sponsored by the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office, in collaboration with preservation partners the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion and Preservation Delaware, Inc., the event featured speakers from the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service who discussed disaster preparedness and issues regarding elevating historic properties in flood-prone areas, as well as strategies for writing successful nominations to the National Register of Historic Places.
The event opened with reflections on the symposium’s themes by Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs Director and State Historic Preservation Officer Tim Slavin who noted that designs for the very building where the symposium was taking place stipulated that archival materials needed to be stored on the second floor and up due to the risk of a 100-year flood by the nearby St. Jones River.
The threats to historic places posed by climate change and natural disasters were explored by Reid Thomas and John Wood, preservation/restoration specialists with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, who discussed the effects of the many hurricanes and floods that have battered the Tar Heel State.
In his session, “Lessons Learned: Prepare Now for Future Weather Events,” Thomas discussed actions that can be taken to make historic places more resilient against adverse weather, and the importance of establishing relationships with organizations and contractors before disaster strikes. Noting that historic-building materials such as plaster can tolerate exposure to water better than sheetrock, he recommended saving as much of a building’s original materials as possible. The key, he noted, was allowing historic buildings to dry out naturally rather than using commercial drying operations.
In the session, “The Ups and Down of Elevation: Case Studies of the Elevation of Historic Buildings in North Carolina,” Wood explored the problems inherent in raising historic properties to protect them from the ravages of flood waters. When a building is raised more than three feet, Wood noted, a whole range of problems arise that may threaten the historical integrity of a building. He cautioned against a one-size-fits-all approach, and offered examples of both successful and unsuccessful treatments. Guidelines on this topic are being developed and revised on a regular basis.
In addition to disaster preparedness, the symposium included a session by National Park Service architectural historian Lisa Deline who reviews nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. In her program, “Using Criterion A in National Register of Historic Places Nominations,” Deline provided several best practices that applicants can use to describe the significance of properties that are associated with events important to broad patterns of American history. Noting that “Section 8 [Statement of Significance] is the most important part of a nomination,” Deline urged applicants to write a succinct introduction and to make sure that the historic context of the property is clearly identified. She also observed that National Register nominations are often used as planning tools for preservation initiatives.
The symposium came to a close with a reception at the John Dickinson Plantation hosted by the Friends of the John Dickinson Mansion. In addition to having an opportunity to speak with the symposium’s panelists, attendees had an opportunity to tour the boyhood home of John Dickinson, a founding father of the United States, a framer and signer of the U.S. Constitution, and “Penman of the Revolution.” The property is a National Historic Landmark and a component of the First State National Historical Park.
Sixty-five people attended the symposium including owners of historic properties, architects, archaeologists, architectural historians, graduate students, representatives of government entities (municipal, county, state and federal levels), museums and historical societies, and religious and educational institutions. Many attendees suggested topics for future historic preservation symposia.