In the summer of 2011, the tower at Independence Hall was bared to the bones for the first time since it was added in 1828.  In a restoration project for the National Park Service (NPS), contractors bared the face level of the tower down to the structural framing.  The NPS has a detailed write-up of the project, along with pictures, videos, and step-by-step pictorial guides of the process.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK IT ALL OUT AND TAKE A LITERAL LOOK INTO HISTORY

Architecture of Democracy 

by Allan Greenberg

Wrapping up our discussion on the founding of our country, we thought we recommend this book on the founding architecture of our country.  You can read more information about author Allan Greenberg at his website, a detailed article on Allan Greenberg and this book that ran in a 2007 issue on Traditional Building, and the book can be purchased at multiple places online but we suggest ordering from our favorite locally owned and operated brick-and-mortar bookstore, Aaron’s Books.

Since I put last month’s e-newsletter to bed (obligatory you can sign up here) yesterday morning (hey, that e-newsletter is one wild party animal on the weekends), I’ve started researching this month’s snail-mail newsletter (another obligatory you can sign up for that one here).  We’re delving into the history at Independence National Park in Philadelphia since it’s fresh on our minds from our recently completed project at the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial.

Independence National Historic Park

The park captures quite well the beauty, freedom, wide open spaces, breathing room found in our country.

In my reading about the history of the park and its founding, I discovered that in the early 1900’s when the park was first proposed, the architects decided that the actual setting of Independence Hall wasn’t good enough and set about creating what they determined to be a “fitting setting” by clearing the half-block between Chestnut Street and Ludlow Street in front of the Hall.
So what’s so terribly notable about making it better when we preserve it?  Don’t we do that all the time?  It’s nothing new….
And that is the very point that struck me.  We do it all the time.  We set out to preserve a piece of our history, and along the way we make changes and judgment calls based on our aesthetic preferences.  We don’t always preserve the way something actually looked.  Sometimes what we are actually preserving is our own nostalgic idea of what it would have, should have, could have looked like.
In the case of Independence Hall, early proponents of its preservation recognized that the architecture that surrounded the traditional brick building stood in stark contrast to the iconic structure, what it represented, and what the public’s expectations were regarding its preservation.  So they tore them all down to “beautify” the area and set a proper stage for the feeling they wanted to create.
If we aren’t preserving the way it actually was, is it still historical preservation?  Or is it revisionist history?  What if we we preserve the way the building actually was originally, but disregard what it became over the years? And then I wondered…..if simply expanding historical preservation to include the experiences and perspectives of all the people who lived it (i.e., minority groups like African-Americans, Polish-Americans, and women) is often met with cries of “revisionist history!”, why wouldn’t an actual revision of history be met with such resistance? Is it so important to us to maintain the “reality” of history we have formed in our culture’s collective mind’s eye that we are willing to overlook inaccuracies in one area while we actively seek to create inaccuracies in another?  
And perhaps most importantly, what are we losing in our attempts to hold on?  
With the creation of a “fitting setting” for Independence Hall, we may have quite adeptly captured the “historical context and character” of the nearly 250-year-old hall that helped give birth to our nation – and there isn’t much of an argument against this, the awe that even mere pictures of the Hall inspire is tremendous something that is without doubt worth every attempt to hold onto.
But what did we lose?  When we cleared away the surrounding “buildings whose diversity is only surpassed by their ugliness” (as an architect noted in the early 1900’s) it is possible we lost a golden opportunity to  showcase the very point of our nation – embracing and valuing diversity without holding any single one as “higher”, “better”, “more desirable” than another?
One of the more intriguing interpretative strategies we read about during our research into expanding historic preservation to include women’s history was the use of heritage trails.  By now, we are all familiar with heritage trails – those walking and driving journeys around to different historic sites that historical commissions, museums, public agency, community organizations, and even private individuals put together to motivate us put on our shoes, grab our keys, and plan a trip to explore history.  
And motivate us it does, who doesn’t read about a particular heritage trail and decide they *don’t* want to make that particular journey?
Which is why a historic preservation master’s thesis we stumbled across piqued our interest with its title, “Commemoration and Protest: The Use of Heritage Trails to Connect Women’s History with Historic Sites” submitted to the University of Pennsylvania by Marissa J. Moshier.
We’re not going to bore you with a full-blown rehash and review of the excellent information Moshier conveyed in her thesis, mostly because you can read it for yourself right here, but also because we’d really rather make a better use of this space (and your time) to discuss this topic.

You see, for all the information Moshier presented (and believe us, you should read it, because it was a ton), it was what was missing from that information that stood out the most to us.  For all those wise, wise words, for all her obviously extensive research, for all the astute observations and connections she made, for all the motivation her writing inspired, for all her details on the women’s heritage trails in states and cities across the country, there was one thing Moshier failed to include in her information: any mention of a woman’s history heritage trail in Pennsylvania.

Because there isn’t one.

So what we would LOVE to discuss is how a heritage trail could be developed, promoted, and used by the public to connect women’s history to the rich network of historic sites we have here.

Here are our beginning questions, let’s open up the discussion.  Feel free to give us your thoughts in response to these questions, or respond with more questions you might have.

           Who would develop this heritage trail?             

                                            How would they develop it?   

   Would it be contained to publicly operated sites?  

             Could it blend both publicly and privately operated sites?  

     What were the important contributions women made in 
     Pennsylvania’s history?  

                                What were the roles they played 
throughout our history?  

              How are those contributions and roles already 
              represented in our history sites?  

  How can we connect those sites with a heritage trail?  

                       Which sites would we use?  

            Which sites specifically include women’s history already?  
    Are they the best ones to use to tell women’s stories in 
   Pennsylvania history?  
Do we need to develop new ones?

One of the most rewarding things about historic restoration and preservation is constantly learning about new things and new places.  Last week, we learned that we have a National Postal Museum in a former Post Office building in Washington D.C.

The National Postal Museum is a Smithsonian museum in Washinton, D.C.
residing in the old Post Office building next to Union Square.
Beautiful isn’t she?  Built in 1914, she served as the city’s Post Office for 72 years.  Now she houses the Postal Museum’s exhibition spaces, research library, and store in order to achieve their goal of  “preservation, study, and presentation of postal history and philately” with “exhibits, public programs, and research”.
And she’s every bit as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.
But the fact that our country has an entire Smithsonian museum dedicated to preserving our philately heritage wasn’t even the most mind-boggling thing we contemplated on our walk-through of this historic building.  The thought we kept getting stuck on (and have been ever since) is:

How did we go from features like the ornate, hand-crafted ceilings commonly seen in historic buildings like the Post Office building to fiberboard drop
ceilings customary in modern buildings in just a little over 50-60 years?

               

On Thursday, April 22nd, any contractor working on a building with lead-based paint will have to be a lead-safe certified firm. The EPA is has written guidelines to help protect homeowners from lead dust and contractors have to complete a 8 hour training course. Helping to protect homeowners is important – the downside is the increased cost to each project (we will have to see what that is once we have set up a few projects with the new protective barriers).

For more information on lead and how to protect your family visit the EPA website: http://www.epa.gov/lead

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently launched a website devoted to providing “green building” resources to home and business owners.

The site includes:

Tips for homeowners
*10 green things for under $10
*wood window facts (to educate yourself when the replacement window salesperson knocks on the door)
*energy efficiency tips

There is also information for businesses, about the reuse of buildings, green news, research, and other green building/preservation resources.

This is a valuable site to continue your education about preservation and sustainability be sure to visit and revisit often http://www.preservationnation.org/issues/sustainability/.