Becky LaBarre, executive director of Renfrew Museum and Park, located in Waynesboro, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the site, as well as special Christmas events. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Becky’s background, including how growing up near Greenfield Village sparked her early interest in History and Preservation
  • The history and preservation story of Renfrew, including the phenomenal woman who started it all, Emma Nicodemus 
  • Highlights of Renfrew Museum and Park, such as the house museum, bank barn converted to visitor’s center, extensive John Bell pottery exhibit, and 107 preserved acres culminating in a comprehensive Pennsylvania German Heritage Site
  • Unique events, from hearth cooking classes to Christmas on the Farm
  • Challenges and trends for house museums, including declining attendance over the past decade, as well as limitations of COVID, and distinctive approaches for addressing these such as experiential, living history events

 

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Becky highlighted the importance of getting to historic and cultural heritage sites in person to get a truly immersive experience. Currently, Renfrew offers events such as hearth cooking classes seasonally, and Christmas on the Farm December 4, 5, and 6, 2020 (tickets may be purchased online or at the gate day of) with COVID-friendly measures in place.

However, if you prefer not to visit or attend events with others, you may visit the park and hike (for free!) or attend virtual events, typically listed on their Facebook events page, here.

VETERANS DAY – A day to honor those who served. This day has been observed in some form for a century, but preserved structures of all kinds – from memorials, to monuments, to buildings – provide tangible evidence of that observance, solidifying the impact of veterans’ actions in the conscious memory. Visiting these physical traces keeps that history alive long after those they honor are gone. 

Photo of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located at the Northeast intersection of King and Queen Streets (with the Watt and Shand façade in the background), in Lancaster, PA. Photo courtesy of the author’s father, Bob Kise.

 

A Brief History of Veterans Day

The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918 is significant for its designation as the cessation of hostilities of World War I (“The Great War”) on the Western Front. It was marked by the signing of the final armistice with the last opponent (Germany) of the allied forces. Although various complexities meant that true formal peace was not negotiated until the Treaty of Versailles’ signing nearly a year later, Armistice Day was celebrated on the November 11th. It became a day to honor the men who served in WWI and was observed as early as 1919 across the world. As the years went by the name and date of observance evolved in several countries. In the United States, the name was officially changed to Veterans Day in 1954 by President Eisenhower after a grassroots push to honor all veterans of all wars. The date was temporarily changed to the fourth Monday of October in the late 1960’s due to the federal government’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act, but was returned to the original date a decade later after much disproval from American citizens and state governments, based on their conviction about the historical significance of November 11th. 

 

Pennsylvania’s Preserved Military History

Just like preservation happened well before it was formally legislated, and much earlier than anyone thought of preservation as a career, dedicating historical military sites and honoring veterans throughout the United States also occurred on an informal level prior to Armistice and Veterans Day. As the American Battlefield Trust notes, in the mid-nineteenth century caring individuals started saving Revolutionary War battlefields, and during the Civil War, almost as soon as the battles were over, veterans erected monuments and memorials to their fallen comrades. By the end of the nineteenth century there were 5 national battlefield parks – one of the most famous being Pennsylvania’s own Gettysburg Battlefield. 

Even after these battlefield parks were established, however, there were conflicts over how and what should be preserved or restored, and disputes continue to this day (a recent example includes the battle over the Cyclorama building at Gettysburg), including arguments about the necessity of preserving historic commemorations of the original historical people, objects, and places vs. the actual thing being commemorated

Regardless, we are fortunate that people saw the necessity of saving these places in the past. This sense of place is key to making this history meaningful hundreds of years after the battles. A sense of place often requires more than construction of monuments, memorials, or signs to be truly felt, but also battlefields and other relevant lands and buildings. In Pennsylvania, we have numerous examples of preserved military history where people can gain a greater understanding of past conflicts as well as a better appreciation for what past and present veterans experienced and contributed. And to paraphrase Philip Kennicott’s summary in his 2013 article for the Washington Post, it’s best to engage and be engaged in this sense of place to truly make it meaningful.

“But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”

– Lines from President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered November 19, 1863

 

Examples of unique preserved military sites in Pennsylvania:

 

Fort Mifflin. One of the few remaining intact Revolutionary War battlefields – and the only fort in Philadelphia – this site has functioned well beyond its initial purpose, serving various needs through the Civil War, as well as both world wars, until it was decommissioned, fell into disrepair, listed on the National Register in the 1970s, and saved in the 1980s to become a significant historical museum. Read more about it here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Gettysburg Train Station. Constructed in 1859, this station is more than a station. Not only did it host President Abraham Lincoln when he arrived to provide the Gettysburg Address, it served as an advantageous spot – with its cupola – for soldiers to post themselves during battle, a hospital for wounded soldiers as well as the point from which wounded soldiers were transported to other locations. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Lee’s Headquarters at Gettysburg. Built in 1834, this home that was owned by Thaddeus Stevens and occupied by the widow Mary Thompson during the Civil War, this unassuming farmhouse became Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s headquarters due to its prime location. It also served as a hospital for wounded from both sides. It became a museum as early as the 1920s and was significantly altered before restoration by then-Civil War Trust in 2016. Read more here.

 

Photo above courtesy of Bob Kise.

 

Observing Veterans Day

 

Visit or Engage.

  • Self-guided tours – Many sites and parks are free and open to all, allowing for plenty of social-distancing. You can visit some of the sites (or at least the outside of them) pictured above, but may also consider cemeteries, or sites listed here.
  • Guided tours – some sites are still offering guided tours with mandatory precautions in place for COVID-19. Find information on Gettysburg Battlefield tours here.
  • Virtual events – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs blog lists virtual events for 2020, in light of the pandemic, here.
  • Live events – Gettysburg is holding a special day honoring veterans on November 12, 2020, information here.
  • Preservation – Consider these suggestions for preserving sites honoring veterans, or consider donating to or becoming a member of the American Battlefield Trust, here

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • Read more about battlefield preservation here, here, and here.
  • Read about the history of battlefield preservation here and here

UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES – On this 4th Tuesday of the month, our focus isn’t on a specific feature per se, but more on a combination of features; a whole architectural style, in fact. And we’re focusing on how mutable cultural values created and then reviled that style, resulting in its being the focus of nightmares in popular culture. To honor Halloween season in a preservation-minded way, instead of covering traditional hauntings, we will examine how the aforementioned phenomena collectively created our modern vision of what is “creepy.” This month’s feature is: “HAUNTED” VICTORIAN HOUSES. 

Prototypical image of a “haunted” Victorian house. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

 

Why are “haunted houses” usually Victorian in style?

Many authors (here, here, here and here, to name a few) have pondered and analyzed this question. Sarah Burns (2012) summarized it best in her article “Better for Haunts”: Victorian Houses and the Modern Imagination, querying: 

“If we consider the Victorian house in its own time and place…there is nothing ominous about the mansard-roofed house…Half a century later, however, that very same style had become a signifier of terror, death, and decay. How, when, and why did the ghosts take over?”  (p. 3)

 

The answer comes down to what Burns refers to as a “shifting context” (p. 3), where architectural changes coincide with and are influenced by cultural and social reforms. There are many reasons for these shifts.

People deem all kinds of trends – from fashion, to food, to entertaining, and even to architecture – to be out-of-date or out-of-touch after a time. Many people naturally rebel against what their parents’ generation considered en vogue. The generations after the Victorians were no exception. The fact that the height of Victorian homes’ popularity coincided with the old tradition of laying out the dead in the family parlor (prior to the advent of the funeral parlor) did not help their image and may have added to the “creepy” mystique as trends moved away from wakes at home. These small scale reasons contributed to aesthetic preferences shifting away from Victorian style.

On a greater scale, aesthetics were influenced by social reform and philosophical ideals. The Victorian era – especially the latter-half – was a time of great economic (and other) disparity. Traditional Victorian homes visually represented this disparity with ostentatious displays of wealth, frequently characterized by conspicuous consumption by the nouveau riche. Heavy ornamentation and detail indicative of most Victorian styles – inside and out- represented the wealth of a small portion of the population. Some of this ornamentation was also made possible due to the second Industrial Revolution (itself a partial cause and manifestation of wealth disparity). Mass production enabled cheaper, quicker access to materials. But this also meant the wealthy became wealthier, the middle class became wealthier, and the poor stayed poor. In fact, the increase in urbanization made for overcrowded, unhealthy living conditions for the poor (who made up the greatest number of factory workers). They were also practically chained to their factory jobs and seen as inhuman machines by their employers.

Social reforms, including the arts and crafts movement and the labor movement, gained ground in government but also influenced architectural design. Many reformers (arts and crafts movement) saw industrialization as an undesirable replacement for craftsmanship as well as a social problem, and advocated craftsman style in architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Home interiors were not immune to the changes, as the sanitary or hygiene reform movement also impacted design, especially in the bathroom; wood and heavy fabrics were seen not only as outdated but also unsanitary. These architectural style changes became an expression of political, economic, and social values in addition to quality materials and workmanship. Architecturally, craftsman styles flourished through the 1920s. By the 1930s and 1940s, modernism and colonial revival styles took hold, continuing to move away from Victorian style.

For all of the above reasons, Victorian homes fell out of favor, and people moved away from the old neighborhoods, leaving Victorian homes to be broken into apartments, turned into boarding houses, or derelict looming figures thanks to demolition by neglect, their once grand neighborhoods dilapidated and run-down. This likely furthered the view that these homes were “haunted” or “creepy.” This status was perfect creative fodder for authors and artists, who subsequently demonized these types of homes. As entertainment technology evolved, movies and TV shows followed suit (e.g., The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Psycho) further solidifying a negative view of these homes in the popular imagination.

The conglomeration of influences cemented Victorian homes as the style of haunted house for generations to come. The issue is that by doing this, in some cases, it has damaged the reputation of these houses leading to improper care for them, or even destruction of them. Luckily, enough of the population cares for these homes to have saved many of them, and we can see examples of Victorian architecture in nearly every town and city in the United States today. 

Letting Victorian homes wither away or even demolishing them due to misplaced fear is much scarier than actually saving and preserving these historic treasures. Anything that is dilapidated and not maintained will look creepy!

 

Examples of “haunted” Victorian architecture:

 

Gothic Revival architectural style seen in the caretaker’s home at Woodward Hill Cemetery (burial site of President James Buchanan) in Lancaster, PA. The gravestones seen in the foreground add to the foreboding ambience. Build date unknown. 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

Another Gothic Revival building at Woodward Hill Cemetery in Lancaster, PA. Build date unknown.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo above courtesy of Laura Kise.

 

View of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. Primarily identified with Queen Anne architectural style, this now-infamous home that began as a simple farmhouse was renovated and added onto by Sarah Winchester (widow of William Winchester) from 1886 to 1922 in an effort to protect herself from vengeful spirits. Purported to actually be haunted, the architectural design elements as well as Sarah’s purposeful twists, turns, and “booby-traps” make for a creepy home inside and out, despite its obvious beauty.

The image above was taken by Liz Jandoli, for Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), date unknown. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

The Biltmore Estate – home to the Vanderbilts and America’s largest home – in Asheville, North Carolina, is constructed in the Châteauesque architectural style, and was built between 1889-1895. This home is also rumored to be actually haunted, but anyone might feel intimidated by this imposing, gorgeous structure.

 

 

 

The image above was taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston for the Library of Congress, in 1938. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Victorian Architecture Today

 

Where to see it. 

  • Scavenger hunt – Hit the pavement in most towns and see how many Victorian houses you can find; despite the negative connotations over the years, we are lucky to have many fine examples of Victorian homes throughout the United States. 
  • (Virtual) museum and other tours – Check out historical house museums – if you’re lucky enough to find an open museum right now following CDC guidelines, visit in-person. Otherwise, see if their website has a virtual tour. Biltmore Estate can be toured virtually at the bottom of this page. You can virtually visit the Winchester Mystery House here. You may also choose to visit a purportedly haunted house (assuming you feel safe during this time of COVID) and given the time of year, there are many options as we get closer to Halloween.
  • Photo gallery – View Victorian architecture images on flickr or explore sites like Library of Congress. 

Get (or protect) your own.

  • Real estate – There are many ways to find your own Victorian, and by doing so, you can help save these treasures and contribute to a more positive view of these historic structures. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has archives of real estate agents who specialize in historic properties, here. They also include listings of properties for sale, here. You can also peruse independent sites such as Circa Houses and Cheap Old Houses
  • Protecting, preserving, and maintaining – Not maintaining your historical home will guarantee that it looks creepy, so maintain your home so you don’t contribute to the negative mystique! Visit the many resources on our website (or contact us for help), and view our Fall Maintenance post, here. Visit The National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as The National Park Service for more information on protecting and preserving your historic home. 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • You can read Sarah Burns’ thorough analysis of the “haunted” mystique of Victorian homes – and JSTOR is currently offering free access if you create a login – here.

 

Stay tuned each month for a new installment in this UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES! See last month’s post on Butler’s Pantries.

 

SHARE WITH US!

DO YOU OWN A VICTORIAN HOME? DOES IT HAVE A REPUTATION FOR BEING CREEPY OR HAUNTED? OR, IS THERE A VICTORIAN HOME THAT YOU DON’T OWN BUT LOVE?

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

 

 

 

 

Sam McKelvey and Alice French – executive director and director of education – of the Menokin Foundation in Warsaw, VA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their preservation project, and the Foundation’s many services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Sam and Alice’s respective backgrounds in history, preservation, and related fields, and how working at Menokin marries all of their interests in one place
  • The history of the property and surrounding lands first populated by the local Rappahannock people, as well as the Algonquin origins of the word “Menokin”
  • The history of the house itself – including its distinction as home built for declaration signer Francis Lightfoot Lee in 1769, and function as the center of a large tobacco plantation – and its unique journey from neglected home, to an actual ruin, to a unique preservation project that will maintain its current condition in perpetuity
  • The history of the Menokin Foundation and how the Glass House Project will allow continued exploration of and education about colonial building practices, unlike any other extant colonial structure or house museum
  • The ongoing evolution of inclusive narratives and storytelling at the site – of the indigenous Rappahannocks and the enslaved laborers – and the narratives’ ongoing development by bringing actual descendants into the conversation
  • Multi-armed approaches to preservation at the site beyond the Glass House Project, such as preservation trades workshops, kayaking tours, educational webinars, and on-site immersive experiences
  • Challenges and trends in preservation, including staying relevant as priorities and cultural landscapes irrevocably change, by evoking emotional connections to history through “dynamic preservation”

 

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Sam and Alice encourage visitor engagement in many ways. Most of the site is outdoors – 500 acres, in fact – and can be visited directly with safe social-distancing measures, and several options are listed here. You can also “visit” virtually here. In addition, they always welcome membership and donations

 

Adam Zurn, founder of Uncharted Lancaster, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss his website’s dual function as an educational and adventure tool. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • How his background as a child of the 1980s influenced his curious, adventurous side, and the inspiration for Uncharted Lancaster 
  • How Uncharted Lancaster includes “adventures” with directions to locations as well as ciphers and other clues to unlock hidden finds and other treasures in order to encourage interest in local natural and historical resources
  • Notable adventures, like “armchair” adventures – inaccessible to the public but available virtually and vicariously through Adam – including the Pequehanna Inn
  • Uncharted Lancaster’s broad-reach and universal appeal; activities are appropriate for anyone seeking an active way to learn more about local history, particularly families with children and young adolescents
  • Uncharted Lancaster’s recent partnership with Lancaster Conservancy on some new adventures, focusing on Water Week
  • Adam’s recommended adventures for families with younger children (Pequea Trolley Trail) and older children (Enola Low-Grade Adventure)
  • The challenge of exposing more people to these little-known places and histories, while some argue that it puts the peace, preservation, and cleanliness of these locations at risk

 

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All of Uncharted Lancaster’s adventures are available and free of charge. However, you can help support Adam’s efforts to continue creating new adventures by purchasing items through his store, or sponsoring his efforts, with the money going back into the project.

Jeffrey Marshall, the president of Heritage Conservancy in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the organization’s mission and work conserving and preserving a combination of natural and cultural heritage resources in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Jeffrey’s background combining his lifelong loves of nature, history, and architecture with his graduate studies
  • Heritage Conservancy’s function as a non-profit organization in the Southeastern PA region, focused on dual aspects of community and cultural heritage: conservation of open spaces and natural resources and preservation of historic buildings
  • Educational outreach by Heritage Conservancy, including Jeffrey’s “Sherlock Homes” old house detective character, aiding homeowners in “investigations” of their old homes’ histories via consultation or research
  • The conservancy’s work assisting owners of old homes and buildings with applying for National Register status and obtaining conservation land easements or historic preservation easements
  • Challenges and trends in these fields, including decreased interest in conservation and preservation of local cultural heritage and greater numbers of new residents without local roots, resulting in an increased need to teach more community members why local cultural heritage is important to everyone

 

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Follow their News & Events webpage or follow them on Facebook to find out about events and new projects!

The conservancy and Jeffrey believe that we are all custodians and caretakers of our collective and local cultural heritage, and it’s important for individuals to do what they can – even if you’re not in the Southeastern PA region, contact them for suggestions on taking action in your own community.

For this week’s blog feature we decided to focus on a story of monumental love and history, in honor of Valentine’s Day this Friday. If you’re a romantic, there’s a love story for you. If you’re not a romantic, never fear! We’ve included our usual focus on historical buildings and materials, and in this case, renovation and rehabilitation efforts at the site. This post includes something for everyone!

 

Boldt Castle. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

First, for the romantics among our readers:

Set on Heart Island (how apropos!) in Alexandria Bay in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York, Boldt Castle – a castle reminiscent of palaces scattered throughout the Rhineland-Palatinate state of Germany and built in the chateauesque architectural style – and its surrounding buildings originated from the love of a man for his wife. More specifically, that man was George C. Boldt, the proprietor of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, New York. His wife was Louise Boldt, a native of Pennsylvania, and the daughter of his former employer. Various accounts note they fell in love within a short time of meeting and that they were close companions in love, life, and business; Louise’s hostess and decorating skills were said to complement Boldt’s hotel business beautifully. They had two children and the family frequently vacationed to the Thousand Islands. Boldt decided to combine his love for his wife and the islands in an over-the-top show of affection, and no standard box of chocolates or bouquet of roses would do. He put his significant wealth to use creating a monument of his love for Louise on his newly-dubbed “Heart” Island (formally known as Hart Island after the previous owner); note the oft-repeated heart motif in the photos below.

As with many love stories, this one has a tragic twist. In January 1904, not long before Valentine’s Day, Boldt’s beloved wife Louise, the inspiration for this fairy tale island project, suddenly passed away still in her early 40’s. The grief-stricken Boldt immediately called a halt to construction on the project and never returned, reportedly unable to bear setting foot there without Louise. The magnificent work of countless artisans was left to deteriorate for most of the next century, a decaying representation echoing Boldt’s heart-break. Years later, the Boldts’ granddaughter even co-authored a book about the  story. 

 

 


Tile detail of heart motif. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif in stained glass dome. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif on castle exterior. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Heart motif hidden in stone corner. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

Now, for the non-romantics:

For lovers of historical architecture, the years of deterioration and vandalism of the Boldt Castle property on Heart Island could have been a heart-breaking tragedy in and of itself. Luckily, in the late 1970’s the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the property and agreed all net revenues from the castle operation would contribute to its rehabilitation and restoration. The full-size Rhineland castle and other structures on the island have slowly been rehabilitated over the years, and projects are ongoing.


Detail of unfinished and vandalized interior wall. Photo courtesy of Laura K.


Bedroom intended for Louise, fully restored. Photo courtesy of Laura K.

 

However, some concerns have been noted regarding the historical integrity of the site by astute preservation-minded people – including Thousand Islands author and architectural historian, the late Paul Malo – who have pointed out that as each room becomes renovated, little to no preservation is done on aspects of those rooms in their original state. Much of the rehabilitation efforts reportedly have been completed with entirely new plans and materials, with little reference to original plans and materials and ignoring replacement-in-kind, despite the proposed original intentions of the Bridge Authority. Further, little of the detailed historical context is presented on-site, and tours are self-guided with only small plaques with limited information throughout the property. Previous reports by those affiliated with the site and behind the rehabilitation acknowledge that compromises were made between restoration and preservation in some cases, in favor of economic sustainability and what would draw tourism to the site. Those same sources have asserted that, contrary to questions by preservationists, extensive research and expertise were involved in carefully assuming what the project might have originally looked like had it been completed as planned.             

The treatment of Boldt Castle over the past 40-plus years serves as an example of important discussion points for historians, preservationists, history-buffs, and even private-home owners and the general public, including deciding when restoration or rehabilitation are more appropriate than preservation. What is the best way to marry such projects with modern needs such as tourism, education, and cost?  More specifically, should we focus on what makes the general public happy and creates the most revenue (including romanticized stories that are possibly embellished and may even promote more deviation from the truth in the form of updates to a property driven by the legendary tales) at the cost of historical integrity? Should the love of love, or any questionable history or desire we have about how we wish things had been, be allowed to dictate how we care for or update a historic monument?

Regardless, no matter where one stands in terms of their romantic or preservation-mindedness, no one can deny the beauty of Boldt Castle. Its beautiful love story and aesthetic beauty remind us of all the ways we can show and feel love.  

P.S. If you would like to experience Boldt Castle for yourself, visit the website to learn more. If the Boldt Castle project has inspired you to learn more about maintenance and preservation, visit our post on maintaining your historical house and other resources on our blog. If you’re looking for a gift for yourself or a loved one for Valentine’s Day, consider sharing a free copy of our “Maintenance is Preservation” Booklet report – just send us a request via our contact page.  

 

Cory Van Brookhoven and Lowell Wenger of Lititz Historical Foundation joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about the museum and general Lititz history. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • The Moravian origins of the town, including town regulations about who could live in the town proper and rules against taverns or dancing in the streets!
  • History of the museum and the homes it is housed in
  • Unique artifacts owned by the museum, including a recent acquisition relevant to early postal service and ongoing preservation efforts
  • The large geographical area accounted for by tourists to the museum
  • Diverse events the museum hosts, including weddings
  • Ways the public can learn, participate, or contribute to the museum – note that this year, their season begins in April, a month earlier than usual!

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