Choosing a contractor with the right mix of skills and experience to work on your historical building can be a daunting experience.  Especially considering the potential for permanent damage to the historical fabric of your building, you need to select a contractor who: is well-versed in historical products and materials; can identify and replicate the traditional trade approaches and techniques that create your building’s unique characteristics; understands the modern review, permitting, and approval process for historical buildings with applicable government agencies, historical boards, and commissions; and values preservation of our built history as much as you do.

Many of you have likely had work completed on your historical home or building. Consequently, many of you have also likely felt the impact of labor shortages in the construction industry. This article focuses on the skilled labor shortages and how they affect your project. The skilled labor shortage in the trades has been a major concern for over a decade, particularly since the global financial crisis of 2008. In March 2019, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) described the shortage – based on a survey of its members – like this: 

“More than four out of five builders expect to face serious challenges regarding the cost and availability of labor in 2019 … Just 13% of builders cited labor issues as an important concern in 2011, with the rate steadily rising over the ensuing years and peaking at 82% in each of the last three years (2017–2019).” [NAHBNow]

The number of shortages vary based on skill-specific trades, but broad shortages are higher in recent years. This presents a conundrum to leaders in the construction industry, but also to you, the homeowners. We have attempted to outline the breadth of the issues as well as possible solutions and strategies to cope, both from a societal stand-point and an individual homeowner perspective.

If you aren’t interested in how we got here, specific action items for hiring a contractor and dealing with the labor shortage are here

 

 

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WHY IS THERE A SHORTAGE OF SKILLED LABOR?

We already know that there is a shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry. The question is: How did we get here?

  • Historical contributions. Clayton DeKorne provides a detailed overview of some of the likely factors that contributed to the shortage. For example, he noted that in early America, especially prior to the Revolution, the predominant view of skilled laborers in the construction field was a venerable one, and these craftsman enjoyed involvement in a cooperative community of workers, as well as esteem by and support from society at large. A prime example of this, as noted by DeKorne, is The Carpenter’s Company, the oldest trade guild in America. It held its first meetings in Carpenter’s Hall in Philadelphia, right among major centers for government and business. The building and the guild both hosted and provided for government and business in substantial ways. As time passed, the predominant views in America about construction and skilled labor culminated in Charles Ham’s book, Mind and Hand, which viewed industrial arts as a necessary precursor to children’s moral and intellectual development, rather than simply vocational training. DeKorne reports that another characteristic of these historical time periods was that traditional craftsman often passed skills on to their children, maintaining and ensuring traditional skills through the generations. However, as innovations in technology emerged, including “retail product manufacturing,” the need for skilled craftsman declined as the press for manufacturing workers increased. This included the children and youth who previously learned trades alongside their parents. But by 1917, child labor was increasingly frowned upon. The Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 was a federal law passed with the intention of education reform, triggered in large part by concerns related to ethical issues and lack of safety for children in the workforce. DeKorne notes this Act, while beneficial in limiting child labor, was a driving force behind the fall of vocational education in America. Although this bill provided significant federal funding to educational avenues, including vocational education, it set into motion policies and practices that eventually resulted in a distinct separation between college-prep and vocational education, the educational tracks we see to this day. The unforeseen and possibly unintended consequences of this have been a class or social divide, or at least a perception of one, that is still present.

 

  • Recent issues. McKinsey and Company wrote an article that reports that there was a 70% decrease in new housing projects from 2009-2011, resulting in many in the construction industry leaving the workforce, following the 2008 recession. In the years since, the demand for skilled laborers in the construction industry has significantly increased as construction needs have increased. However, workers are not filling those gaps.  DeKorne and homeadvisor.com conclude that a large part of the growing shortage is because of younger generations’ negative perceptions of the industry, including deeply-held beliefs that trade skills are associated with a lower or under-served-class of people. They have held onto the belief that a 4-year degree or college is more respectable, per the standards developed by the educational system throughout most of the twentieth century (noted earlier), and schools have phased out vocational programs and encouraged students to focus on college, perpetuating the idea that it is somehow better. This also reduces students’ exposure to the construction field as a potential option. Many of these people are more interested in innovative, technological careers. These problems are compounded by aging workers retiring from the field. 

 

HOW CAN WE ADDRESS THE SHORTAGE?

There are several things that experts suggest that leaders and professionals in the educational, vocational, and construction fields do, as well as suggestions for homeowners like you.

  • For professionals. Homeadvisor.com proposes that professionals make the most of the maker movement and foster people’s interest by offering alternatives to a 4-year-degree, harness their motivation to be entrepreneurs (since many surveyed indicate owning a business is a big motivator, and create mentorships and apprenticeships.  They also recommend labor automation, hiring temps, using overtime with current staff, and expanding hours of staff availability.

 

  • For homeowners. If you read most of this article prior to this section, or if you’re already abreast of the issues of labor shortage in the industry, you might be feeling discouraged as to any possible immediate solutions. However, we have compiled a list of things that you can do as a homeowner to navigate this issue, from our experience and that of other sources (Homeadvisor.com, thisoldhouse.com, Jon Gorey at realestate.boston.com, Marni Jameson of The Mercury News, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation).   
    • SCHEDULE IN ADVANCE – call before problems happen so you are more likely to get things addressed when they are problematic. This also builds rapport with contractors and laborers.  
      • HAVE A MAINTENANCE PLAN – find examples and ideas here
      • BE FLEXIBLE – Due to uncontrollable aspects of the current circumstances, it’s best to accept them as they are and be flexible with them. You can do this by allowing more time for projects to be completed, considering simplifying your projects, or moving your own schedule around to match that of contractors’ schedules. Also remember that subcontractors often prefer to work with general contractors or well-known companies, so they may not consider small home projects to be a priority. Consider contacting someone you have an existing relationship with for smaller projects, or a handyman service that specializes in smaller projects.
      • BE AWARE OF COST – The reality is that this shortage will impact the cost of your project. As the demand for highly skilled workers increases (especially for workers who have specialized skills in restoration/preservation rather than general remodeling) and the supply of highly skilled workers decreases, the demand on these contractors and workers also increases (usually beyond capacity) which will drive up the costs. 
      • HAVE A LIST OF PROS – Create a list of people with whom you build relationships. If they know you are a reliable customer, you are more likely to find them to be reliable professionals. They may be more likely to be flexible with you compared to unfamiliar, possibly demanding customers. 
      • DEFER TO A NATIONAL ASSOCIATION – NAHB and the National Association for the Remodeling Industry have pro-finder tools that will help you discover professionals in your area. Ensure that the contractors have experience in historical restoration and/or preservation.
      • DO YOUR OWN BACKGROUND CHECKS – High demand in a limited labor market is a breeding ground for less-than-satisfactory work from certain contractors, who may take advantage of the situation and be less reliable because they feel they have the freedom to do so. Also, many contractors are desperate for subcontractors and no longer requiring screenings, allowing this to fall to the homeowner. Make sure they are a licensed contractor, ask for proof of insurance, call references, and check out websites like court records to make sure no suits or complaints are filed against them. Particularly, make sure they do not have numerous claims against them regarding workmanship or breach of contract.
      • DON’T SETTLE – Although this checklist may seem daunting, don’t settle for sub-par work or possibly unsavory workers, despite all of the seeming barriers. 

IN SUMMARY: 

Unfortunately, even choosing a reputable contractor is not always the solution you would assume it would be and much onus is put on the homeowner or property owner as a result. Recently, I saw a job posting for a large, well-established contractor advertising 3 positions: construction site manager, field superintendent, and entry-level field assistant. The fact that they have the 3 levels of position available does not surprise me. What shocked me was the fact that they were advertising that they do NOT complete or require drug screens or background checks. I can tell from personal experience  that the number of applicants dramatically decreases when you add those qualifiers to the help-wanted ad. This concerns me not only from a safety standpoint, but also from a customer service angle. Someone who is abusing drugs will not be reliable (drug abuse is a huge problem in the construction industry). Just having a body show up is not the same as someone who is there to work (not to mention the liability implications). I am not opposed to second chances in regard to background checks; depending on the circumstances I would consider hiring someone with a blemish on their record, but I would want to know about it and evaluate it from a risk-assessment standpoint. As some contractors are lowering their standards to hire workers, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the labor force and the type of screening that is completed. 

In addition, you can hire for speed, cost, or quality choosing 2 of the 3 priorities, but the 3 cannot be accomplished on the same project. One question we are often asked is: what is the best way to find a reliable skilled contractor who won’t be too expensive? My answer is: It is hard to find an inexpensive skilled carpenter because the cost of labor goes up as skills are learned, and you are paying for the knowledge that has been previously acquired so they are not making expensive mistakes on your property. As a strategy, I would look at what work is unskilled/semi-skilled (it typically follows the 80/20 rule for window restoration, for example). With minimal training, you can either self-perform or pay a college student to do the unskilled work, bringing the skilled carpenter in for the repair work without having to pay a high hourly rate for the unskilled portion of the project. 

Ultimately, there is a lot required of you as a homeowner to find the right contractor and skilled laborers, but it will be worth it in the end.

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED March 2019:

Greg Huber from Eastern Barn Consultants and Past Perspectives joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss:

  • How barn styles varied from region to region 
  • What makes barn construction unique
  • The type of barn Danielle had never heard of

We also discussed the services Greg offers documenting barns and researching house histories, the barn tours and seminars, and the books he has written.  

Contact info:

Greg Huber, Architectural Historian

610-967-5808

[email protected]

Facebook

Books:

The Historic Barns of Southeastern Pennsylvania: Architecture and Preservation Built 1750-1900

Bio:

Gregory Huber – of Past Perspectives and Eastern Barn Consultants

• Gregory D. Huber is an independent scholar, consultant and principal owner of both Past Perspectives and Eastern Barn Consultants, historic and cultural resources companies that are based in Macungie, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.
• His special focus is in House Histories and Barn Histories of historic homesteads in southeast Pennsylvania and beyond.
• A student of early vernacular architecture since 1971, Huber has specialized in pre-1850 barn and house architecture of Holland Dutch in New York State and northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania Swiss-German and certain English settled areas of the northeast.
• Huber’s latest book – out in August 2017 – The Historic Barns of Southeastern Pennsylvania – Architecture and Preservation – Built 1750 to 1900 has reached Number One Book on the Amazon Best Seller list in its specific category – Vernacular Architecture
• He is author of more than 270 articles on barn and house architecture and is co-author of two other books and editor of another book – Barns – A Close-up Look.
• He has lectured to more than 225 audiences and led dozens of barn and house tours in several states of the northeast.
• He is available for historic homestead consultation work on old houses and barns.

 

Well, it’s that time of year again. The weather is warming up a bit as we move into the Spring Season. In the 19th century, before vacuums came into common use, early spring was a time to open windows and sweep homes from “top to bottom” to herald the coming of warmer weather. Your spring maintenance projects can be handled the same way – from roof to foundation. Given that many of you are likely restricted to your homes during the crisis related to the Coronavirus, it might be helpful to think about maintenance as a means to manage boredom and anxiety until some normalcy returns. Afterall, maintenance is preservation for the long haul. Read on for our overview of the benefits of maintenance.

Photo from the National Park Service’s guidelines for maintenance of historic buildings.

 

WHY IS MAINTENANCE IMPORTANT?

I know you have heard us talk a lot about maintenance over the years if you have followed us for any period of time (certainly if you read our blog post on painting your home’s exterior from last week), but we cannot emphasize its importance enough, especially for owners of historical homes: MAINTENANCE IS PRESERVATION. To drive this point home, preservation is defined by the Secretary of the Interior’s standards as:

“to sustain the existing form, integrity, and materials of an historic property.”

Preservation is also the first step of “intervention” based on the Secretary of Interior’s standards and guidelines. Having a maintenance plan helps to preserve the building, slows the natural deterioration cycle, and helps maintain a budget of planned projects rather than major emergency projects (that can cause hasty decisions to be made that may permanently damage the structure).

 

INITIATE YOUR MAINTENANCE PLAN

You can begin to develop your maintenance plan and schedule by following the checklists in the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief No. 47 “Maintaining the Exterior of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings.” The goal of the checklist is to ensure that the structure is sound and that water is kept out of the building. Having a regular routine looking at the exterior of the building – during a light rain or after a freeze – can help to determine where the water is coming in and can highlight problems that might otherwise go unnoticed.

 

REPAIR vs. REPLACEMENT

Once the maintenance plan is made, the decision to repair building components that have begun to deteriorate is an important preservation decision. Repairing rather than replacing helps to retain more of the historic fabric of the building (an important preservation goal). As we’ve noted in the past, and as the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Rehabilitation recommends, replacement in kind  is preferable. Replacement in kind means to replace with materials that are the same as what you are replacing: wood for wood, stone for stone, etc. There is a little bit of wiggle room for “compatible substitute material,” such as epoxy. We choose replacement over repair in cases where 50% or more of something is deteriorated, based on guidelines. However, this is a judgment call as there is no hard or fast rule for this. Usually someone who does not work on older buildings or someone that has a replacement mindset will set this bar much lower. Another factor in replacement in kind is the material selection. For example, old-growth wood is much more rot resistant and durable than the second-growth wood available now. We typically use a tropical hardwood or salvaged wood (from an architectural salvage dealer) to ensure that the replacement wood is going to be durable. Make sure the wood components are solid wood, not finger jointed (finger jointing is the process of making smaller wood lengths into longer pieces – most trim and modern window and door frames are finger jointed). This allows water more access points into the wood. And, because modern finger-jointed wood is (usually) inferior second growth pine the deterioration process is accelerated. Ensure that all replacement wood is treated with a preservative (like BoraCare) and prime-coated with an oil-based primer on all sides. If you are using epoxy repair (which we do for smaller repairs and non-wood repairs such as metal and masonry) make sure you remove ALL rotten wood, use consolidant, and then the wood fill epoxy. Most epoxies can be sanded, molded (if necessary), and then finish painted.

 

THE “MAINTENANCE FREE” TRAP

Many of you have likely seen ads for maintenance free products for your home, promising you that you will gain a lot of time by installing their product on your building. Sadly, many maintenance free products are maintenance free because when it comes time to maintain them you just replace it for the new version of the product. This may save time, but it also keeps you stuck in the cycle of replacement: continually buying replacements to keep the product manufacturers in business. Meanwhile, traditional materials are “greener” and more cost-effective in the long run because they are repairable. Cost and eco-friendliness aside, there are other issues with maintenance free products in older buildings. The National Park service’s Preservation Brief No. 47 “Maintaining the Exteriors of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings” offers the following cautionary notice for historical building owners:

“It is enticing to read about ‘maintenance free’ products and systems, particularly water-proof sealers, rubberized paints, and synthetic siding, but there is no such thing as maintenance free when it comes to caring for historic buildings. Some approaches that initially seem to reduce maintenance requirements may overtime actually accelerate deterioration.”

Often times, we will see water and moisture trapped behind these maintenance free products causing rot that is unseen until replacement is necessary.

 

FURTHER RESOURCES:

  • Links to our Facebook live video series from last year regarding maintenance of your historical home.

 

  • Link to our Podcast from last year with more answers to older home maintenance questions posed by our listeners. The podcast included discussion of water infiltration through masonry walls, paint-related questions, as well as wood repair and preservation.

Jobie Hill, the founder of The Saving Slave Houses Project, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about her project’s origins and ongoing projects, as well as future growth. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • Her background in multiple fields related to preservation and what triggered her interest in saving slave houses
  • How a master’s thesis idea led to the discovery of connections between former slaves’ narratives and the slave houses, both of which were documented separately by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930’s and 1940’s
  • Her instrumental work on the Mulberry Row Project at Monticello
  • Predecessors who started similar research on slave history and homes before it was widely accepted
  • The challenges of extending her project with others’ help, and hopes for future growth

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Linkedin

 

More info:

C-SPAN videos 

Paint is probably on a lot of homeowner’s minds right now (and if you listened to last week’s podcast you have definitely thought about it). With the warmer weather allowing us to step outside and breathe fresh air, we’re also afforded the opportunity to see what the weather and time have done to the outside of our homes. Updating the paint on your home’s exterior might be an obvious need, and is a task best completed when temperatures are mild and not too humid. Spring is a good time to plan and prep for that, so read on for pointers on painting your historical home.

Photo by David Pisnoy on Unsplash

Painting a historical home can be quite a challenge. Proper preparation, risk of damage, quality and cost, safety, color choices, and maintaining it all must be considered. Read on for tips to navigate this process.

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TIPS FOR PAINTING YOUR HISTORICAL HOME

  • Preparation. One of the key elements to a successful, long-lasting project is the surface preparation. For the different types of paint that may already be on your building, each has its own preparation requirements. If you are not sure what type of paint is on your building, you can consult a qualified contractor  to obtain a paint analysis, providing you with both the chemical and color makeup of your existing paint. Determine if paint is failing, and possible causes – moisture is usually the reason paint is failing. Once you have addressed the underlying cause, you can move on to preparing the surface for the paint. Make sure that the surface is clean and free of loose paint (you can remove the paint completely, but this is not always necessary to get to a sound surface). Never use abrasive methods (see next bullet regarding damage avoidance below) to remove paint. Listen to one of our previous podcasts for tips on one option to safely strip paint. After the paint is removed and the surface is cleaned, make sure that the wood has a chance to dry out before the prime coat is added. If the wood is very dry (e.g., the paint has peeled off and it has been allowed to weather with no coating) you can pre-treat with 50% boiled linseed oil and 50% turpentine prior to the oil-based prime coat. Using good lead-safe habits is important for any building pre-1978 (we assume it has lead paint unless it has been abated)

 

Because paint removal is a difficult and painstaking process, a number of costly, regrettable experiences have occurred – and continue to occur – for both the historic building and the building owner. Historic buildings have been set on fire with blow torches; wood irreversibly scarred by sandblasting or by harsh mechanical devices, such as rotary sanders and rotary wire strippers; and layers of historic paint inadvertently and unnecessarily removed. In addition, property owners using techniques that substitute speed for safety have been injured by toxic lead vapors or dust from the paint they were trying to remove, or the misuse of the paint removers themselves.

Being too aggressive with paint removal can damage the historical materials. Never use abrasive methods, mostly because of the public safety and lead paint, but also the potential to damage the wood. Using heat can also be dangerous. Open flame torches and even heat guns can cause a fire to start. There are infrared systems that do not get as hot as heat guns, if you wanted an option beyond chemical strippers.

 

  • Quality and Cost. The temptation to save money by using cheap paint can be alluring. Many contractors, and even homeowners, mistakenly think that paint choices need only match historical colors, but this is not so. The old adage “you get what you pay for” is particularly true for your paint. Investing in quality paint will save you money in the long run. For a limited time, The Real Milk Paint Co. is offering a “3 FOR FREE” deal; Buy 3 samples of product of your choice for $3.50 each, and they get shipped to you for free.

 

  • Safety and Handling Lead Paint. The health risks of lead exposure are well known – brain and nervous system damage, hearing and vision loss, impaired development of children, etc. But, did you know that lead in dust – such as the dust created while sanding and prepping surfaces for new paint – is the most common route of exposure to lead? To avoid these risks, choose a contractor who is “Renovation, Repair, and Painting” certified by the EPA for lead paint handling. There is also general information from EPA for homeowners. 

 

 

  • Maintenance. The National Park Service’s Preservation Briefs No. 47 on Maintaining the Exterior of Small and Medium Size Historic Buildings indicates that exteriors of the home should be inspected at least annually to determine if paint should be repaired, otherwise corrected, or exteriors need re-painted. You can also view our video on general maintenance plans and paint maintenance. 

 

Ask yourself these questions before beginning any painting project:

  • Does my paint exhibit any peeling, crackling, chalking (powdering), crazing (small, interconnected cracks), mold, mildew, staining, blistering or wrinkling?
  • Does my building have an existing paint application that is inappropriate for its historic fabric?
  • Do I know what type of paint is currently on my building and what preparation is required before painting over that type of paint?
  • If I am using a contractor, are they “Renovation, Repair and Painting” certified by the EPA for lead paint handling?
  • Does that contractor understand which methods, tools, materials, and chemicals are appropriate for paint removal on my historical building?

FURTHER RESOURCES FOR PAINTING HISTORICAL BUILDINGS:

 

Dwayne Siever, founder of The Real Milk Paint Company, joined the Practical Preservation podcast to discuss information about his historic preservation- and earth-friendly paint, wood finish, and wax business. We covered a multitude of topics including:

  • How his background in wood-working, repairing antique furniture and creating antique reproductions eventually led to an interest in finishes and paints that functioned better than modern products
  • How experimenting with creating milk paints led to a loyal client base and expanded following when the business started in the mid-90s
  • The applicability of these products for both historic preservation and environmentally-safe projects, including durability, quality, maintenance, safety, and multi-purpose/benefits
  • Lessons learned and challenges for preservation in general

 

Contact/Follow:

Website

Facebook

YouTube

 

Visit:

Fine woodworking live event in Sturbridge, MA, April 17-19. Visit their vendor table or see Nancy Hiller demonstrate how to use milk paint.

American Association of Woodturners’ (AAW) 34th Annual International Symposium in Louisville, KY, June 4-7. Visit their booth. 

 

Promotion/Deal:

The website currently has a 3 FOR FREE deal; buy 3 samples of product of your choice for $3.50 each, and they get shipped to you for free! (Limited time only)

 

 

Winter may soon be coming to a close, but there’s still time during the tempestuous month of March for Spring to “come in like a lion,” as the old proverb goes. The uncertainty of weather related to climate change aggravates the issues we already see at the end of Winter as well, adding to the concerns of homeowners attempting to maintain the energy efficiency and temperature of their homes. With that in mind, we’re focusing on energy efficiency for historic buildings for today’s blog post. 


Photo by Alessandro Bianchi on Unsplash

First, let’s debunk a myth about old homes and energy efficiency. A common misconception about older buildings is that they are drafty, inefficient energy hogs. The truth is that the buildings with the worst energy efficiency were built between 1940-1970. Energy was cheap and there wasn’t a big push to conserve our resources during that time-period. Buildings constructed before 1940 were made with energy savings, thermal performance, and physical comfort in mind. By maximizing natural sources of heating, lighting, and ventilation, these buildings were comfortable in all seasons.

Still concerned about energy efficiency in your historic building or home? Read on for advice on improvements that will not sacrifice the historical integrity of your space.
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TIPS TO INCREASE ENERGY EFFICIENCY

ON YOUR OWN:

  • Change your Habits.  Install timers or motion detectors on lights, attach self-closing mechanisms on doors that might otherwise hang open, install fans and raise your thermostat temperature, use LEDs in your lights and turn off “vampire” devices that use electricity in standby mode or that use electricity in standby mode or whenever that are plugged into an outlet.
  • Remove focus from Siding. Remember our previous post on siding on historic homes. Walls themselves are not a significant source of energy loss, so replacing original siding with new synthetic siding really does not cut costs or improve energy efficiency.
  • Caulking or Weather-Stripping. The easiest tip for increasing the energy efficiency of your building is to reduce the air infiltration using caulking and/or weather-stripping. You can do a self-audit of the envelope of your building (roof; walls and wall penetrations including doors, windows; floor, and foundation) to determine if these methods are necessary. If there are places that you feel cold air coming in you can add additional weather-stripping or caulking to the area and seal the crack. In warmer months this will also stop your conditioned air from escaping to the outside.           2 points of caution:
    • Only use the spray foam against masonry penetrations – it will cause any wood it is against to rot
    • Do not make the building too tight – older buildings were built for air to move and if all air movement is stopped it will cause problems with moisture accumulation
  • Combat the Stack Effect. The method above is helpful, but it does not give you the highest return-on-investment for making your home energy efficient because of the Stack Effect. To combat the Stack Effect, insulate at the basement floor (where the air comes in) and at the attic (where the air goes out). It’s also important to determine the R-Value (measure of thermal resistance) for your area to ensure you are most effectively stopping air leaks.  You can find your recommended R-Value here.                                                                                                                                                                Options for insulation:
    • “Green” or environmentally-friendly options (natural materials like cellulose and wool)
    • Fiberglass
    • Spray foam
    • Foam board (purchases can be made at big-box stores or SIPS)

WITH PROFESSIONAL HELP:

  • Seek Professional Assistance. Review our post on hiring the best person for the job. 
  • Have a Maintenance Appraisal Performed.  If you are concerned about identifying air leaks on your own, a maintenance appraisal performed by a qualified contractor will locate any source of air leakage and provide you with a plan-of-attack to remedy the problem without damaging the historic aspects of your home.
  • Schedule an Energy Audit.  Both the maintenance appraisal and an energy audit are absolutely essential things that need to be done BEFORE you implement any energy improvement measures in a situation where you do not have enough knowledge to take care of things yourself.  The energy audit will evaluate your home’s current energy performance and identify any deficiencies in both the envelope of your home and/or mechanical systems.

FURTHER READING:

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED February 2019:

John Goodenberger and Lucien Swerdloff from the Clatsop Community College’s Historic Preservation and Restoration program joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss:

  • The collaborative approach their program uses to deal with the contractor storage
  • Sustainable building (viewing historic buildings as resources to be preserved)
  • Their combination of teaching both theory and hands-on preservation (very practical)

Contact info and Bios:

Clatsop College

1651 Lexington Ave

Astoria, OR 97103

The Clastop Community College Historic Preservation Program, in Astoria, Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, prepares students for work in the building trades with an emphasis on the preservation and restoration of historic and vintage residential and commerical buildings. Students gain the knowledge and skills to plan and restore structures in historically accurate ways utilizing both traditional and modern materials and methods. The program offers classes in historic preservation theory and workshops in practical hands-on skills.

John Goodenberger is a preservationist and instructor in the Historic Preservation program. Educated in architecture at University of Oregon, John has guided the restoration of commercial and residential buildings in Astoria. Working also a the City’s historic building consultant, he has analyzed the integrity and historic significance of more than 1,000 properties. John was the chair of the State Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation and is currently a regional representative for Restore Oregon, and is on the board of Columbia Pacific Preservation, a collaborative group promoting education and economic development through historic preservation.

Lucien Swerdloff is the program coordinator and instructor in the Historic Preservation and the Computer Aided Design programs at Clatsop Community College. He earned Master of Architecture and Master of Science degrees from the State University of New York in Buffalo. He has organized numerous preservation workshops throughout Oregon and Washington and worked on the restoration of many historic structures. Lucien is on the boards of Columbia Pacific Preservation, the Lower Columbia Preservation Society, and the Astoria Ferry Group, working to preserve, protect, and operate the historic Tourist No. 2 ferry.

Resources Discussed:

National Council for Preservation Education

Historic Preservation and Energy Efficiency Guide – Pacific Power

 

 

South Carolina Senate Chamber Portrait of Ann Pamela Cunningham, The “Founding Mother” of Historic Preservation. Photo credit South Carolina Legislature

 

Many women and men have contributed so much to the field of historic preservation in America. However, as is too often the case, the role of many women has been hidden in the shadows. Sometimes these roles have been completely ignored or forgotten. Yet, women’s roles are inextricably linked to and undeniably contributed to the summation of successes in the field of American historic preservation. Despite their essential role in preservation, their memories are often not preserved. As noted here:

“Although women have led the historic preservation movement, the history of women has not been adequately preserved.”

-Ellen Perry Berkeley & Matilda McQuaid, p. 159, Architecture: A Place for Women

This blog post is written with the intention of being one small part of the movement to uncover the hidden roles of women in preservation, by shining a bright light on the women in the shadows, especially in honor of Women’s History Month. These women have played and continue to play pivotal roles alongside men in historic preservation. This post also includes relevant resources for interested readers to explore further, as well as tips on brightening the spotlight on women’s roles in history and preservation. After all, as Harriot Hunt stated in her personal narrative (regarding the monument to the battle of bunker hill):

“Half a people made only half a monument: the other half, the feminine, made it whole.”

-Harriot Hunt, p. 163, Glances and Glimpses: Or, Fifty Years Social, Including Twenty Years Professional Life

 

Early Roots of Historic Preservation: Cultural Diversity and Minority Groups

Beginning our overview of women in preservation by first acknowledging the historic and cultural contributions of non-European groups in America seems most fitting, as many of the women in preservation come from these backgrounds. These groups represent some of the earliest examples of what we could deem historic or cultural preservation in America because they have all played a part in shaping what American culture is today. Their unique stories did not always include preservation of the aspects of the physical built environment that we now typically associate with historic preservation, but their efforts did contribute to preservation of culture. One way these non-European groups maintained their traditions and cultural heritage within a broader American culture was through folklore and story-telling.

These traditions are often attributed most to the elders of the groups, particularly the female elders. Shannon Smith described the legacy of “native storytellers” as Native Americans are well-known for this tradition. These women were the primary means of passing stories on to subsequent generations, to educate and protect their culture and values, as men’s roles (e.g., hunting and fighting) often limited their ability to act as narrators. Jackie Krogmeier also discussed how Native women acted as cultural mediators with the European settlers; although this mediating role was necessary for maintaining peace and in some ways then also protecting their culture, their own voices and perspectives often are not highlighted. Instead, their parts are written in the annals of history mostly through the voices of European men, if noted at all.

Amache Ochinee Prowers was an example of a native woman considered to be a cultural mediator between the diverse cultural groups in what is now the state of Colorado, and this interview by the National Trust for Historic Preservation details the cultural heritage she inadvertently left behind for archaeologists to discover. Ada Deer is a modern-day Native American advocate and scholar, known for her tireless work to preserve Native culture and heritage while fighting for the rights of Native citizens. This Menominee Tribe member from Wisconsin was crucial in the Menominee Restoration Act of 1972, which restored the tribe to federally recognized status. This was just one victory in the fight to maintain Native culture rather than completely assimilate Native people, as the federal government had once intended. 

African Americans also played a pivotal role in preserving their own cultural heritage as well as contributing to modern American culture. African American slaves in particular were repressed in every way possible, including being prevented from learning to read and write. However,   described how slaves adapted by telling folktales of their cultural heritage. They updated and adapted those tales to their present circumstances, to prevent detection from slave owners who might perceive obvious traditional stories and ties to the African cultural identities as a way to unite slaves and a threat to the power the owners held over their slaves. Another way enslaved African people maintained their cultural heritage to some degree was through food. Christina Regelski discussed how enslaved African cooks brought their heritage into the homes of their masters, heavily influencing what people think of as traditional Southern food today, and we can guess that many of these cooks were female. Sylviane Diouf noted that female slaves often bore the burden of passing their cultural heritage to their descendants simply due to the tendency of slave owners to divide enslaved husbands and wives as another way to maintain power over them, leaving women with their children as the men were sold elsewhere, and even in cases where mothers were separated from their children. As with Native women, many of their voices and stories were lost to history.

Since the abolition of slavery, more African American women have prevailed in preserving their culture and have been able to do so with more resources at their disposal. Mary B. Talbert was one African American woman who specifically focused on preservation of African American heritage. She also contributed to preserving the built environment by saving the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, after initial efforts by others were unsuccessful. Several other modern African American women are also working hard to champion Black History as an integral part of America’s holistic heritage.

These are just two cultural examples of many minority groups in America, but all have stories to tell about their contribution to preservation. The National Park Service has highlighted general cultural diversity in historic preservation, including the short timeline for recognizing the importance of preserving the cultural heritage of minority groups and including diversity as a preservation issue.  

Women have faced unique challenges in many societies, including the Western world. Compounding being female with being a non-European minority in America has added to this plight. These trials have rendered the triumphs of maintained cultural heritage and historical preservation by the women of these groups all the more meaningful.

Timeline of Women in the Formal History of Historic Preservation

Most chronological accounts of the history of historic preservation agree that the earliest recognized formal example of historic preservation – in European-American Culture – was the founding of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791.  Its founding is credited to Jeremy Belknap, a clergyman and historian. His pioneering act paved the way for other communities and groups, including women, to establish successful means of recording, preserving, and restoring history. However, little is noted about the roles that women may have played in this historical endeavor. 

Subsequently, several other organizations for history and preservation were formed, buildings were saved from decay or demolition and even restored, and museums opened. Notably, women were involved in many grassroots efforts. One famous early example was that of the monument to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill. Several women were part of a group in the 1820’s that initially championed the creation of a monument, and were at the helm of organized fundraising events for the monument. Sarah Josepha Hale (whose many accolades can be found here) was probably the most famous among them. The aforementioned Harriot Hunt also contributed to and lauded these efforts by her fellow female activists.

However, it was not until perhaps the mid-nineteenth century when Ann Pamela Cunningham – often credited as the American Preservation Movement’s Founding Mother – inspired a preservation movement. Finally, a woman was given specific recognition for preservation. Cunningham was appalled at the state of George Washington’s monumental Mt. Vernon Estate, and in 1853, inspired by her own mother’s concerns, penned an article about it that was published in a Charleston, S.C. newspaper. Even in the 1850s, the estate of the “Father of our Country” was threatened by a combination of neglect and speculators hoping to develop it for profit. Not even the tumultuous time period, including threat of secession and civil war, could squelch Cunningham’s entreaty. Her pleas were answered by like-minded women all over the country, even on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. The result was the chartering of the Mt. Vernon Ladies’ Association, and America’s first nationwide preservation campaign was underway. After several years the Association was successful in saving and preserving the property. This success-story spurred other preservation movements, and modern-day preservationists esteem Cunningham’s efforts as having set the stage for things that are still done today. 

Countless other named and unnamed women from various cultural and ethnographic backgrounds contributed to preservation and general history through the years. But many diminished or even scoffed at the work of these women. For a large part of American history, those women’s twentieth century successors were jokingly referred to as “little old ladies in tennis shoes standing in front of bulldozers.” However, as Elizabeth Byrd Wood – a past editor at the National Trust for Historic Preservation – pointed out, the 1966 enactment of the National Historic Preservation Act created jobs via state historic preservation offices, finally creating formal positions for people to make a recognized career out of preservation. One of those first professional preservationists was Nancy Schamu, who began working for the Maryland Historical Trust in 1969, and who is now also considered a leader of the modern preservation movement. She was interviewed upon her retirement, sharing significant insights into the changes in preservation over the past half-century.

Women in Modern-Day Historic Preservation

The creation of formal government-based preservation jobs marked a significant formalization of the preservation field in this country and made it so that historical female preservationists’ work was not in vain. Women’s roles have continued to evolve from their foremothers’ roles as preservers of culture and activists for the built environment. More and more women have successfully trained and demonstrated their merit in the hands-on work involved in preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation spotlighted just a few of those women who are now part of this niche field of skilled craftspeople. Another example of women in preservation is exhibited on countless TV shows such as those featured on the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) network and the Home and Garden Television (HGTV) network, demonstrating how much more mainstream preservation, or at least restoration and renovation, have become to the public via commercialism (for better or for worse depending on one’s opinion). With countless books and internet resources information proliferates more than ever before regarding the pivotal roles of women in history and historic preservation. Restoring Women’s History through Historic Preservation is just one fine example of these written efforts that recognize the feminist imperative to increase female visibility and involvement in history and preservation.

Practical ways to honor and include women in history and preservation

Even with these strides, there is much more work to do to ensure the visibility of women in history and historic preservation. The National Trust for Historic Preservation featured suggestions on “Putting Women Back in History.”  Suggestions from this article include:

  • Put females in the wider context of history. Rather than relegating them to only domestic roles, focus on their roles in every aspect of history. Women have played less obvious but no-less significant roles in growing crops, mediating with other cultural groups, creating war-time munitions, and working in factories.
  • Note how expectations for women varied. This might include defining the contributing roles of slaves, servants, and rich women to the country we live in. Consider the different cultures and times in which they lived.
  • Use women’s resources. Anything owned by a woman in history is an artifact of who she was and what she contributed.
  • Search for new sources. Do not assume you know or have all of the information; previously uncovered sources of documentation may exist. You never stop learning about someone.
  • View women as independent and part of the whole. Women are worth something in their own right, not just in how they support men or children.
  • Do not stereotype. Look beyond simple interpretations of their artifacts and contributions, and look at the whole person, the unique individual
  • Let the women speak. Use direct quotes and add well documented-stories.

Historic preservation is about more than saving windows in an old house, or repairing a plaster molding; it’s about preserving any and all aspects of the history of a culture, where possible. To do that requires allowing all of the voices and work of all of its contributors to be heard. Everyone of us can contribute to this enriched history by remaining curious, researching women, including historical women’s stories, quotes and objects in our museums and heritage sites, hiring women in all roles related to history and preservation, and educating women about other women in history. Women themselves can continue to share their own stories to pass them down to future generations. As Harriot Hunt basically said, women are the essential half to make the ideal whole.

THIS IS A RE-POST OF A PODCAST INTERVIEW WE ORIGINALLY POSTED January 2019:

Chad Martin from Partners for Sacred Places met with me to discuss the work he does helping to preserve religious buildings from demolition through adaptive reuse and the creation of community resources.

Some of the topics we discussed include:

  • The economic impact of preservation.
  • How the work Partners for Sacred Places allows congregations and parishes to continue their mission as a community resource without selling their valuable real estate to developers.
  • The National Fund providing capital grants for preservation needs.  As Chad explains, when a church is choosing between giving money to programs that care for basic human needs and repairing the stained glass the restoration project goes to the bottom of the list.  The National Fund helps to ensure both needs are met.

Contact information for Partners for Sacred Places plus additional resources:

Website

Direct Contact Info

Facebook

Facebook page Danielle referenced: https://www.facebook.com/abandonedamerica.us/

Bio: Chad Martin, Director, National Fund for Sacred Places
Prior to his role at Partners, Chad was a pastor at Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster (PA). During his pastoral tenure the congregation developed an in-house art gallery, redeveloped an award-winning parking lot in accordance with the city’s green infrastructure plan, and substantially increased building use by community partners. Prior to this, Chad was the Ceramics Studio Coordinator at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (Pittsburgh, PA). He has served on several boards of directors in Pittsburgh and Lancaster, including as a founding board members of the Union Project – an example of best practice for adaptive reuse of a historic religious property – and as Assistant Moderator of Atlantic Coast Conference (MC USA). He has written articles on art and/or theology and spirituality for several publications, including Ceramics Monthly, Worship, and Conrad Grebel Review. His ordained for pastoral ministry in Mennonite Church USA. Chad is a graduate of Goshen College (BA), Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (MA), and Leadership Lancaster.