Editorials

Historical Preservation-Why we should care

A recent article in my city’s newspaper made me realize just how little people care about the topic of preservation, and yet the preserved buildings found in countries around the world are a main reason why so  many of us travel.

The article described an 1822-vintage log house that is in the process of being demolished. It’s been said that the house might even be the oldest log house to remain a residence in any major American city. The house had been built between the years of 1822 and 1830 and dates to the neighborhood whose origins were of a village that grew up around an arsenal. A local architect is currently negotiating with the homeowner to save and tag the logs so that the house can be rebuilt somewhere else. Although it’s just a house that hasn’t been lived in for six years, so was Mount Vernon in Virginia, and Paul Revere’s house in Boston, and even the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City. They were all places that although monumentally popular tourist attractions today, at one time  stood in neglect and disrepair.

Image courtesy of preservationnation.org 
Image courtesy of chicago.learningguidenetwork.com

I feel that we as tourists often take for granted the preserved historical attractions that are just “there.” Moreover we in the modern age fail to realize the staggeringly high costs associated with preserving a historical structure. We may think a $20 admission fee is high to tour a century old building and yet it’s really not. Upkeep of a modern home can be expensive, but when dealing with 19th century foundations and antique furnishings, it’s only a fraction of the cost.

Until April of this year, there was concern over plans to build a casino half a mile south of Gettysburg National Military Park in central Pennsylvania. Supporters of the casino believed that it would bring revenue and jobs to the area, but the opponents knew better. They believed that a commercial site like a casino would wreak havoc on Gettysburg’s sacred soil, a site where thousands of men died, and a during one of American history’s most important events. Thankfully the gaming license was awarded to another company far away from the spot where Abraham Lincoln dedicated the battlefield in 1863,  due mainly to the fierce opposition led by various preservation groups.

Preservation also stands as a testament to atrocities committed in the past. The preservation of Hitler’s Nazi concentration camps in Europe is not for them to be a macabre tourist attraction but a reminder that such unimaginable places actually existed. For as much as books and other sources of information tell us about these places, seeing them in person is sometimes the only way to truly understand the depths of the horrors found there.

Throughout history there have existed individuals who have cared enough to preserve derelict buildings. They cared about them because they wanted them preserved for future generations to come and visit, to experience how life was and looked in past times. If today’s generation doesn’t care enough to preserve historic homes, or battlefields in danger of being forever lost, there will be no historic places for us to travel to in the future. Preservation and traveling really do go hand in hand.

Image courtesy of colnect.com

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