May 4, 2022

Discover America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2022

With its wide range of cultures, histories, and geographies, the 2022 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places illustrates the expansiveness of our country’s history and helps tell the full American story.

But many of the sites on this year’s list also reflect communities that have been historically underrepresented in what we collectively preserve and interpret, which means society has often devalued or deemphasized the places connected to those stories. And without sustained recognition, preservation, interpretation, and funding, places like these are often at greater risk of loss and erasure—losses that would diminish us all.

This year’s 11 sites include community anchors and sacred ground, sites of injustice and activism, and places of creative expression, with threats as varied as their types: neglect, inappropriate development, and climate change, just to name a few. As you read more about the places below, you’ll see we have chosen to connect each one to a particular theme, with the understanding that each place contains multitudes, demonstrating history’s interwoven layers as well as the present’s interconnected threats.

What unites these places, however, is this: All of them are at a turning point, a critical moment when we as a nation either recognize their significance and fight to protect them, tell their full stories, and harness their ongoing relevance, or watch them disappear from our cultural landscape and fade into memory. Read more to learn about these irreplaceable sites.

Community Anchors, Then and Now

Community anchors not only capture a community’s unique history, but they can also be reimagined as part of its future. Take, for example, Francisco Q. Sanchez Elementary School in Humåtak, Guam. Built in 1953 and designed by Modernist architect Richard Neutra, the school was the only one in the village of Humåtak until it closed in 2011 due to declining funding. Its name commemorates Humåtak village resident Francisco Q. Sanchez, the school's first principal and an early pioneer of historic and cultural preservation in the village.

In 2013, the Guam Legislature transferred authority for the school to the Mayor of Humåtak, but the building was vandalized shortly thereafter, leaving it unusable and vacant. It has since suffered weathering from several typhoons and is in critical need of rehabilitation. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has signed a bill passed by the Guam legislature that would provide funding to the Guam Preservation Trust to rehabilitate the F.Q. Sanchez School for continued use, but funds must be transferred before work can begin. In the meantime, this cultural landmark continues to deteriorate.

Humåtak Mayor Johnny Quinata, the Guam Preservation Trust, and others are advocating for quick distribution of the funds so that the F.Q. Sanchez School can be revived as a centerpiece of the village’s cultural life, to include the mayor’s office, a charter school, senior center, community museum, cafe, and polling place. Reactivating the F.Q. Sanchez School as a village landmark will honor and celebrate the full story of Humåtak village’s history.

Camp Naco in Arizona

photo by: Helen Erickson

Camp Naco in Arizona.

Representing the multi-layered and complicated history of the American Southwest, Camp Naco, Arizona, is a touchstone for the history of Buffalo Soldiers and the contributions of Black regiments who served in the then-segregated Army in the years following the Civil War, specifically in the western United States.

Constructed by the U.S. Army beginning in 1919 to create a more permanent military presence and stabilize the U.S.-Mexico border area during the Mexican Revolution, Camp Naco’s adobe buildings are the only ones remaining of 35 permanent camps built during that time. After the camp was decommissioned for military use in 1923, the site passed through several owners and has suffered from vandalism, exposure, erosion, and fire.

The City of Bisbee now owns Camp Naco and is working closely with the Naco Heritage Alliance, the Southwest Association of Buffalo Soldiers, and other Arizona organizations to identify critical funding and partnerships to restore the historic camp buildings. They hope to revive the structures for community and educational uses, heritage tourism, and recognition of the critical role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the American Southwest.

Charles. W. Eliot Hall (Dormitory) at Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina

photo by: Liz Torres Melendez

Charles. W. Eliot Hall at Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina.

Moving along to the East Coast, the former Palmer Memorial Institute in Sedalia, North Carolina, has the potential to greatly enhance its role as a community anchor once again. Founded in 1902 by groundbreaking educator Dr. Charlotte Hawkins Brown, Palmer Memorial Institute transformed the lives of more than 1,000 African American students over nearly seven decades. By 1922, Palmer Memorial Institute was fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at a time when few African American high schools were, and it was the only finishing school of its kind in America. At its height, the campus consisted of more than 300 acres of land and 14 buildings.

Declining enrollment due to desegregation, increasing costs, and a severe fire caused Palmer to close in 1971, and the State of North Carolina eventually acquired it as the first state-supported site to honor the contributions of African Americans and women. The State Historic Site now includes a museum dedicated to Dr. Brown, but the three former dormitories are vacant and no longer safe to enter.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the Division of State Historic Sites, the Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, and the Town of Sedalia hope the dorms can be restored so they can become an even more vital part of the community and help tell the full story of student life at Palmer Memorial Institute.

Sites of Injustice and Activism

Discrimination, oppression, and violence are long and difficult threads throughout American history. But an equally powerful thread is the history of people standing against such injustices. Here, places are physical reminders of a complex past, and their presence ensures that we as a society do not forget or deny the truths of our past. By telling the full American story, these sites help foster understanding, growth, and empathy in the hope that we can prevent future injustice.

Main Entrance of Brown Chapel AME Church, Selma, Alabama

photo by: Ron Cogswell/Wikimedia Commons

Main entrance of Brown Chapel AME Church, Selma, Alabama.

Brown Chapel AME Church in Selma, Alabama, played a pivotal role in the Selma to Montgomery marches that were instrumental to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Built in 1908 by formerly enslaved Black builder A.J. Farley, Brown Chapel provided sanctuary to civil rights activists and church members as they convened to plan protests against African American voter disenfranchisement. It also served as the starting point on March 7, 1965, when marchers—including the late Congressman John Lewis—attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, only to be beaten back by Alabama State Troopers in an event historically known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The recent discovery of severe termite damage forced Brown Chapel to close its doors to its active congregation and visiting public for the foreseeable future, impacting the church’s ability to serve its community, and leaving this National Historic Landmark and internationally known civil rights site of pilgrimage unable to serve as a community resource, welcome guests, or host national events.

Although Brown Chapel has received funding and support from the National Park Service, the church needs significant additional funding to repair and re-open the building, which typically hosts thousands of visitors per year in addition to offering weekly worship services and outreach programs such as community food distribution and COVID-19 support. The Historic Brown Chapel AME Church Preservation Society, Incorporated, is seeking partnerships, resources, and support to ensure this sacred site can continue to serve its community and the nation as a beacon of hope for change and equality.

Minidoka National Historic Site in Jerome, Idaho, reflects another facet of America’s difficult history. In 1942, the U.S. government violated the constitutional rights of 13,000 Japanese Americans when it forcibly removed them from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California to what was known as Minidoka War Relocation Camp in rural south-central Idaho. Living in harsh and cramped conditions, surrounded by barbed wire, and guarded by military police, families attempted to cope and lead daily lives that were as normal as possible.

Minidoka closed on October 28, 1945, leaving families to rebuild their lives once again outside the concentration camp. Named a National Monument in 2001, and a National Historic Site in 2008, Minidoka today tells the painful stories of the forced incarceration and helps visitors confront the difficult realities of America’s past.

Minidoka’s sweeping vistas and distant mountains continue to convey the isolation and remoteness that Japanese Americans experienced there. However, a wind farm has been proposed next to Minidoka National Historic Site, potentially including construction of wind turbines within the historic footprint of the Minidoka camp. If constructed as currently planned, the project could irrevocably change Minidoka’s landscape, potentially creating a visual wall of hundreds of wind towers, each taller than the Seattle Space Needle, with blades exceeding the wingspan of a Boeing 747.

During this year—the 80th anniversary of Minidoka's construction—Friends of Minidoka and its partners are urging the Bureau of Land Management to protect Minidoka National Historic Site as a place for learning and healing.

Historic Places as Sacred Ground

Spiritual landscapes. Historic houses of worship. Burial grounds. These types of sacred places can evoke powerful responses and stir deep emotion in the people who experience them, inviting contemplation, reflection, connection, and perhaps even change.

Picture Cave, Warren County, Missouri

photo by: Carol Diaz-Granados

Picture Cave, Warren County, Missouri.

One such place is Picture Cave in Warren County, Missouri, considered one of the most sacred and important links to the lifeways of Osage ancestors in Missouri. This site contains hundreds of pictographs dating from the Late Woodland and Mississippian periods of Osage history, putting it among the finest examples of pictograph rock art in North America.

Picture Cave has withstood many abuses, including more than a century of vandals painting and carving their names atop the sacred pictographs as well as looting of Osage ancestors' burials within the cave. Though the Osage Nation attempted to buy the land containing Picture Cave in September 2021, the property was instead sold to an unknown buyer who has not communicated with the Osage Nation despite multiple attempts at outreach. It is unknown if the new owner is aware that the site holds extraordinary cultural and spiritual significance for the Osage people, or what the owner’s intentions for the site might be.

The Osage Nation is concerned that the new owner may physically modify the site, damage or remove the pictographs, or not grant access to the Osage people. Tribal leaders hope to encourage the new owner to work with the Tribe to protect and respect this sacred place.

The Deborah Chapel, Hartford, Connecticut

photo by: Carey Shea

The Deborah Chapel, Hartford, Connecticut.

Deborah Chapel in Hartford, Connecticut, which historians cite as a rare and early American example of an intact Jewish funerary structure, represents the strong leadership of women within 19th-century Jewish religious and communal organizations. Built in 1886, the mortuary was owned by the Hartford Ladies’ Deborah Society, a religious, social, and philanthropic organization founded in 1854 by German-speaking Jewish immigrants that acted as the women’s auxiliary of the Chevra Kadisha, or “Holy Society,” which prepared bodies for proper burial following Jewish law.

While the Deborah Chapel has been vacant since the 1990s, the former mortuary remains a distinctive feature of Beth Israel Cemetery, Zion Hill Cemetery, and the Frog Hollow neighborhood, and stands as a reminder of how immigrant Jewish women helped shape the community.

Congregation Beth Israel has applied for permission to demolish Deborah Chapel despite its national and state historic designation. Advocates for saving the building—including neighborhood residents, Jewish scholars, preservation nonprofits, the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office, and the City of Hartford—are urging the owner to re-consider and work with stakeholders to envision a new use for the building or transfer ownership to another entity that would ensure its preservation.

Creative Expression Captured at Places

Creativity comes in many forms, from art to architecture to activism. These sites are prisms of the human capacity to create beauty, inspire action, and delight the imagination.

The Brooks-Park Home and Studios in East Hampton, New York, tell a compelling story of Abstract Expressionist artists James Brooks (1906-1992) and Charlotte Park (1918-2010) at a critical juncture in the history of American art, when legendary visual artists such as Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Willem and Elaine deKooning, and others were working on Long Island’s South Fork. Brooks and Park’s home and creative spaces—the locally landmarked residence, studios, and guest house situated on 11 acres—illustrate the artists’ bond with their environment and its influence not only on their art, but also on the culture of the area.

Park continued living on the property alone after Brooks’ death and flourished artistically, although her accomplishments were not widely recognized during her lifetime, and art historical circles now more fully appreciate the significance of her work. Since Park’s death in 2010, vandalism, wildlife, and neglect have impacted the vacant structures, which are now seriously deteriorating.

The Town of East Hampton purchased the property in 2013 using Community Preservation Funds, and in 2014, designated the property a local landmark. The Town is now expressing interest in working with Brooks-Park Arts and Nature Center, an emerging nonprofit dedicated to preserving the site, to rehabilitate the buildings as a community arts and nature center celebrating both artists’ legacies. First, the Town must formally vote to approve preservation, and then additional funding and partnerships will be needed.

The Chicano/a/x community murals located throughout Colorado illuminate an often untold, overlooked, or erased history in cities where Hispanos, Chicanos, and Mexican Americans were key to development. Although the exact number is unknown, it is believed that more than 40 historic Chicano/a/x community murals exist across the state of Colorado.

The nationwide Chicano/a/x Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s integrated political activism with cultural education in arts, specifically murals, to reflect Chicano/a/x histories, bring art into neighborhoods, inspire pride in heritage, and strengthen communities in response to systemic racism, prejudice, and violence. Muralists often depicted significant elements of the Southwest and Southern Colorado history, including Spanish colonization of the Americas, annexation of the Southwest from Mexico in 1848, and continued contemporary issues of extreme discrimination, land loss, and forced migration.

Today, Chicano/a/x community murals across Colorado are threatened in various ways. In rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in communities such as Denver, a lack of legal protections can put murals at high risk of destruction and erasure. Colorado’s harsh climate is also a threat as it can deteriorate exterior murals. With muralists of the Chicano movement aging or passing away, there is limited time to restore murals under the guidance of the original artists as much as possible, and some have already been lost or painted over. The Chicano/a/x Murals of Colorado Project seeks support for ongoing efforts to survey, designate, protect, and preserve these important cultural treasures.

Climate Change

The ever-worsening impacts of extreme weather events and other climate change-related impacts not only put more historic places at risk, but they force Americans to make difficult decisions about relocation, intervention, or—in the most extreme instances—documenting what will soon be lost forever. These two sites are stark examples of places imperiled by climate change.

Aerial View of Jamestown, Virginia

photo by: Danny Schmidt/ Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation

Aerial view of Jamestown, Virginia.

The original site of the first permanent English settlement in North America and the first capital of the Virginia colony, Jamestown in Jamestown, Virginia, represents the meshing of cultures in North America, from 12,000 years of indigenous history to the arrival of English settlers and the forced migration of enslaved people from Africa.

After the capital moved to Williamsburg in 1699, remnants of early Jamestown slowly disappeared, both through land use and natural erosion. In 1994, Preservation Virginia, which owns the site, launched an archaeological research project which has since uncovered approximately 85 percent of the 17th-century fort, evidence of buildings, and more than 3 million artifacts. In 2015, the Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation was created to support and manage operations and the public archaeology program.

Today, sea level rise, storms, and recurrent flooding threaten the original Jamestown site, further compromising this fragile island and threatening its important cultural resources. The Jamestown Rediscovery Foundation is planning engineering solutions to help the site adapt to immediate threats posed by sea level rise and other extreme weather events, which climate scientists predict will continue to increase, but the organization needs partners and funding to implement additional climate change mitigation plans.

Incorporated in 1875, Olivewood Cemetery in Houston, Texas, is one of the oldest-known platted African American cemeteries in Houston, with more than 4,000 burials on its 7.5-acre site. The final resting place of many notable figures in Houston’s early African American community and of formerly enslaved Africans, this Texas Historic Cemetery and UNESCO Site of Memory for the Slave Route Project also illustrates unique African American burial practices developed in pre-Emancipation Black communities, including upright pipes as grave features, the use of ocean shells as grave ornaments, and upside-down or inverted text.

Over time, changing demographics and increased development led to the cemetery’s decline and abandonment. Decades of neglect, vandalism, uncontrolled invasive vegetation, and the occasional use of the cemetery as an illegal dumping ground took their toll. But the most persistent threat is the impact of extreme weather events due to climate change. Historic gravesites are being damaged and even lost entirely due to extreme precipitation events that cause erosion as uncontrolled run-off and greater volumes of water move at higher speeds through the bayou adjacent to the cemetery.

The nonprofit Descendants of Olivewood, Inc. formed in 2003 to restore and maintain the cemetery and now has legal guardianship. With the support of an African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund grant in 2021, the organization has undertaken a comprehensive study to clarify the extent of the threat from flooding and erosion, and identify specific protection and mitigation measures, but advocates will need partnerships and funding in order to implement these plans.

Join us for PastForward Online 2022, the historic preservation event of the year, November 1-4, 2022.

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