September 20, 2018

7 Instagrammers Who Showcase America's Historic Places

  • By: Rebecca Gale

If you’re the sort of person who has trouble keeping your eyes on the road when driving through a historic district, there’s good news for everyone you share the street with: On Instagram, you can see thousands of incredible old buildings across the nation from the comfort of your own living room. Whether professional preservationists or hobby history buffs, countless shutterbugs have taken to social media to share photos of eye-catching historic sites they come across locally or while traveling.

We caught up with seven Instagrammers whose accounts showcase historic buildings to find out how they got started snapping photos of old places. Add these folks to your feed and remember to tag your own photos with the Trust’s signature hashtag, #thisplacematters, to share hidden historic gems you discover with fellow building huggers! (And don't forget to check out the back page of Preservation magazine, which highlights an image tagged with #thisplacematters.)


IG Handle: @thecardiganking

Bio: "Fashion photographer turned preservationist. Escaped the hustle and bustle of San Francisco for the small town charm of Toledo, Ohio."

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

Three years ago, I started volunteering with a fantastic organization called the Victorian Alliance of San Francisco. As a professional photographer, I found myself wanting to document the (sometimes lesser known) incredible interiors and exteriors found throughout the city. My time with the Alliance had such an impact on me that I decided to pursue a new life and new career in the Midwest, where I get to interact with historic preservation efforts every day. It’s been a wonderful journey!

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

Historic places tell the stories of people who have come before us—from the famous names in textbooks to the amazing craftspeople who put their love into every hand-laid brick or hand-carved baluster. It’s often said that preserving buildings of the past can help preserve our future, and I think interacting with these spaces changes us for the better. After all, who doesn’t feel inspired after looking at art?

What’s a historic site you think everyone should visit?

As a Bay Area native, I should probably say something like the Golden Gate Bridge or Lombard Street, but my answer is Newport, Rhode Island. You can see the progression of America from the 1640s to the 1920s in one seaside town. Visiting Newport solidified my decision to pursue historic preservation full time.

IG Handle: @pabarnum

Bio: "City Planner Moonlighting as a Preservationist (Central Plains | Midwest | Finger Lakes | SoCal | Deep South | Hudson River Valley)"

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

Definitely a preservation-related internship I had in Los Angeles during graduate school. I think many folks see the city as a wholly modern metropolis, an invention of the 1950s ... but I was visiting all these wonderful sites built in the mid-1800s that defied expectations. Thus I wanted to share my experiences and combat that misimpression, even if for only a few people.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

Historic places are often inimitable teachers of our past (even its more ignominious aspects). Such sites not only help provide a comprehensive portrait of the American experience, but can impart a curiosity and wonder that stands to inspire us in unforeseen ways.

What's a historic site you think everyone should visit?

I couldn’t limit myself to a single site! But I do think everyone should seek out the Mississippi Freedom Trail, which has more than 20 locations commemorating the people and places in the state that played an integral role in the nation’s civil rights movement.

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Rotunda: Los Angeles Public Library.

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IG Handle: @buildingsofnewengland

Bio: "Architectural Historian, New Englander, lover of Mid-Century everything!"

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

After living in various cities in the U.S. (and visiting even more), I found it interesting that each region really has its own character. Having grown up in New England, I wanted to showcase the various types of architecture and landmarks there are in the region besides the typical Colonial or Cape Cod styles. I work in preservation for my career and, being a millennial, I think it's important to showcase historic places in a format that is accessible to everyone!

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

It is crucial to study and preserve historic places because they tell us about who we are and where we come from. Often, communities say in hindsight that a building or place should have been preserved after it is too late, and I think much of the education and outreach is often overlooked. Historic places are more than just architecturally significant buildings or structures, they are neighborhood gathering places, schools, and everything that means something to a community.

What’s a historic site you think everyone should visit?

My absolute favorite place to be is Boston, especially walking around the small cobblestone streets and dead ends of Beacon Hill. The area became a protected City of Boston Landmark District in 1955, 11 years before the National Preservation Act was passed. There is such a rich history of architecture, abolition, and preservation here.

IG Handle: @noaccountingfortaste.home

Bio: "Lover of old things, historian of the obscure, documenter of projects; kittens

Los Angeles | New Orleans

vintage fashion: @noaccountingfortaste"

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

I love digging deeper into places and telling those forgotten stories that most people walking by don’t know. When I started traveling to New Orleans regularly, I realized every building in the city that survived the storm had something interesting to say. I want to document the incredible architecture in New Orleans, Los Angeles, and wherever else I travel because you never know how much longer these places will survive.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

Historic places contribute to the diversity of our everyday environments in terms of beauty, intricacy, level of craftsmanship and quality. They offer us perspective, an opportunity to step back in time and imagine what a day would be like without modern conveniences so we can gain a sense of wonder and gratitude at how much our lives as humans have changed (or not) over the last few centuries.

What’s a historic site you think everyone should visit?

Broadly, New Orleans, but specifically, I would say Congo Square in Armstrong Park, just at the back of the French Quarter. It might not look like much to the casual observer, but it is widely credited as being the birthplace of jazz, a Sunday gathering place where enslaved and free people of color made music and danced together on their day of rest. It’s a place of joy in the face of extreme adversity. As [jazz musician] Wynton Marsalis said, “Every strand of American music comes directly from Congo Square.”

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French Quarter contrast // #frenchquarter #neworleans

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IG Handle: @sbomac

Bio: "Travel Finds- Interesting Architecture, Historic Hotels, Stunning Scenery, and a golf course or two...www.moderndaytripper.com"

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Favorite DC building #architecture

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What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

I love the aesthetics of classic architecture, especially arches and domes, which I find photograph particularly well. My feed is full of preservation Instagrammers, so really it's only fair I share anything interesting I come across. It also helps spread awareness for struggling historic sites, which could use a few more visitors.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

Architecturally, they just don't build grand spaces like they used to. From the materials to the craftsmanship, these spaces just cannot be duplicated. No one is building a new public library with a Tiffany dome or mother-of-pearl inlaid mosaic tile. But fortunately, many of these spaces still exist, and with proper preservation, they can continue to inspire and serve the community well into the future.

What’s a historic site you think everyone should visit and why?

I would send everyone to the Library of Congress. It's a fabulous story—the British burning the Capitol along with the nation's library collection, only to have Thomas Jefferson offer up his personal collection to replace the burned books. The Library's circa-1890 Thomas Jefferson building is one of the most stunning structures in the United States, and it still houses some of Jefferson's original books. It truly is a temple of knowledge, with amazing architecture and artwork.

IG Handle: @elyhistoricrehab

Bio: "Young preservationists telling stories of a small wilderness town and its northern lore through the rehabilitation of its historic structures. elymn.alleyarealty.com"

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

We had collected odds and ends from our work in some of Ely, Minnesota’s historic downtown buildings and realized how many stories are embedded in the woodwork of these structures. Our goal was to connect, engage, and share these memories with our small town community during the restorations to give the objects context and bring these stories back to life.

Why do you think it's important to preserve historic places?

In a small town especially, restoring older structures preserves the identity of a place. Just like the stories within, no two buildings are alike—each has its own character! They are reflections of their time and highlight the cultural aspirations and ingenuity of the builders, entrepreneurs, and patrons that brought them to life. We believe that the best communities lead with a strong sense of place. Preserving buildings provides a foundation for a town’s future while feeding off their distinct past.

What's a historic site you think everyone should visit?

One of the most memorable historic places we’ve been is the Soudan Underground Mine State Park between Tower and Ely. You go underground a half mile and get a taste of what life was like for the early settlers who built northeastern Minnesota’s communities. It’s the state’s first iron ore mine from the late 1800s—the elevator ride down alone is worth the trek!

IG Handle: @housestories_

Bio: "History told, one house at a time"

What inspired you to start sharing photos of historic places on Instagram?

My earliest posts were a random collection of images, but I quickly found that the photos I shared of historic places were getting the biggest response. I have always loved photographing buildings, and I realized I had finally found an audience for those photos. As I posted more, I became fascinated by the history that the homes had seen and the people who had lived under their roofs.

Why do you think it’s important to preserve historic places?

While we can learn history in the classroom or by reading, there is nothing better than seeing firsthand how our ancestors lived. To stand in a home built centuries before power tools and electricity and look out on the land that may have supported a family with crops and livestock helps us appreciate how different life was in the past. Historic places should be treasured for the connections they provide to earlier days.

What’s a historic site you think everyone should visit?

The wonderful thing is that the vast majority of Americans probably live an hour or less from a historic site, so just about all of us have access to history in our communities without having to travel too far. For example, I discovered the Ogden House Museum in Fairfield, Connecticut, about 10 minutes from my home. The interior has been restored to how it looked over 250 years ago. Outside there is a garden with colonial-era plants and herbs. You can even buy honey harvested from bee hives kept on the property.

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Mark Twain is, of course, best remembered for his writing and witty observations, but he tried his hand at a few other things before settling on storytelling as his livelihood. He left school after the fifth grade and became a printer's apprentice. He was later a riverboat pilot and a silver prospector. In fact, Samuel Clemens's pen name came from his days on the Mississippi: weighted ropes measured the river depth for boats. If the mark was two fathoms, they would call out "mark twain." Samuel and Livy Clemens moved with their children into their Hartford home in 1874. Edward Tuckerman Potter designed it in the Victorian Gothic Revival style. Twain wrote "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and other books here. After losing all his book profits and much of his wife's inheritance on a failed typesetting machine venture, the family set off on a tour of Europe where Twain spoke to recoup his losses. Their daughter Susy died here at 24 in 1896 while her parents were abroad. They were unable to return and they never lived here again. Twain later built a home called Stormfield in Redding, CT. Despite the family's losses, Twain recalled his time in Hartford among his happiest. The home was rescued from potential demolition in 1929 and opened as a house museum in 1974. Many thanks to Deb (@thefrontdoorproject) for her hospitality in this marvelous treasure in Connecticut capital city. I highly recommend a visit to see how this remarkable man and his family lived.

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Related Story: How to Host an Instagram Tour of a Historic Place

One of the realities of the preservation movement is that it needs to continue to cultivate younger, more diverse followers. But to reach a generation that may be less interested in learning preservation facts and figures and more interested in experiencing history through lenses like design and pop culture, you need a different approach. Hosting an Instagram tour of a historic place can do just that, and has the added bonus of meeting Millennials where they spend a good chunk of their time: on their phones.

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Rebecca Gale is an Editorial Intern at the National Trust. In her spare time, you can find her visiting local museums, photographing historic buildings, or playing guitar.

Join the movement to save and sustain historic African American places. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will help every American see themselves, their history, and their potential in our collective story and national cultural landscape.

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