Preservation Magazine, Winter 2023

Places Restored, Threatened, Saved, and Lost in Preservation Magazine's Winter 2023 Issue

In each Transitions section of Preservation magazine, we highlight places of local and national importance that have recently been restored, are currently threatened, have been saved from demolition or neglect, or have been lost. Here are five from Winter 2023.

An aerial shot of the Mifflin House in York County, Pennsylvania.

photo by: Susquehanna National Heritage Area/Open.Tours

Saved: Mifflin House

Once threatened by encroaching warehouse development, a historic 87.5-acre property with ties to the Underground Railroad and the Civil War in York County, Pennsylvania, is now on track for long-term protection. Preservation Pennsylvania announced in May of 2022 that after multiple years of negotiations, nonprofit The Conservation Fund had bought the land—home to an intact, circa-1800 stone house and 1850s barn—from Kinsley Properties and the Blessing family. The Fund is holding onto the site on behalf of the Susquehanna National Heritage Area (SNHA), which is gathering the money necessary to assume ownership. According to SNHA President Mark Platts and The Conservation Fund’s Northeast Regional Director Kyle Shenk, the transfer is expected to take place in late 2023.

SNHA aims to turn the property into a gateway for the lower Susquehanna region while maintaining its historic buildings. The plan involves sensitively transforming the barn into the SNHA’s visitor center and office space; the house would become an Underground Railroad educational center and interpretive site, Platts says. The property’s original Quaker owners, John Mifflin and his wife, Susanna Wright Mifflin, and their family worked with both Black and white local community members to ferry people escaping enslavement in the South across the Susquehanna River until their son Samuel sold the land in 1846. SNHA also plans to highlight a key Civil War skirmish that took place on the property just before the Battle of Gettysburg. Additionally, 8 acres of the property will be set aside for hospitality and retail development, which Platts says should help drive tourism and economic growth in the area.

The exterior of the Docking State Office Building in Topeka, Kansas.

photo by: Michael Gibson

Threatened: Docking State Office Building

The Kansas-based nonprofit Plains Modern is down to the wire in its fight to save the Docking State Office Building in Topeka. The 1957 structure, designed by John A. Brown, once primarily housed various state agencies. It has been vacant since 2011, when former Gov. Sam Brownback moved them out. A basement-level central utility plant powers the nearby Kansas State Capitol and other government buildings, however, which was one reason the structure escaped demolition. Preservationists’ hopes were buoyed in 2019, when the state hired architecture firm Clark|Huesemann to conduct a feasibility study. The firm concluded there were two viable options for the site; one was a full-scale renovation that would leave the original 14-story design intact.

But current Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration ultimately backed a different plan that involves demolishing all but the basement level and constructing a new three-story building. The plan calls for incorporating historic elements from the original building into the new design, including exterior stone relief panels crafted by Kansas sculptor Bernard “Poco” Frazier, interior limestone and granite cladding, and Vermont greenstone slabs from the curtain wall and flooring. As of press time, Plains Modern is seeking to halt the demolition through a petition for judicial review, arguing that the state did not properly follow the historic review process after the building earned a National Register listing in 2022. Michael Grogan, an architect and founding member of Plains Modern, says the “sophisticated, innovative” building is robust and deserves a renovation true to Brown’s original vision. He and others believe the building is perhaps the most important expression of postwar Modernist architecture in the city.

The exterior of the restored Hotel Belleville in Belleville, Illinois.

photo by: Andrew Bruah

Restored: Hotel Belleville

In September of 2022, an adaptive reuse project in the former Hotel Belleville in downtown Belleville, Illinois, won a Landmarks Illinois Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Advocacy, capping years of efforts by local preservationists. Utilizing low-income housing tax credits, as well as federal and state historic tax credits, a public-private collaborative led by the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority and Bywater Development Group transformed the 1931 structure into an affordable housing complex called Lofts on the Square. Construction finished at the end of 2021, and all 47 two-bedroom units were swiftly leased.

Because of its past as a hotel and, later, a senior living facility, the building was well suited for housing, says architectural historian Michael Allen, the former director of Preservation Research Office, which consulted on the $14.2 million project. The team still had plenty of work to do, though; the building had been significantly altered before becoming vacant in 2010, when the city of Belleville purchased it. Crews carefully preserved the public areas, restoring original features such as terrazzo floors that had been under carpeting for several decades. “The upper floor corridors really do look like a ’30s hotel again,” Allen adds. As for the exterior, the team repaired broken terra cotta and removed the 1960s storefront windows, replacing them with glazing closely resembling the original. Based on the success of Lofts on the Square, Allen hopes more adaptive reuse projects geared toward affordable housing will follow in Belleville’s well-preserved downtown.

The exterior of the American Can Company building in Eastport, Maine.

photo by: Old Sow Publishing

Threatened: American Can Company Building

The American Can Company building was a hub for the flourishing sardine industry in Eastport, Maine, during the first half of the 20th century. But as the industry diminished in the postwar era, the 30,000-square-foot brick building on the Passamaquoddy Bay also fell on hard times. The wooden roof has taken a particular battering from the elements, making it difficult to keep water out of the building. That didn’t stop Dirigamus, a women-owned community development group, from purchasing the vacant property around 2005. The preservation-minded local team had successfully rehabilitated another historic building in Eastport and hoped saving the 1908 American Can structure would provide a similar boost for the community. Almost two decades later, though, fundraising efforts have fallen short.

Despite the financial hurdles, Dirigamus has a design plan in place for an adaptive reuse project. Known as Lantern on the Pier, the project would include retail space, conference and hotel rooms, a warming kitchen, and 14 apartments—all while honoring the historic nature of the building, which is part of a National Register–listed district. Linda Cross Godfrey, a Dirigamus partner, says she has a renewed sense of optimism following Maine Preservation’s decision to include the American Can Company building on its list of the state’s most endangered sites in September of 2022. The listing, she believes, could provide new opportunities for fundraising and outside investment.

The exterior of the Carnegie library in Joplin, Missouri.

photo by: Jill Halbach/Post Art Library

Threatened: Joplin Carnegie Library

Missouri Preservation added one of the Show-Me State’s early Carnegie libraries to its Places in Peril list in October of 2022. The circa-1903 Neoclassical Revival structure, designed by architect August C. Michaelis and built from local limestone, served as the city of Joplin’s public library for much of the 20th century. In 1981, the city opened a more modern facility in light of concerns that the older library’s second floor could no longer handle the weight of its books.

The Carnegie library building was later sold to private owners, who utilized the space as both a residence and the site of their technical institute. The same family still owns the building, but it has been vacant for years and damaged by vandals. A structural analysis performed in the spring of 2022 determined that the former library was structurally sound, especially for its age. There were fears that damage from a fire in June would change that outlook, but Lori Haun, executive director of the Downtown Joplin Alliance, says the blaze did not threaten the building’s integrity. Haun and other local organizers are working with the current owners to orchestrate a sale. Haun says the building means a great deal to the family and that they would like to find a buyer focused on an education-related adaptive reuse project.

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Tim O'Donnell is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He spends most of his time reading about modern European history and hoping the Baltimore Orioles will turn their fortunes around. A Maryland native, he now lives in Brooklyn.

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