Saving Places Together: What We Keep Keeps Us
What we keep keeps us.
I recently heard Jaki Shelton Green—the poet laureate of North Carolina—use this phrase on a podcast called 27 Views, which brings together a collection of writers sharing stories about places they love. These words resonate deeply with me as I think about the work of National Trust for Historic Preservation, done with many partners over the past year and looking forward to 2023.
The full story of the phrase’s origin isn’t mine to tell—that privilege belongs to Green—but in a conversation we had as I prepared to write this piece, she described how she first said these words in a moment of inspiration when speaking about a family artifact. A hand-wrought nail, passed down through generations of her family, connects her with her grandmother’s grandmother and has helped to shape her into the powerful poet of history and memory that she is today.
As we spoke, I shared with Green that her phrase had captured the very essence of why we preserve places—cherishing and stewarding them because they are the evidence of what has happened, and the promise of what we can still do. What we keep keeps us.
At the National Trust, we are in the midst of vetting sites for our annual America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list, reviewing more applications for the program this year than we have ever received in the program’s forty years of existence. While this could be seen as an alarming indicator that more places are at risk, I choose to look at it another way. More people are standing up for the places that are important to them and their communities, standing up for the places that we cannot lose because doing so would diminish us all. What we keep keeps us.
Over the last few months, we’ve been thrilled to see significant federal and state government funds committed to restoring sites that have been on the 11 Most list in the past. As one example, in October, Arizona’s Camp Naco, included on the 11 Most list in 2022, received a $4.6 million award from the Office of Governor Doug Ducey.
These funds will preserve the rare adobe buildings that were the barracks and officers’ housing for the 9th and 10th Cavalry, also known as the “Buffalo Soldiers,” who patrolled the Mexican American border during the Mexican Revolution.
Today, this site is owned by the city of Bisbee, Arizona. A coalition of partners including the city, the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, the Southwest Buffalo Soldiers Association, and the Camp Naco Heritage Alliance came together to advocate for these irreplaceable resources and to honor this history in ways that benefit the community today. As Bisbee City Manager Steve Pauken said, “We have been working for twenty years to preserve the Camp, and now we will be able to continue some much-needed restoration of these historic buildings and tell the fascinating story of this place. . .. The result will be a living museum of Buffalo Soldier History, the Mexican Revolution and a place for tourism, arts, and culture. It will also create a sense of place and provide more community resources in Naco.” What we keep keeps us.
In mid-December, we had the single largest fundraising day in the history of the National Trust when we received grants totaling almost $25 million. The largest of these grants—$22.9 million from the Lilly Endowment—will allow us to continue the National Fund for Sacred Places, in collaboration with our friends at Partners for Sacred Places, for another four years. And in January, we will announce the first grants from our Preserving Black Churches program, also funded by the Lilly Endowment and an impactful new part of our African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. Both programs strengthen congregations and the communities they serve by ensuring that their meaningful and beautiful historic structures are preserved and accessible, and their inspiring histories are interpreted and elevated. What we keep keeps us.
Looking ahead to 2023, we are humbled and grateful to continue to engage with partners to advance initiatives that will preserve, protect, and interpret more places demonstrating that what we preserve and how we preserve are powerful tools for advancing justice and equity. The African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund will bring new resources not only to Black churches, but also to preserve the work of Black Modernist architects and to support families and descendants who are stewarding Black heritage sites and their significant legacies. In collaboration with advocates and communities across the country, we are also continuing to develop our America’s Chinatowns initiative that will bring together technology, research, and advocacy to ensure that these cultural touchstones remain vibrant places of entrepreneurship and exchange. What we keep keeps us.
Along Route 66, we will continue our advocacy for the Route 66 National Historic Trail Designation Act as we also work with dedicated groups and individuals along the 2,400 miles of this iconic roadway to develop a new program to tell its full history. We will join them in re-activating and celebrating places like the Osterman Gas Station, constructed in the 1920s in Peach Springs, Arizona, and now owned by the Hualapai Tribe with a vision to restore and re-open it. Or the Mitla Café in San Bernardino, California, opened by Lucia Rodriguez in 1937 and still operating today, with a rich history of notable customers including Cesar Chavez and other civil rights leaders. In cultural landscapes like Route 66, we see that our heritage is intertwined and layered, inseparable from both its complexity and its potential to shape a better future. What we keep keeps us.
In the coming year, we are also excited about collaborating with partners throughout the country to support and expand state historic tax credits. In 37 states (and counting!), state historic tax credits leverage the federal historic tax credit and other incentives to extend the benefits of historic preservation more broadly and more deeply.
Thanks to long-time donors David and Julie Uihlein, we are creating an interactive digital map of current state HTC programs and their impacts for advocates to use as they work with legislatures across the country. In summer 2023, we will release a report that brings together public and private sector expertise to identify ways to enhance state HTC incentives, not just to support the rehabilitation of buildings, but also as catalytic tools for economic development, affordable housing creation, and environmental sustainability. What we keep keeps us.
Our Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, already a network of 55 sites across the country, will begin work in 2023 with six sites in a new affiliates program to help support their ongoing development. These places elevate the stories of women, artists of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community as they paint a more inclusive and complete picture of our nation’s art history and carry forward their rich legacies of creativity.
Describing one of these sites and its future-focused vision, Carrie Rebora Barratt, Director of LongHouse Reserve, the home and studio of textile artist Jack Lenor Larsen, wrote to us, “Jack once said, ‘Conforming must be terribly dull. I never learned to do it,’ and thus built a modernist version of the Ise Shrine smack in East Hampton, New York, and planted a 16-acre garden of color and ideas and birds around it, all to enlarge his scope of work as a master of color, craft, and a master weaver. As stewards of his legacy—a program of both preservation and invention, attention to the past with a view to the future—we will enjoy support and guidance from our Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios colleagues." A program of both preservation and invention—what a potent combination. What we keep keeps us.
In 2023, we will also continue to develop our new Marder-Vaughn Center for Historic Sites Interpretation and Education at our National Trust Historic Sites. The driving force behind this center was Stan Marder—a visionary thinker, a strong supporter of the National Trust and our historic sites, and a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. All of those things came together in Stan’s belief that historic sites are the ideal environment to engage young people with civics because these places are the physical embodiment of our values, our flaws, our hopes, and—perhaps most importantly—our obligations to each other.
Stan died in July 2022, but not before he saw the first grants given by the center that bears his name, along with that of his daughter’s family. Thanks to Stan’s vision, young children visiting Filoli are learning about how individual decisions impact water conservation. At the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History at Decatur House, teachers are exploring slavery and courageous resistance to it right in the president’s neighborhood.
At President Lincoln’s Cottage, new educational games are engaging middle school students with how civics fosters bold ideas like those of Lincoln himself. At the Glass House, high school students are studying personal expression and civic rehabilitation, examining both the good and the bad of Philip Johnson’s life and work.
“We pulled it off,” Stan said of the new program the last time I saw him. I only wish I had known of Jaki Shelton Green’s profound words then to answer him. What we keep keeps us.
Dedicated to the memory of Stan Marder and with deep gratitude to Jaki Shelton Green for allowing me to use her evocative words and story to frame this piece.
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