Historic Preservation in Cumberland
What is Historic Preservation?
Historic preservation in the United States started in the 19th century. George Washington’s famous Mount Vernon home was one of the first sites to generate local and regional grassroots passion for preservation. Gradually, preservation efforts began to incorporate larger areas and districts, such as the movement to preserve the old city of Charleston, South Carolina, begun in 1920 by a local women’s group.
But it wasn’t until the mid-20th century that historic preservation concerns and efforts really took root. Faced with decay and blight in urban areas, local governments began the practice of urban renewal: the complete demolition and replacement of historic urban cores in the hope of stimulating growth and development. With a massive loss of urban cultural heritage looming, citizens created organizations to protect the remaining historic resources.
Citizen support of preservation was strong enough that it led to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. The act created a comprehensive infrastructure for preservation. This involved the designation of State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPOs) headed by State Historic Preservation Officers, as well as the National Register of Historic Places, a list of federally recognized historic properties.
The 1966 Act also established the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for historic preservation, which lay out the four main treatments:
Preservation: Preserving a building as it has evolved over time, retaining as much of the historic character as possible
Restoration: Restoring a site to a certain time period, through removal of some features and preservation of others
Rehabilitation: Rehabilitating a building for new or continuing use, retaining historic character but allowing for the replacement and update of some features to meet needs
Reconstruction: Reconstruction of a historic site based on documented evidence or on ruins, usually for interpretive purposes (not ideal).
Most recently Historic Preservation is defined as any activity that identifies, protects, rehabilitates, or enhances historic resources. In the United States, historic preservation programs at the national, state, and local levels work to identify, evaluate, designate, and maintain historic structures, objects, sites, properties, and districts. It is a conversation with our past about our future. It provides us with opportunities to ask, "What is important in our history?" and "What parts of our past can we preserve for the future?"
Historic preservation therefore operates across a spectrum of activities and typologies, and can be defined in a number of ways depending on a large number of variables. One of these variables is change. Contrary to popular perception, historic preservation is often about managing change wisely. Change is constant. Buildings, landscapes, and neighborhoods all change. Continuity and change: We must embrace both in the 21st century.
Historic buildings can spur economic growth, nurture start-up businesses, and create jobs. They can reduce energy costs and environmental impact and can encourage health living practices like walking and cycling. They can help provide solutions to critical challenges like access, affordability, displacement, and climate change. They help turn diverse neighborhoods into communities and help us know who we are, where we come from, and where we must continue to go to achieve the full promise of the American dream.
Our nation's history has many facets, and historic preservation helps tell these stories. Sometimes historic preservation involves celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of; other times it involves recognizing moments in our history that can be painful or uncomfortable to remember.