National Preservation Month and historical definitions

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Uncategorized, Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History, Historic Preservation

National Preservation Month is about celebrating the historical old houses and buildings that are a reflection of our national heritage and working to preserve them for future generations to enjoy. The definition of what constitutes an important old house worth saving can be as diverse as our individual backgrounds and the experiences that make up our journey through life.

Old Georgetown House -- photo from DC SHPO

Old Georgetown House -- photo from DC SHPO

I grew up in rural Virginia and for many years my concept of historical old houses was defined by the farmhouses and manor homes that dotted the countryside. Many of them were at the end of long tree-lined drives and surrounded by acres of fields where horses grazed in the afternoon sun.  Quite a few of the homes dated back to the 1700s, and it was always easy for me to imagine the original owners standing in those same fields many afternoons ago.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college and had a chance to travel that my perception of old houses began to broaden.  I lived in Oklahoma briefly and had the opportunity to tour some of the old homes of the Southwestern states. I remember a Texas rancher in his 80s informing me that his spread near San Antonio was only about 1,000 acres because he had divided his time between ranching and teaching school. His beautiful brick house dated back to the 1800s, and the old homes of the area were quite a bit different than those of my youth.

My understanding of what constituted a historical old house went through radical changes as I began to become more involved in architecture and the construction industry. I had always been a country-boy, but a whole new world opened when I was exposed to some of the beautiful old houses in our nation’s urban areas. Today, my own backyard contains the historical homes that line the colonial era streets of Alexandria, Va. and the Georgetown section of D.C. Historical preservation organizations have been very successful in their efforts to save the old houses and buildings dating back to the founding of our nation that make up these two communities.

Preservation bucket lists

New York City Brownstone -- photo from citydictionary.com

New York City Brownstone -- photo from citydictionary.com

Bucket lists seem to be in vogue now and mine includes visiting two historical areas at opposite ends of the country. The diverse architectural designs of New York City have fascinated me for a long time. I want to see some of the historical sites I’ve read so much about, such as the famous Dakota building and the old brownstone townhouses undergoing restoration that create the sensation of taking a trip back in time.

The second stop on my journey of preservation enlightenment may require a little more planning, but should be well worth the trip. I often mention San Diego, Ca. when discussing cities where preservation efforts have been successful, and I’m looking forward to the visit. Any city that has been able to save entire neighborhoods must be doing something right.