Preservation began with nation's 'oldest and best'

February 28, 1993|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,Contributing Writer

In 1853, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union launched a successful campaign to save the Virginia home and burial ground of George Washington from development.

The effort is generally acknowledged as the beginning of the historic preservation movement in America.

To the early preservationists, the only history worth saving was a building that was a "national treasure" and would stand as a monument to an American hero.

"In the early years, preservation reflected only the oldest and the best," said Mark Edwards, chief programs administrator for the Maryland Historical Trust. "We preserved the homes of war heroes and other key players in our national history."

Over the years, the preservation movement has gradually broadened its goals, Mr. Edwards said, and today is "a better reflection of our community as defined by the people who live there."

As the movement evolved, buildings came to be valued not just for their famous residents but also for their architecture. The focus on individual house museums expanded to emphasize entire neighborhood historic districts. Nonresidential sites -- such mills, barns, churches and lighthouses -- gained new importance. And buildings with state and local significance also began to receive attention.

"Today we're looking at properties as part of the whole design of a community," said Ronald Andrews, administrator of the

Evaluation and Registration Unit for the Maryland Historical Trust. "We're not just looking at the fancy figurine on the corner. We've got a wonderful heritage out there, and we're not just in a pretty building syndrome. We're trying to save neighborhoods and cultures."

Today, preservationists are working to save what is culturally meaningful to various ethnic groups, said Richard Wagner, a partner in the Baltimore architectural firm of David H. Gleason Associates.

"Multiculturalism is the buzzword of the 90s for preservation," Dr. Wagner said.

Cultural preservation can include resources as intangible as language or landscapes with religious significance, added Ward Jandl, chief of Technical Preservation Services for the National Park Service.

"There is an awareness today that this country was developed by not just Anglos and that there are resources that are significant to a broad range of culturally diverse people," he said.

"Some of these resources may not be beautiful. They may be neighborhoods with very ordinary buildings. But significant events occurred there relevant to different groups of people."

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For information about historic preservation, write to: National Park Service, P.O. Box 37127, Washington, D.C., 20013, Attn: Preservation Assistance Division.

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