Historic Preservation in Indiana: Essays from the Fieldby Nancy R. Hiller
Over the last half century, historic preservation has been on the rise in American cities and towns, from urban renewal and gentrification projects to painstaking restoration of Victorian homes and architectural landmarks. In this book, Nancy R. Hiller brings together individuals with distinctive styles and perspectives, to talk about their passion for preservation
Over the last half century, historic preservation has been on the rise in American cities and towns, from urban renewal and gentrification projects to painstaking restoration of Victorian homes and architectural landmarks. In this book, Nancy R. Hiller brings together individuals with distinctive styles and perspectives, to talk about their passion for preservation. They consider the meaning of place and what motivates those who work to save and care for places; the role of place in the formation of identity; the roles of individuals and organizations in preserving homes, neighborhoods, and towns; and the spiritual as well as economic benefits of preservation. Richly illustrated, Historic Preservation in Indiana is an essential book for everyone who cares about preserving the past for future generations.
"If you’ve ever wondered about some of our historic buildings that were almost lost, take a look at Historic Preservation in Indiana. If you’ve ever wanted a powerfully written book to explain that pride in history, take a look at Historic Preservation in Indiana." —Little Indiana
"Indiana is called home by individuals whose larger careers and production have been influential in the broader national discussion of public history and architecture. These reflections on the quality of place illustrate how the experience of environment for all of us is a series of choices made by regular citizens." —Nancy Hiestand, Historic Preservation Program Manager, City of Bloomington, Indiana
"Successful preservation doesn't happen in a vacuum—and yet the importance of individual efforts cannot be overstated, either. Through a series of compelling essays, Historic Preservation in Indiana shows us both the far-reaching ripples of one person’s singular endeavors, and what can be accomplished when entire communities ride waves of preservation education and triumphs." —Demetra Aposporos
, Editor-in-Chief, Old-House Journal
"This is a must-read for anyone seeking to save meaningful places. This collection of fine essays on historic preservation motivates, provokes, and inspires the reader to become engaged with their own built environment. The authors collectively profile the challenges and solutions of revitalizing neighborhoods and downtowns, as well as our agricultural and industrial surroundings." —Mark Dollase
, Vice President of Preservation Services, Indiana Landmarks
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Historic Preservation in Indiana
Essays from the Field
By Nancy R. Hiller, Kristen Clement
Indiana University PressCopyright © 2013 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
Historic preservation is a natural aspect of human existence, an inevitable result of our being creatures of memory and intention. We select and protect things to locate ourselves in time, in space, in society. The old woman on a green hill in Ireland washes weekly and displays daily her precious collection of plates; each was a gift and together they map her connections to family and friends, both living and dead. The young Turkish woman in a rocky mountain village folds into a studded chest her gathering of textiles, embroidered or woven by her grandmother, her aunt, her beloved sister. The Chinese potter fills his cramped apartment with antique crocks and jars that heal the rupture of the Cultural Revolution and provide him models for creation. The old soldier polishes his granddaddy's sword. The jazz master still has the trombone he played in the high school band. I have the family Bible, inscribed in different hands between the testaments with the dates of births and deaths running back to the eighteenth century. The things we save position us in the flow of time, helping us remember the past and imagine the future, keeping us balanced for contingency, sane and ready.
The spirit in small, portable, cherished things becomes steady in space when we hold to the plot of ground into which the ancestors plowed their sweat and hope, when we choose not to raze the old home-place, though it is empty of all but ghosts and junk, or when we make the living home, loud with children, into a familial exhibit. Through the things assembled into a domestic setting – heirlooms and souvenirs, proud purchases and framed family photos – we read ourselves and project an image to all who cross the threshold.
Personal and familial urges to save, collect, and display blend with communal purpose in the buildings we accept as emblems of collective identity and value. The museum comes quickly to mind; but more general in the world, reaching wider in space and deeper in time, are the places of worship where time accumulates in the context of eternity and preservation is a communal obligation. The sacred building shelters a collection – images in the temple, carpets on the floor of the mosque – making it into a museum with a constantly changing exhibition of art, a testament to collective aesthetics. The building's form and ornament embody collaborative aspirations, signaling local desires as they change or hold steady. In England, 18,000 parish churches combine into a record of local efforts at preservation and development that have continued for the better part of a millennium.
Preservation and development: in our time, these forces can purify into conflict between preservationists who can abide nothing new in their historical experience and developers who can abide nothing old that blocks their path to profit. But in the history of the parish church these forces meshed in a process within the community's control, a control like that of the householder today who saves some things and jettisons others while remodeling the family home to meet shifts of fashion and need. The main differences lay in the large number of people involved and the long spans of time during which preservation and development ran in accord within the parish church.
Fixed in place, on holy ground where the old folks lay buried, the parish church gave permanent form to religious ritual, stepping down from tower to nave to chancel. Within the building's constant frame, the parishioners preserved the ancient font where generation after generation came into communal life and the monuments to the dead that trace a sequence of artistic styles. Communal prosperity was celebrated by increasing the height of the tower, developments in engineering brought wider windows that welcomed more light, ideas drifting from France and Italy inspired alterations in ornamentation, but the building's basic form held firm. The parish church was old and new, preserved and developed by collective effort into a public architectural symbol of corporate identity.
In normal times, arguments in the village for stability or change were resolved in a forward process that honored both preservation and development, a process general in the world's places of worship that makes them historical treasures. But customary practices can be violently disrupted in revolutionary moments. The Reformation was such a time. The altars were stripped, the walls whitewashed; Catholic imagery gave way to the Protestant word. At Stratford, Shakespeare's father was the unwilling agent for such radical change. Then, three centuries later, attempts to recover what had been lost led to the Gothic Revival in new building and acts of restoration during which old churches were rebuilt to match the ideal of a Gothic past.
A chief consequence of restorations that scraped away change to reveal an imagined original was Anti-Scrape, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the first modern movement for historic preservation. William Morris, who founded the Society in 1877, considered ancient buildings to be living history; they should be repaired, he thought, new uses should be found for them, but they should be protected against falsification, the fatal vanity of restoration.
Several of England's parish churches provided key evidence during the argument for historic preservation. William Morris's outraged reaction to the restoration of Burford Church in Oxfordshire is the story normally told, since it led directly to the creation of Anti-Scrape. Here is another.
Saint Petrock, one of the Irish saints who brought the Good News to England, established his church at Parracombe in Devon. What remains from the time of the saint, fifteen centuries ago, is the sacred earth on which, in time, a parish church was raised in the traditional form: tower on the west, chancel on the east, the high hall of the nave in between. To the west along the southern wall, the building offers an informal entry. Stand there, look in, and you will see the eleventh-century font, a thirteenth-century rood screen, sixteenth-century benches and windows, a seventeenth-century tympanum bearing the Ten Commandments, eighteenth-century pews, and neoclassical memorials from the early nineteenth century – a richly mixed accumulation, the materialization of local craft and concern, a profound historical text.
As the story was told to me when I made my pilgrimage to Saint Petrock's, during the nineteenth century when it was fashionable to scrape old churches back to a fancied pure state, the people of Parracombe invited John Ruskin to come and advise them on how to restore their church. Ruskin was by then a famous author, an art historian who united aesthetics and morality in evaluation. Two decades earlier he had published The Stones of Venice, and the book's chapter on the nature of Gothic architecture was, William Morris would write, "one of the very few necessary and inevitable utterances of the century." Ruskin's advice was to build, if they wished, a new church in the Gothic manner, which the parishioners did in 1878, but to leave Saint Petrock's alone. And so it remains in all of its complexity, an object lesson for preservationists.
One lesson taught by Saint Petrock's leads to the Anti-Scrape position, adopted on our shores by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. From the standpoint of history, it is best to stabilize old buildings and preserve them as they stand, as records of original production and subsequent alteration. It is reasonable to search for old buildings that remain near their original state, for they take us into direct encounter with the culture of the past, but it is unreasonable to restore them, if restoration means the removal of healthy old fabric and its replacement with new, and unreasonable to judge a building unworthy of preservation because modifications obscure its original character. Those modifications render the building, like Saint Petrock's, more historical, not less.
Consider a local case. On Kirkwood Avenue, the commercial strip linking the courthouse square with the campus of the university in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, stood one last, lone, old house. It was a perfect example of an I-house, named by the geographer Fred Kniffen for its high, narrow profile. As an architectural feature of the landscape, the I-house brings southern Indiana into the master region of the southeastern United States. From the middle of the eighteenth century through much of the nineteenth, I-houses sheltered prosperous families on the farms and in the towns, changing in ornament, but holding steady in form, like the old parish church. The house on Kirkwood, most recently meeting commercial needs, stood empty on a piece of property that the officers of the adjacent bank wished to convert into yet another parking lot. The plan of the I-house runs a hallway between balanced rooms, and when demolition began it was discovered that one of the rooms had been a log cabin, a rare survival from the earliest days of settlement. Not enough of the cabin remained to permit its restoration into a pioneer monument, and so demolition proceeded with but slight protest from the city's preservationists.
An excellent opportunity was missed. The house stood on a busy street, near the city's center. If it had been saved and adapted gently for new commercial use, the house could have told the story of Bloomington's development, teaching of the change from a log cabin that evoked the settlement phase, to a stately vernacular dwelling from the town's first period of comfort and prosperity, to a commercial site, fit to the city's present. The house's complexity – a cabin, buried in a house, converted into a shop – made it, like Saint Petrock's, more historical, more valuable, not less.
Here is Saint Petrock's second lesson. An old building, tolerantly preserved, it informs us about past practice, teaching about a time when preservation and development combined into a single process, and history took care of itself. As a result we have many buildings – Todai-ji in Nara, the Sri Minakshi Sundaresvara Temple in Madurai, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Santa Sabina in Rome – that are more than a thousand years old and still in use. Restoration and movements for historic preservation belong to moments of catastrophe and disruptive change. Buildings bombed in wartime require concerted acts of restoration. Buildings left behind or aside during eras of dramatic change call for the laws and actions of organized preservationists.
Rome provides an early instance of the situation we face today. The city became Christian, the empire collapsed, and ancient pagan monuments were left standing around. Some were preserved by being put to new uses. The Pantheon, rebuilt in Hadrian's day, became the church of Saint Mary of the Martyrs, surviving to serve as a model for the Rotunda of Mr. Jefferson's university in Charlottesville. The Temple of the Deified Romulus was repurposed into a vestibule for the Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian. The Arch of Titus, erected in the Forum to commemorate the fall of Jerusalem, was built into a fortification and later provided walls of support for private houses. But there were others. In their attitudes toward the antique monuments for which no practical use had been found, the popes, now the princes of Rome, differed. Some plundered the monuments for materials to use in new projects; others, though, issued edicts – key documents in the history of preservation – that ensured the preservation of some monuments for historical reasons. And so, enough of ancient Rome remained to entice centuries of tourists, including Edward Gibbon, who, standing amid the ruins, was inspired to write his masterpiece, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
In the far Roman past, then, we find two motives for historic preservation, two reasons to save old buildings that have endured though a cataclysmic change. One might be called practical, the other symbolic, but both are varieties of use. Old buildings can be renovated to fulfill practical functions, becoming part of contemporary life, and old buildings can be used symbolically to construct an idea of the past that undergirds contemporary life.
By being put to some use in the present, buildings are most likely to survive from the past. And a benefit follows for those who protect or interpret them, who restore or convert them, who live or work in them: they come into engagement with history, learning that they are, like the people of the past who built or remodeled, responsible participants in time's ongoing motion.
Conversions for practical use are hard to manage, but not hard to defend and conceptualize in the light of the writings of James Marston Fitch, to my mind the greatest of American preservationists. If the fabric is sturdy and the adaptations to new need are performed with respect, preservation for some stretch of the future is assured. Symbolic use, though, is deeply vexed, for to call it historic preservation, and not preservation simple, some notion of the historic is necessary. The popes did not favor the retention of everything old, but of those monuments, such as the Arch of Constantine, that gestured to an imperial past and supported their temporal power in the present.
That is, the preservation of buildings to meet the practical needs of shelter and the symbolic needs of the ruling class, which are always tumbled in the flux of economic and political priorities, will not yield an architectural range, will not incorporate an idea of the historic, adequate to a democratic society.
This is what I mean. Forty-five years ago, I traversed the landscape of Virginia to locate an area that could stand as a core sample of the region-lying east of the Blue Ridge, south of the Susquehanna Flats, and north of Albemarle Sound. Then I surveyed the area, taking photographs in great numbers, making a schematic record of all 338 houses, and drawing carefully measured plans of representative examples. Three years ago, I returned with a filmmaker, Dave Ellsworth, who planned to make a movie about the book in which I reported my findings, a book that used architecture to challenge conventional historical understandings. Having recently witnessed massive destruction on landscapes I had surveyed earlier in Alabama and Ireland, I was apprehensive on my return to Virginia, but relieved to find that many of the old houses remained. But not all, and there was a pattern in loss. I had chosen the area for its architectural range: it had small houses as well as grand. Only the larger houses had survived. Some of the grand houses that had been derelict and, I thought, beyond recall, like the Parrish mansion, built in 1711 and rebuilt in 1786, had been tastefully restored, but the small houses, like Sam Dabney's, built around 1770 – the smallest houses, every one of them, were gone. The effort to save the old houses fit to contemporary use had created a landscape that told a story of prosperous white people, from which the poor, white or black, had been eliminated. The landscape had changed to echo the history found in books.
Homeowners in Virginia, like Dan and Mary Bouton, Ann M. Bradshaw Eley, and Fred and Pam Richardson, who were alert to historical significance, had done all that private enterprise can do. The landscape no longer offered a sharp contrast to written history; the smaller houses, unsuitable to the lives of people prosperous enough to restore old homes carefully, had vanished, but many important vernacular houses had been saved. To do more within the frame of preservation for practical use would have required the coordinated effort of an organization for historic preservation.
My town has such an organization, Bloomington Restorations, Incorporated. The fine houses, Italianate in form, Queen Anne in ornamentation, that line North Washington Street have been handsomely refurbished by their owners in the way that houses a century older have been in Virginia. But in its Affordable Housing Program, with the leadership of Steve Wyatt and Don Granbois, BRI has crafted a connection between housing laws and historic preservation regulations to restore small, modest houses and make them available at low cost to people who live on a limited budget. The program balances tendencies toward the grand in preservation, widening the scope of inclusion, but the limit of preservation for practical use has been reached, and some buildings still stand beyond. I have, in my time, watched the disappearance of workshops and woodsheds, stables and garages from the back alleys, buildings that could have taught much about domestic life, industry, and transportation in the city's history.
History, to be clear, is not the past, most of which has gone without a trace, but a story about the past designed to be useful in the present, and the things called historic, whether wordy documents or mute artifacts, are the materials out of which an idea of the past can be constructed. The question that remains concerns the historic. Made pragmatic, that question is, which buildings deserve preservation? The European answer is this: every building that exhibits the culture of its place.
Excerpted from Historic Preservation in Indiana by Nancy R. Hiller, Kristen Clement. Copyright © 2013 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Nancy R. Hiller is a cabinetmaker and principal designer at her firm, NR Hiller Design, Inc. She is author of A Home of Her Own (IUP, 2011) and The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History (IUP, 2009) and has published in numerous period design and woodworking magazines, including American Bungalow, Old House Interiors, and Fine Woodworking.
Kristen Clement is a natural light photographer based in Bloomington, Indiana.
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