The next conference in this chronological review of conferences is the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Conference held in Plymouth, MA, on September 20. This one-day conference was one I really would have liked to be able to attend but I just wasn’t able to work it into my schedule. Part of the attraction was the location itself plus the work underway to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrims.
I presume the location was picked with the 400th anniversary in mind. As the welcome letter said:
This year’s theme, “Untold Stories in Preservation” serves as a springboard for discussion, case studies and model preservation projects that reflect on and engage people in histories that have not been as widely acknowledged as others. Plymouth will be a touchstone for how different stories and legacies are represented and how historic preservation can play a role in presenting them.
By better understanding, representing and engaging the many histories encapsulated within our communities, historic preservation can have a more profound and lasting impact on our communities. As the 400th commemoration of the Pilgrim landing draws closer, now is a perfect time to be in Plymouth, learning, sharing, and growing as advocates, community leaders, and ambassadors of preservation. There is a tremendous amount of inspiration and education to gain from the Town of Plymouth.
Some sessions were Plymouth-centered.
Archaeology in Plymouth
In the late 1940s, Henry Hornblower II, a summer resident of Plymouth and a self-taught historical archaeologist, introduced the idea for an open-air museum dedicated to telling the story of the Pilgrims through replicas of Pilgrim and Native American dwellings in a village setting. Plimouth Plantation opened its doors in 1955, and since then, our knowledge of the pre-history and post-contact history of Plymouth―Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians alike—has grown considerably, largely due to the efforts of archaeologists, historians, and scholars. This session will discuss the history of the town and the “history of archaeology” as it has been manifested in Plymouth.
• Suzanne Cherau, Senior Archaeologist, The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. – MODERATOR
• Kristen Heitert, Senior Archaeologist, The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc.
• David B. Landon, PhD, Associate Director, Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, UMass Boston
• Jade W. Luiz, PhD, Curator of Collections, Plimoth Plantation
Related to this presentation were five tours.
TOUR: The History and Myths of Plymouth’s Waterfront (walking) limited capacity
Take a stroll on the waterfront and learn about the untold stories of Plymouth’s rich history, including the significance of Plymouth Rock, Town Brook, why the settlers chose this location, and some of the myths of the history we think we know.
• Vicki Oman, Associate Director of Group Participation and Learning- Museum Education and Outreach, Plimoth Plantation – Tour Leader
TOUR: Many Stories, One Landscape: Downtown Plymouth with Plimoth Plantation
Vicki Oman Associate Director of Group Participation and Learning- Museum Education and Outreach, Plimoth Plantation
Downtown Plymouth was known as Patuxet, and was home to Wampanoag people long before the Pilgrim story began. What do we know about the original landscape, and the Wampanoag communities who lived here? When Mayflower arrived in 1620, how did the Pilgrims build the first English homes here, and why did they use the architectural style they did?
TOUR: Plymouths’ Burial Hill (bus/walking) limited capacity
Visit Plymouth’s historic Burial Hill, final resting place for many of the Pilgrim’s and their families. Learn about this important historic landscape from the Friends of Burial Hill, the stories it tells about the people who lived here and see a conservation workshop taking place. This tour involves a climb up to Burial Hill and has uneven terrain and is weather dependent. Please wear appropriate clothing, shoes and consider physical ability.
Cheryl Caputo, Friends of Burial Hill – Tour Leader
TOUR: National Pilgrim Memorial Meetinghouse
Lea Filson Executive Director, Destination Plymouth
Tour where the Pilgrims built their first Meetinghouse after arriving on the Mayflower in 1620. From there, walk to the Mayflower Society House. The awe-inspiring Mayflower Renaissance Garden is behind the house, where you can view the landscape on your way back to the hotel.
One tour was dedicated to the reuse of buildings, a subject that also was the basis for one of the presentations.
TOUR: Downtown Plymouth’s CPA-Funded Buildings (bus/walking) limited capacity
Learn about the untold stories of partnerships with small, new, and established organizations working to make historical preservation affordable through adaptive reuse. Sites on the tour will include: The Center for the Arts: The 1898 Russell library; Spier Theater: The 1886 Methodist Church; Town Hall: The 1820 County Court House, National Pilgrim Memorial Meeting House: First Church 1899; and 1749 Court House and Town Square.
• Bill Keohane, Plymouth Community Preservation Committee Chair – Tour Leader
Not all conference locations are blessed with such an archaeological and historic context. Plus when people attend the conferences it is with the intention, among other things, of hearing what others are doing. Now imagine being able to participate in all four Plymouth-based sessions. Put these together and you have a nice tourist or historic heritage program. Wouldn’t it be great just to spend a day immersing yourself in the Plymouth experience combining talks, walks, and bus?
Earlier this year, I wrote about the African American Heritage Trail that I learned about at the Massachusetts History Alliance conference. Afterwards, I visited some of the sites in the Berkshires including some related to W.E.B. Du Bois. I was not at this church but will try to see it the next time I am there.
Re)Interpreting W.E.B. Du Bois In His Hometown (or How and Why to Save a Historic Black Church)
The community effort to save and restore Great Barrington’s Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church is part of a national movement to save historic Black places. In this session, Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed and Eugenie Sills will share the organization’s vision and journey to repurpose the property as an African-American heritage site and cultural center that will (re)interpret the legacy of W.E.B. Du Bois in his hometown, honor the history of the former church, and tell untold stories of the community it represents. They will address why this place and these stories matter and highlight key challenges, strategies, and successes of the project’s first three years.
• Frances Jones-Sneed, Board Member, Clinton Church Restoration
• Eugenie Sills, Interim Executive Director, Clinton Church Restoration
One session was devoted to the specifics of the preservation regulations in the state. A comparable session could be held in any state based on its regulations.
CPA After Acton: The Community Preservation Act and Historic Religious Properties
The Community Preservation Act, adopted by 175 Massachusetts cities and towns is an important source of preservation funding. A 2016 lawsuit against the town of Acton called into question the legality of using CPA funds for preservation work on historic religious properties. Needless to say, it’s complicated and there are still a lot of questions about the ruling and what happens next. This session will provide a synopsis of the lawsuit, ruling and its impact on CPA statewide. You will also hear from local CPC representatives about how they are moving forward and interpreting the ruling in their own communities.
• Stuart Saginor, Executive Director, Community Preservation Coalition – MODERATOR
• Patrick Moore, Attorney, Hemenway & Barnes, LLP
There were additional sessions related to the challenges of dealing with developers and the topic of historic tax credits. I have not been to many preservation conferences, but I suspect such presentations are standard.
Two sessions focused on the critical theme of storytelling. Once again as a reminder, we are a storytelling species so good storytelling is an important part of the preservation process.
How to Advocate for Special Places in Your Community
What’s better than a good story? A good story that is told well. When you love historic resources, you want others to love them too. Today’s preservationists need to engage different audiences across a variety of platforms. This requires attention to the words you choose and the methods you use to broadcast them. Your message should be concise, genuine, responsive to people’s interests, and will sometimes require creativity and resourcefulness. We’ll discuss how to use language, technology, and social media to learn, practice, and polish stories about your community’s special places.
• Stacia Caplanson, Circuit Rider, Preservation Massachusetts – MODERATOR
• Nicole L. Benjamin-Ma, Senior Preservation Planner, VHB/Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc.
• Deborah Costine, Friends of the Burnett Garfield House
• Grayce Rogers, Town Of Barnstable Gateway Greeter
Here is an example of one attempt to develop a collaborative storytelling project. I noticed the moderator and presenters were all from New Bedford. Now there is another community along with Plymouth that easily could create a one-day historic preservation package in the community. Put the two together and you have a weekend program. I am sure it has been done.
Amplifying the Untold Stories of Women of the SouthCoast Region
The Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the Southcoast project began in 2017 when a dedicated group of community members and institutions set out to explore the historical impact of women from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the SouthCoast region. Learn how they approached this research; ways they involved the community; and the website, materials, tours, and programs that resulted.
Janine da Silva, Cultural Resource Specialist, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park – MODERATOR
• Lee Blake, President, New Bedford Historical Society
• Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Fellow, New Bedford Whaling Museum
For one –day conference there was a lot going on. And I only selected some of the offerings otherwise I would be duplicating the program booklet! So while I could not attend this year, maybe next year.