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Heritage, Archaeology, and Tourism: Massachusetts Historic Preservation Conference

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.

Happy Seventh Birthday Path through History: Creating a Cultural Heritage Trail

https://horseplaystore.com

August 28, 2019, marked the seventh birthday of the failed Path through History project. I was there on August 28, 2012, with hundreds of others for the opening fanfare. People were excited about this new initiative to revitalize cultural heritage tourism in the state with the creation of paths through history. As reported in CityLab (Amanda Erickson, 9/12/12),

…the Path through History…aims to turn upstate New York’s past into a tourist draw….Eventually the program will encompass an interactive website and smartphone app that “allows tourists to custom-trailer a trip based on specific top areas.”

Little did anyone know that the resulting project would rapidly degenerate into a big yawn signifying nothing.

Even as I write this blog, history sites throughout the state are being asked to submit events to the Path website for the Columbus Day weekend. As always these events will be local attracting people from the surrounding communities just as they would if the Path project did not exist. It is unlikely that there will be any paths, routes, itineraries, or anything that involves collaboration and cooperation among sites to draw on the buzzwords from seven years ago.

In this blog, I wish to explore the challenge of creating a viable cultural heritage tourism route/road/path. I have chosen three recent examples which highlight some of the potential as well as obstacles to developing such programs. In general, such endeavors are beyond what an individual site alone could do. The three are the Dutch in the Hudson Valley, history signs in Vermont, and an African American trail in Massachusetts. None of them are actual cultural heritage tourist programs at present but all involve or are related to the task of creating one.

The Dutch in the Hudson Valley 

This example comes from an article in the Sunday Travel section of the New York Times published June 23, 2019, by Russell Shorto. The article covered the front page and two pages in the middle of the section. If you are familiar with the Sunday paper then you know that is a lot of space. Shorto’s name also should be familiar as a writer and speaker about the Dutch presence in New York State.

I am in here somewhere

On October 17, 2017, I participated in a program convened by Cordell Reaves, Historic Preservation Program Analyst, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP). The title was “Connecting Dutch Heritage in the Hudson Valley Corridor.” People from a wide range of government and private organizations attended. Every “food group” in the history community was represented quite literally as we had Dutch food for lunch. Shorto was the plenary speaker.

During the one-day conference, we broke into roundtables to discuss a variety of subjects.

The Red Group: Research is the foundation on which all of our work is based- how do we get it out to the public

What new research or new programs are happening that could lead to potential programming collaboration?

The Blue Group: A freewheeling discussion followed focusing on the topic of educational/interpretive programs.

The Green Group: What problems exist that are keeping facilities from moving forward with their programming?

The notes from the discussions were subsequently typed up and circulated to the attendees. (I am using that PDF as the source document for this section).  I am not aware of any followup to these discussions which does not necessarily mean there was not any.

Subsequently, Cordell sent notices about the logo and the website to be used for the submission of Dutch-related events. Periodically, I receive notices about individual events but such notifications tend to be from the individual group presenting the event.

In the end it was Shorto himself who created an actual Dutch in the Hudson Valley Heritage tour. He did this by driving one weekend to the Dutch sites in the Hudson Valley. He started with the van Cortlandt House in the Bronx and headed north. He crossed the Hudson River on the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge with a “twinge of sadness” for the demise of the previous name, the Tappan Zee Bridge, a name that lives on with everyone who is not a government employee. His journey took him to Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz, the Stone House Bed & Breakfast in Hurley for the night, back across the Hudson to Kinderhook, Valatie, and Stuyvesant Falls, the Columbia Historical Society in the Lucas Van Alen House, the Mabee Farm with its barn, and the Van Ostrande-Radill House in Albany. It appears that he drove straight back to New York from there.

During his trip as a renowned author, Shorto had the opportunity to meet with people not normally on a tourist agenda. Similarly when I was doing Teacherhostels/Historyhostels we also met with people not normally available to the everyday tourist and for longer times than a standard tour. Still his weekend jaunt suggests the possibilities for a weekend tourist program and even a week long one with some more sites and extended tours of different sites. However, to the best of my knowledge no such tours exist although there have been some attempts to create one.

VERMONT ROADSIDE HISTORY MARKERS

Yes, there is one in Virginia from Vermont in the Civil War but not in New York for Ethan Allen at Fort Ticonderoga

The second item comes from a notice I received about a new web page for the roadside history markers in Vermont.  I was impressed by the comprehensiveness of the state’s recordkeeping and the accessibility of information about the individual markers.

Unveiled in 1947 by the Vermont Legislature, the Roadside Historic Site Marker program has proven an effective way to commemorate Vermont’s many people, events, and places of regional, statewide, or national significance. Over 265 cast-aluminum green markers, crested with the distinctive gold state seal, are placed throughout Vermont to provide a fascinating glimpse into the past and insights into the present.

If you wish to report a missing or damaged marker, please email Jennifer Lavoie at jennifer.lavoie@vermont.gov. Please let us know the name of the marker, location, and when you first noticed it was missing or damaged.

For new roadside historic marker, please review the Vermont Roadside Historic Site Marker criteria for evaluation and marker  application.

Applications for new State funded roadside historic site markers will be accepted after March 1, 2020.

To submit application forms, ask questions, or request additional information, please contact Laura Trieschmann at (802) 828-3222 or laura.trieschmann@vermont.gov.

The website also has a listing of the markers one can download and an interactive map showing their locations. Apparently, Vermont takes it history markers seriously. Wouldn’t it be nice if every state did?

And then there is the tourism factor. People sill stop and take a photograph at a history sign. People will search out such signs. Typically tourist departments do not think of history markers as tourist destination points. After all there may be no visitor center there, no staff, no bathroom, and limited or no parking. Yet the fact remains that people do want to stand at the exact spot where some event occurred or some person lived.  For example, there are a slew of John André markers besides the one where he was finally captured in Tarrytown and then hanged across the river in Tappan. How will people know such signs exist unless they live there and drive by them all the time? What about tourists?

One area of neglect is the linking of state history marker database (assuming it exists) with the tourist data base. Do you even have a complete inventory of the history markers in your village, town, city, county, or state? How many of them need repair? How many of them have inaccurate information? How many additional signs are needed to include people and events frequently ignored in the traditional history narratives? Imagine if high school students next spring for their senior service project canvassed their municipality for the history makers present and needed. Imagine if state history departments compiled an up-to-date listing. Imagine if history markers were linked to the state tourist map. There is more to cultural heritage tourism than big places with bathrooms, food, and gift shops. History markers should be included in cultural heritage tourism itineraries.

AFRICAN AMERICAN TRAIL PROJECT

Tufts University professors Kendra Field, left, and Kerri Greenidge oversaw the mapping of historic African-American sites across Massachusetts. Credit Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times

At the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference on June 24, 2019, professors Kendra Taira Field and Kerri Greenidge of Tufts University presented their African American Trail Project. They originated and completed the project inspired by another Tufts professor and with student assistance. It was not done at the behest of any tourist organization. At the conference, they distributed a map with 236 sites and there is a website with them as well…which is easier to update than the map.

The sites are not linked through any standard logo. Sites may not even have a sign of any kind. Sites may not even know they are on this trail. In this sense it is more of a database of identification than a working tourist itinerary.

Over the July 4 weekend, I was in the Berkshires and decided to visit the sites listed on the map for the region.  I started with the Stockbridge Cemetery since I was familiar with it from the Stockbridge Indian conferences I had attended (see Stockbridge Indian Conferences: Remembering the Indian Nations in American History). However finding the individual grave marked on the map in the actual cemetery was a little like finding a needle in a haystack. I decided instead to stop at the Stockbridge Museum and Archives which is not on the map. There I spoke with curator Barbara Allen. She informed me about the African American related exhibits and information at the historical society that one should see prior to going to the cemetery.

She also informed me about the African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley Trail. I had written briefly about the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area after picking up a brochure at the Stockbridge Indians Conference. I did not know about all their trails at that time. There are a variety of them. In fact, there is a counterpart to the Hudson Valley Ramble in September with a slew of walks and events in Berkshire, MA, and Litchfield, CT, over the four weekends. These four weekends provide great opportunities to create weekend programs not just for African-related sites but for history sites in general. Instead they are a collection of random events.

Moving on from Stockbridge, I then went to the James VanDerZee birthplace in Lenox. By coincidence, I had just seen an exhibit of his photographs from the Harlem Renaissance at ArtsWestchester in White Plains. The home is no longer standing and there is no sign there. Due to a recent fatal car accident, a change was made on Route 7 by the site which changes access to it. However I did go to the Lenox Library and it had a folder of materials on him including a savings account statement.

There are several W. E. B. Du Bois sites on the trail. The Du Bois Center in Great Barrington is in a small strip mall and doubles as a book store. It is a fount of academic materials and is not open to the public unless by chance the proprietor happens to be there. The W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite offers two free guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer season with a Ph.D. candidate but the brochure I picked up is dated 2016. The current website lists three tours for all of 2019. At the Great Barrington Visitor Center, I was informed of the Housatonic River Walk which goes by 200 feet from where Du Bois was born. The Housatonic is the “golden river” Du Bois wrote about. There is a park and garden there in his honor. The Riverwalk is not on the African American Trail Project.

The African American Trail Project is a work in progress. It will expand as additional research is done. I mention my own adventures to highlight the challenges in creating such a trail and transforming it into a tourist itinerary. I do so based on my own experiences in creating Teacherhostels/Historyhostels. They were very time consuming to create. In addition to research via the web, emails, and phone calls, on-site visits are still required. Plus as one delves into the site and talks to the people, one never knows what additional locations or people will be mentioned. In short, and to bring this long post to a close, to create actual tourist itineraries beyond the superficial ones of crossing places off a bucket list takes time and effort. Those qualities are precisely the ones that have missing in the New York State Path through History and any other program that simply lists places and/or signs.