This year’s list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places includes sites from across the country that portray the lives and history of a diverse cross-section of Americans—Alaska cannery workers, Texas sports fans, Native American lighthouse keepers, Chinese American laborers, the “jet age” airline passengers from the 1960s, and African-American officers in World War II. Their history is well worth saving, but unfortunately, the tangible reminders of where these ordinary Americans lived, worked, and played, is in peril.
Lack of funds for restoration and stabilization tops the list of obstacles to their preservation. But a number of other factors are contributing to their possible demise, including climate change, road-widening projects, new transmission lines, changing demographics, and the inability to find new uses for one-of-a-kind structures.
Winds of (Climate) Change
Shifting weather patterns are affecting many historic resources. A century of erosion, accelerated by increasingly significant storms, means that the Gay Head Lighthouse in Aquinnah, Mass., now stands about 50 feet from the edge of the Gay Head Cliffs. This active beacon and tourist destination is the only known lighthouse with a history of Native American lighthouse keepers and is representative of the Wampanoag people’s history of governmental and maritime service. Many local Wampanoag tribal members worked or were stationed at the lighthouse. The cliffs are continuing to erode, and soon there will no longer be enough land to support the equipment needed to move the lighthouse from its precarious position.
A proposed intermodal highway project threatens the Village of Mariemont, a National Historic Landmark in Cincinnati. The Ohio Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) proposed relocation of SR32, part of the multi-modal Eastern Corridor transportation project, would cross the southern border of the village. ODOT’s preferred route includes an elevated highway that would take a significant amount of land in the Village. The Village of Mariemont was designed between 1921 and 1925 by renowned landscape architect and community planner John Nolen and is considered one of America’s most important examples of town planning. This highway project would affect not only the village’s landscape, but also impact other natural and cultural resources in the area.
If it goes forward, a Dominion Virginia Power transmission project would adversely impact the integrity of historic and cultural areas that line the banks of the James River in James City County, Va., as well as recreational activities. The proposed transmission lines would affect more than four miles of the river and involve the construction of up to 17 towers to support the lines. The towers and power lines would intrude on the public vantage points from the Historic Triangle that includes Colonial National Historical Park, Jamestown Island’s Black Point, and Carter’s Grove Plantation.
Finding a suitable reuse for some buildings can be challenging, especially those that are quite large or that were built for a very specific use. The Houston Astrodome in Texas, which opened in 1965, is the world’s first domed, indoor air-conditioned stadium. Once home to Houston’s Oilers and Astros, this engineering marvel hasn’t seen a fly ball or touchdown since 2000, and today it sits shuttered and mostly empty. Without a viable reuse plan, the Astrodome will likely succumb to calls for demolition.
The dwindling rural population in Montana has led to the closure of many small rural schools. As these rural areas experience population loss, the enrollment at rural schools has also shrunk, rendering many of these resources underused or closed altogether. Fewer students have also led to a corresponding decline in local funding resources and local capacity to preserve them. As a result, many rural Montana schools face the kind of physical threats that can afflict any building that is not being maintained or used: neglect, vandalism, and exposure to harsh weather conditions.
To see the full list of the 2013 America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and find out steps you can take to protect them, visit www.preservationnation.org/11Most