Tom Mayes, a 2013 Rome Prize winner in Historic Preservation from the American Academy in Rome is back in Washington, D.C., these days. But he hasn't stopped thinking and writing about why old places matter. His series of essays about his experiences and research continues here.
Old places foster community.
One of the first people I interviewed about why old places matter was Dennis Hockman, editor-in-chief of Preservation magazine, who lives in an old neighborhood near Baltimore, Maryland. Dennis told me that one reason old places matter is because of community. Dennis described a cluster of ideas about how old places foster community, from a shared sense of place, to the storytelling that happens in old neighborhoods, to the way people meet and gather on common ground. “People matter more than buildings, than things,” Dennis told me, “but the spirit of the people—the heartbeat of the community—is in the old things.”
We see how old places foster community in the way many old neighborhoods seem to have their own personalities,1 in the way Main Streets and historic post offices act as the daily gathering place for people,2 and in the way people in some old towns seem to be able to run into exactly the person they need to see exactly when they need to see them. People are proud of where they live. They identify with where they live. They are able to run their lives efficiently where they live. They feel connected and interconnected and embedded where they live. And when they leave, they may feel homesick, as I was when I first left the Ramah community near Huntersville, North Carolina, to go to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. I missed not only my family and our farm, but the whole familiar interconnected web of people and place that made up Ramah, from the taste of pound cake at dinners at our old, white frame church, to the cedar trees that lined the barbed wire fences at Mr. Ed Barnhardt’s farm.... Read More →