A broadsheet campaigned to save the residence once own by man Hancock. Courtesy of Historic brand-new England

In the center of the 19th century, the residences of two starting fathers, man Hancock and George Washington, were in danger of being take it down. Because that the Massachusetts patriot with the famous signature, it to be his residence just turn off of Boston usual in the city’s city center. Because that the nation’s first president, it to be his rural Virginia estate, mountain Vernon.

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The press covered the potential damage of the 2 sites through horror, and according to historian Whitney Martinko, the divergent fates of these homes encapsulates the history of historic preservation in the united States. While the mount Vernon women Association elevated funds to purchase the president’s mansion indigenous his nephew, and also continue to own and also operate the residential property today, Hancock’s home was sold and torn under to construct new residences.

“What did it mean about the United claims if its citizens were most interested in exactly how much money they could garner indigenous developing any type of land available?,” asks Martinko. Her new book, Historic actual Estate: market Morality and the national politics of preservation in the early on United States, examines this question, amongst many others, in a fascinating exploration of how Americans grappled with keeping their previous (or not) amid financial booms and also busts. Native its more quickly years as a nation, the country’s government and its citizens fought over the costs and benefits of historical preservation, at time grounded in surprisingly steady beliefs about whose background deserved to be protected.

Martinko spoke v Smithsonian around the themes of her book and the history of historic preservation in the unified Sates.


historic Real Estate: industry Morality and the politics of conservation in the at an early stage United claims (Early American Studies)

In historic Real Estate, Whitney Martinko shows just how Americans in the fledgling United claims pointed to evidence of the previous in the world approximately them and also debated whether, and also how, to preserve historic structures as permanent features of the new nation"s landscape.


Let’s start with the most evident question—what exactly is historical preservation?

Historic conservation is the practice of reasoning through exactly how to manage historic resources, and can encompass things choose cemeteries, entirety neighborhoods, farms or infrastructure. It encompasses the development of locations like historical house museums the are open up to the public, however it also includes places like private homes for individuals who want to store the historic character of your residence, or company owners who could want come inhabit a historic building, but want to also make usage of it v adaptive reuse.

It might be as simple as doing part research into the background of a house by looking at things choose census records, old deeds and likewise looking at possibly physical hints of the house’s past. So you could chip away repaint layers on your walls and say, "Oh we discovered some old paint. We desire to try to keep that original character intact."

On the local level, historic preservation might likewise involve creating a nomination for the local historic register. Because that instance, ns live in Philadelphia; there"s a regional register of historic places the is controlled by the city’s historic commission. And those exist all over the unified States.

What makes the history of “preservation” therefore compelling?

We could think historical preservation is around stopping time, freeze something in the past. Yet in fact, historical preservation today, as well as in the past, has constantly been about managing change. In the very first half that the 19th century, people in the at an early stage United states were concentrated on the future and around managing change in a contemporary nation.

The background of historic preservation likewise helps us appreciate what has actually been preserved. Independence Hall has actually been preserved, mountain Vernon, and a many our national iconic sites, and local sites—we should know them in the paper definition of what was demolished. Preserved historical sites room the an outcome of options that were made continuous to keep these structures in place.

Looking in ~ the history of historical preservation helps us to watch how world made these decisions, and how those decisions reflected debates about wider social and economic values.

What to be those values for american in the an initial decades that the united States, between the revolution and the civil War?

The residents of the early nation tried to work-related out a very practical, tangible solution to a main issue the they confronted then and that we confront today: the relationship between pursuing personal profit versus the general public good.

This concern took on brand-new importance to world living with the Revolutionary Era, because that project of country building sparked debates around what would be the guiding worths of the unified States. Some suggested that preserving historical structures was a windy good, others the private economic gain—which could mean demolition—was additionally in the public interest. This debate proceeds to shape preservation and larger discussions around private matches public understanding today.

Who gets to decide what is preserved?

Historic sites space really interesting due to the fact that they came to be a flashpoint. The property owner could want to execute one thing, and also maybe various other citizens in the community wanted to perform another, and also they’re making insurance claims that this church, or this historical house, or this cemetery yes, really belonged come the whole community. Or the the site brought historic meaning for people beyond the property owner. And so these are the debates that I"m really interested in mine book. Preservation forced human being to make decisions around what exclusive ownership really looked like and also whose voices mattered once considering the fate of sites that people thought to be historic.

What is it about preservation in the beforehand United states that"s different and also important?

The usual history of historic preservation in America regularly starts with the starting of the mountain Vernon ladies Association in the 1850s, a minute in the United states we might have called the birth of preservation. The colonial Revival come after this, later in the 19th century and also early-20th century, wherein there"s attention in either maintaining sites indigenous colonial background or make replicas of colonial era objects and also homes. The not successful fight to save Penn station in new York in the early 1960s is also a moment people look to as critical grassroots effort. And of course, federal law in the 1960s, the National historic Preservation plot of 1966 collection up the national Register of historic Places.

But the era prior to 1850 has actually been overlooked in the context of historical preservation. Many human being living in the new nation were engaging in discussions over exactly how to keep historical sites. Americans to be trying to uncover tangible remedies to defining the economic and also social values of the beforehand United States. Have the right to corporations serve the public good? Or are they only a auto for the exclusive interest? A lot of historic churches and also city sites to be owned by corporations, so Americans experienced the fate of this sites as an answer to these bigger questions. Early Americans questioned the preservation of historical structures to answer similar questions around the nature of advertisement profits and real estate speculation.

The full broadsheet calling because that the Hancock Mansion to be preserved. Courtesy the Historic new England

John Hancock’s home in Boston and also George Washington’s estate at mountain Vernon elevated these issues. While one remained in the heart of Boston and one was follow me the grape max in countryside Virginia, in both cases, actual estate developers were interested in them as investments, i beg your pardon made world really upset. One rumor to be that man Washington, the nephew of George Washington, to be going turn Mount Vernon right into a hotel or also a manufacturing facility site. A comparable reaction occurred in Boston as soon as developers to buy Hancock’s home as a teardown to placed in new homes. World wondered just how someone could develop of this properties together anything but sacred sites, that need to be valued as monuments to the good men who lived in them. And also others interpreted their worth as commercial real estate.

The mountain Vernon ladies Association formed and purchased George Washington’s home, and also has preserved it to this day. However in 1863 man Hancock"s house met a different fate; it came to be the site of brand-new townhouses.

How walk the drive for historic preservation mesh through the drive for westward Expansion?

In the 1780s, a number of men moved from Massachusetts into the Ohio Valley and also planned the town of what became Marietta, Ohio. They made decision that they want to legislate the conservation of what they called Monuments of Antiquity, indigenous earthworks constructed in the Ohio flow Valley. They saw these as facets of the constructed environment and ed them evidence of what they would contact human civilization, or in this case, American civilization.

Architecture is just one of the ways that beforehand Americans thought around the development of history. They thought that you could chart the rise of civilization, in their words, by looking at the material products of specific people at various times. Therefore they witnessed earthworks as evidence of those that came before them--what lock called ancient America.

Similarly, lock saw early american mansions constructed in the 17th century or early on 18th century as evidence of the state of society in the colonial era and also buildings created in the 19th century in the at an early stage U.S. As evidence of the state of culture in the early on United States. So fairly than turning away indigenous a colonial or native past, occupants of the at an early stage United says really adopted these older structures as proof of what they would consider to be the progressive breakthrough of American civilization. And the United states was just the next step in the advancement.

Did native Americans have actually a duty in their very own version of preservation?

Many citizens of the beforehand United States commemorated their idea the indigenous world in the past while denying living neighborhoods a location in the united States. U.S. Migrants come the Ohio flow Valley celebrated and also preserved what they witnessed as ancient abandoned design while killing and removing indigenous residents the the exact same region.

A more facility case of indigenous Americans associated in disputes over preservation, together opposed to being the objects the preservation, was the of thomas Commuck, a Narrangasset man. Commuck had inherited a household farm close to Charlestown, Rhode Island, the he wanted to offer to assistance his move from the Brothertown nation, then in new York State, to Wisconsin. The state the Rhode Island was an alleged to it is in holding Narragansett lands in trust for the community, but was additionally trying to market off parcels as personal property, for this reason they permitted Commuck to perform so, too.

But in ~ the exact same time, various other Narragansetts remained in Rhode Island and were trying to save their homes, your language, and also their communities in place.

What we watch is yes, really two different strategies among the Narrangansett for trying to maintain family and survive in the brand-new United States. Thomas Commuck to be trying to earn cash to start a brand-new home in the West also as other Narragansetts were trying to maintain their residences in Rhode Island. The distinction was the the world in power, the citizens of the state that Rhode Island, would not have actually recognized what the Narragansetts near Charlestown, Rhode Island, were doing as an useful preservation that the American past.

How did other marginalized communities participate in debates around historic preservation?

This is one area that really needs much more research. One example I uncovered is Peyton Stewart, a free African American life in Boston in the 1830s. He lived in and also operated a secondhand garments shop the end of Benjamin Franklin"s childhood residence in Boston. We know he take it an interest in the home’s historic attributes only because he talked v Edmund Quincy, the rich white abolitionist and son that Boston’s mayor, around it, and also Quincy recorded that conversation in his diary. At one point, Stewart invite Quincy in to evaluate the home’s historical character and also asked Quincy even if it is he should buy the building.

This mirrors that Stewart to be making sufficient money to take into consideration purchasing property in Boston, and then the strategically asked a significant abolitionist and antiquarian for his opinion about the house. Stewart to be able to obtain the fist of a local, significant Bostonian and build a partnership with him to display that that was, in Quincy’s terms, a "respectable citizen” because he to be interested in preserving Boston’s past.

This instance shows the sparsity of evidence of voices like Stewart’s and the challenges of recognize out around buildings that were not preserved. In spite of Stewart’s and Quincy’s interest in the building, Benjamin Franklin"s childhood home was eventually ruined in the 1850s.

What surprised you during your research?

My genuine surprise was the wide range of sites that acquired attention. Numerous of this extraordinarily decrepit buildings were no beautiful and also were a real contrast to what was considered as providing good living standards. Ns was additionally surprised through the national conflict that erupted over Ashland, the house of Kentucky politician Henry Clay. As soon as one the his sons, James B. Clay, purchase Ashland from his father"s estate and also announced in the newspapers that he was going to maintain his father"s home, anyone was very excited.

And then he leveled the home to the ground. A an excellent uproar occurred. And also then the said, "No, no, I"m maintaining my father"s home. I"m structure a brand-new and far better house top top the very same foundation." and also so this elicited a good debate around what “preservation” the the residence really meant.

Were over there any an ext modest structures that were saved under the auspices of historic preservation?

Maybe the most humble structure that i wrote around in a bit of information was an old cowshed the some guys who were component of the Essex institute in Salem, Massachusetts, had heard around in the 1860s. It to be potentially constructed from timbers from the 17th-century an initial Church the Salem.

So they went out and also inspected this old cow shed and also decided the it was definitely built from that very first church. They reconstructed the church building, taking cautious note that what they believed was the original material rescued native the cowshed, and also what to be filler material. And this reconstruction still stand on the grounds the the Peabody Essex Museum today.

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We could say, "Well, that"s demolition. That"s not preservation in the instance of Ashland. Or, that"s clearly not the very first church that Salem; that"s negative preservation." What my book tries to carry out is not judge what was good or poor preservation, or to shot to use the criter of today, yet to take human being in the past on their own terms when they said that they were engaging in preservation. And also then come look very closely at the details that what they go to recognize why they assumed what they to be doing was keeping a coherent connection to the past.