Gratitude for dedication to preserve history

Published 6:50 am Saturday, November 17, 2018

Gratitude: for those who preserve historic structures.

Did you know that the state of Minnesota employs a National Register Historian whose job it is to ensure that buildings, structures, districts and sites are preserved for future generations to appreciate? The person in that role is Denis Gardner, a self-proclaimed ‘bridge nerd’, who gave a presentation at our recent History Happy Hour event. His position is part of the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) which is governed by the Minnesota Department of Administration. Gardner gave our audience an overview of why and how his department functions.

In 1966 the federal government passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). Out of this Act came the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the State Historic Preservation Offices, and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The NHPA was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in response to urban renewal plans that were leading to the destruction of historic areas and structures. Growth and progress were necessary for the nation’s economy, but many pieces of our history were being lost in the process.

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The 1963 destruction of Penn Station in New York City caused demonstrations of protest from people who never believed that such an example of exquisite architecture could be lost.

In Minnesota, it was the destruction of the Gateway district that included nearly 200 buildings in downtown Minneapolis that made our state realize the importance of preservation.

The first building in Minnesota to be listed on the NRHP was the Landmark Center in St. Paul, and the first district to be listed was Minnehaha Park. Minnesota has about 1,700 listings on the NRHP with 10 of them being in Mower County.

Three of the 10 are in Austin and include the Hormel Historic Home, the Historic Paramount Theater and the Arthur W. Wright House.

There are two criteria for being included on the NRHP: historical significance and historical integrity. The significance can be the property’s contribution to a community’s culture, the legacy of a person associated with the property, construction or architectural qualities, or a site with archeological value. Historical integrity refers to how much, or actually, how little, a property has been altered from its original state.

Gardner reluctantly admitted that not all structures can or should be saved. There is always a cost to maintain structures, but he would encourage individuals and organizations to embrace the process because preserving our history enriches our future.

Listing places on the NRHP can deter destruction from interstate or development projects. Federal and state tax credits can aid those wishing to preserve and re-purpose old pieces of history, and by listing a place on the NHRP, the past will honored.

I am grateful that our government made a concerted effort to begin preserving our national historic treasures, and I am grateful that in 1982, the YWCA. Board of Trustees chose to pursue being listed on the NRHP.