The term ‘historic preservation’ apparently means different things to people. To some it means making a building or a place frozen into a single moment in history whether it means the 17th, or the 18th or the 19th century. It means walking into a place where the decor and the furniture is set into that time period – the kitchen, the bathroom and even the wiring and heating are all of that moment in history. Unfortunately, Historic New England and the House Museum Movement in their efforts to have living house collections have unintentionally fostered this impression for many who have in error applied it to the entire Historic Preservation Movement. This concept of ‘freezing in time’ is called Historic Restoration.
Can you imagine lighting your house using hurricane lamps of oil or wax? Can you imagine crossing the yard in ice-cold February to use the ‘privy’? Can you picture leaning over an open fire in an enormous fireplace stirring a big iron pot just so you can have something for supper?
When the 17th, 18th & many of the 19th century homes were built, they had no internal heating system unless of course you meant a fireplace. They had no insulation unless you counted walls in your calculation. Most had no plumbing, no ductwork, no wires, no sinks. Light bulbs were far into the future and the basic necessities of bath and kitchen were in the most part an outside reality.
THANKFULLY, THE NEWBURYPORT PRESERVATION TRUST IS NOT PUSHING FOR THE CONCEPT OF HISTORIC RESTORATIONS.
SO WHAT IS MEANT BY HISTORIC PRESERVATION? The definition is in relation to preserving the architectural style of the home; and in many ways, a preservation of the original historic materials* such as flooring, molding, plaster and windows. Each measure of preservation is to retain the historic features that make the house so valuable and an equity-gaining treasure.
Unfortunately, most homeowners do things based on their own self-interest and vanity. History buffs will try to make the house an historic restoration. Architectural preservationists will concentrate on keeping the original features, average people will think it’s largely preserving the exterior and don’t mind the interior being modern and those more focused on raising families and comfortable living will try to shape the house (at least internally) into a 21st century home.
The right balance is to do an historic renovation.
Certainly not gutting the house to the studs and making a barely-historic home! That’s a renovation and stupid if your trying to get maximum returns from your investment and wise if you’re a wannabe slum lord renting rooms or selling condos to any fool who thinks their moving into an historic house.
The Preservation Trust and any one who is a smart realtor and any one who is into the Historic Preservation Movement will want the exterior and the interior’s architectural-style and historically-appropriate materials* preserved while at the same time installing advances in modern living tastefully integrated into the house.
WE WANT HISTORIC RENOVATIONS SO WE CAN (AS WE HAVE INCREASINGLY BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST THIRTY YEARS) HAVE OUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO!
* siding and molding that feels and looks like wood but is NOT wood is great if replacement has to be done due to neglect, but authenticity is the goal. For example in my house, the siding outside is original but I do have small areas where the lovely New England weather has destroyed it. I will gladly and thankfully replace those small sections with the wood-like material especially if the claims of longer-lasting and being bug resistant are true!