Preservationists are not only focused on saving buildings, they are concerned about preserving something bigger than that. In an age where development is spinning out of control, the space around those buildings is almost as important as the structure itself.
This week the Civil War Preservation Trust plans to announce that Gettybsurg is #1 on their list of endangered Civil War battlefields. Why? Because less than a mile away, developers are planning to construct a casino. Gettysburg is one of Americaís best known battlefields, and its historic character will surely be altered when a humongous modern building looms in the distance as you try to imagine Pickettís Charge. Not to mention the increase in traffic and noise. If youíve been to Gettysburg, you know that that battlefield speaks to you. There is a definite presence there that will be spoiled in the shadow of a casino.
When Paul Revere made his famous ride over 200 years ago, the scenery flying by him was largely wilderness, sprinkled with colonial settlements. Today, Revereís house is nestled among Bostonís skyscrapers, a relic of an era that now lives mostly in American history textbooks. It is quite a thrill to visit the site, knowing you are walking on the same floorboards as the Revolutionary hero. But once you step back onto the street, the historical spell is broken by the hustle and bustle of the big city. The house is out of context in the thriving metropolis.
Noah Websterís home in Connecticut is now located almost underneath a highway overpass, with a constant roar of traffic overhead. Imagine being on a tour talking about his life, when an 18 wheeler overpowers the voice of your guide.
These are but a few examples of how development can critically alter a visitorís encounter with history. The experience becomes disjointed, and no longer makes sense.
It is important to understand that preservation does not seek to halt progress. It is more about controlling progress so it does not permanently alter our historic landscapes. Once development is allowed to take over, it is rarely reclaimed in the name of historic preservation.
The view really is important. It can be difficult enough to get people to imagine the past without the intrusions of modern day life encroaching. Thatís why it is important to preserve our cultural landscapes, because once they're gone, they are gone forever.