Highway construction, North Carolina, 1919
 

Historic preservation is a relatively new movement within the United States. Two significant events in the 1960s contributed greatly to the strength of the movement as we now know it: the demolition of New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1963 and the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966.

Prior to this time a small group of individuals, organizations and a few enlightened communities existed to preserve and protect a few sites and districts of national importance. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association in the 1850s and the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in the 1920s worked to preserve the homes of two of our founding fathers. Independence Hall, threatened with demolition early in the 19th century, was saved by citizen outcry on the eve of a visit by the aging Marquis de Lafayette. Efforts to save historic landscapes tended to focus on significant battlefields – Lexington and Concord or Gettysburg, for example.

For most buildings and sites, however, demolition and loss were simply accepted as a consequence of the growth of a thriving republic. Newer, bigger and better had fueled, and would continue to fuel, the prosperity and unbridled optimism of a relatively new nation.

A few groups did recognize historic roads early on. The Daughters of the American Revolution, promoting the National Old Trails Road, placed historical markers and “Madonna of the Trail” statues along the National Road and the Santa Fe Trail beginning in 1909 to commemorate the location of the historic routes and the role of pioneer women. In California, groups such as the California Federation of Women’s Clubs and the Native Daughters of the Golden West endorsed the preservation of El Camino Real and in 1904 formed the El Camino Real Association. The association designed a cast iron bell, hung from an eleven-foot post, to mark the historic route. Between 1906 and 1915 158 bells were installed along the El Camino Real route from the Mexican border to Northern California.

The Language of Historic Preservation

While the term “historic preservation” is widely accepted to entail all the actions and activities surrounding the recognition, care and prevention of the loss of the buildings, structures, districts and landscapes of the past, “preservation” also has a more specific definition associated with the nature of work and maintenance at a historic site. In fact, preservation, restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction, terms that tend to get tossed about quite liberally in the world of historic preservation, have very specific meanings and implications for historic resources. When undertaking a plan of action for a historic road, it is important to select the appropriate terminology for the activities be planned or promoted. It is very likely a plan for a historic road will engaged two or more of the activities defined by United States Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties*. These standards refer to how a property will be used, altered, maintained and protected.

preservation
Preservation applies to properties that are largely intact and reflect the period(s) of significance. This would refer to historic roads and road resources that maintain their original design and materials in good condition. Under preservation, activities and actions associated with the resource are largely focused on maintenance and care.

rehabilitation
Rehabilitation applies to properties that are largely intact and reflect the period(s) of significance, but may require some repair or alteration. This would refer to historic roads and road resources that maintain their original design and materials in fair condition, or roads and resources requiring modification for safety. Under rehabilitation, activities and actions associated with the resource are focused on maintenance, care and sensitive replacement or modification on a limited basis.

restoration
Restoration applies to properties that retain significant components of the period(s) of significance, but may require some repair or alteration, or the removal of features/additions not identified as contributing features. Under restoration, activities and actions associated with the resource are focused on maintenance and care of intact historic features, replacement of lost features, and removal of inappropriate features.

reconstruction
Reconstruction applies to properties that are largely beyond repair or have been lost. Under reconstruction the design, appearance and materials of the original road or road features are recreated. For an historic road this may include the complete replacement of a concrete pavement, that has degraded beyond repair, utilizing the original specifications and construction techniques.

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* U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, 1995.

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