How Historic Preservation Shaped the Early United States
Historic preservation, also known as built heritage conservation or rehabilitation, is an endeavor to conserve buildings, objects, landscapes, or other artifacts of historical significance.
In the early United States, preservation efforts were often small and local, but they played a significant role in shaping the country’s development. Historian Whitney Martinko explains how historic preservation helped shape the nation.
Early preservation efforts in the United States revolved around a few common themes. The places people rallied around usually related to a historical or famous figure or significant event.
But they also began to focus on areas that were underserved by state and federal institutions, especially in the case of African-American heritage sites. As Clement Price, a National Trust vice chair, said, “It’s really about rebalancing America’s collective memory.”
But he said that to achieve this, and preservationists must broaden their scope. As a result, many people are now concerned with preserving not just buildings and structures but the history of ordinary Americans and everyday life.
The Boston Tea Party was an important event in American history. It was an act of defiance against the British government and helped spark the American Revolution.
The American colonists had a disagreement with the British government over a tax that they were paying on tea that was coming from China. This caused them to be angry, and they decided to do something about it.
In December 1773, 116 men dressed as Indians went to Griffin’s Wharf in Boston and boarded three ships with tea cargo from the East India Company. They threw the tea overboard into the harbor, which became the Boston Tea Party.
The British Government was very upset about this, and they made a series of laws called the Intolerable Acts. This made the Americans even angry, and they started to fight for independence.
Enacted in 1906, the Antiquities Act was the United States’ first federal law to recognize the importance and value of archaeological and historic sites. The Act gave the President the authority to establish national monuments and reserve parcels of land surrounding them, providing a vital tool for protecting natural landscapes and historic structures for future generations.
The Act’s language and provisions were heavily influenced by the westward expansion of the United States during the 19th century when Anglo settlers began to discover and study ancient Native American culture and artifacts. The market for these objects grew, leading to looting, grave-robbing, and vandalism.
The Antiquities Act was also the country’s first law to address the issue of the protection of human remains. Historians and professional societies argued that lawless looting of human remains impeded the preservation of culturally significant sites.
During the 19th century, the United States vastly increased in size and population. It also developed a robust industrial economy with overseas interests.
The rise of industrialization was driven by settlement and development in the West, including the discovery of oil fields and significant metal deposits. Railroads and ocean transportation enabled the rapid transport of resources and goods throughout the country.
The United States also gained new wealth during this period, primarily due to increased productivity by machines and the invention of mass production. This led to a massive expansion in the supply of goods and eventually lowered consumer prices.
The 20th century was a time of rapid social and economic change. The introduction of automobiles and global commercial air travel revolutionized how people traveled, as did the discovery of fossil fuel resources and the invention of nuclear power and space exploration.
Many of these changes made the world a more homogenized place. But it also saw a decline in cultural diversity and several significant failures.
The residents of the early United States debated a practical, tangible issue that still shapes preservation today: whether preserving historic buildings is a public good. The answer primarily determined who got to decide what should be kept.