Thursday, September 1, 2011

Forces of Nature

We were very fortunate last week.  We live in Virginia, but weren't effected by either the earthquake or the hurricane.  We felt a little shaking, we had a little breeze, but nary a drop of rain.  Many owners of historic houses in Virginia were not so lucky with reports of collapsed chimneys and facades, cracks in brick and stone, uprooted historic trees, long power outages.  Things could certainly have been worse, but they are certainly not easy for those who received damage and must now make the tough decisions about repairing, demolishing, and rebuilding.  Preservation Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation can all help historic property owners in Virginia with resources to make those tough decisions.  An article in the Alexandria Times talks about the importance of earthquake or hurricane bolts in the historic brick buildings of Alexandria in keeping damage to a minimum and mentions Virginia's last major earthquake which was centered in our county.

Our thoughts also go out to those New England and New York where flooding from Irene has caused unfathomable damage to historic buildings and structures.  It's just heartbreaking to see covered bridges washed into swollen rivers and water flowing through buildings.  I grew up in a New Hampshire town with a covered bridge connecting it to the next town.  Fortunately, the water levels weren't so high there as to put the bridge in danger, but I can certainly empathize with the pain people are feeling for lost bridges.

In our current economic situation, it's hard to believe that any of the bridges will be rebuilt, at least not as iconic covered bridges.  I don't think that it is nostalgia that necessarily drives our emotions when we lose historic bridges and buildings.  The loss of a sense of character is powerful.  The covered bridges and quintessential New England villages draw people because they are different.  They have a very strong sense of place.  You can tell one bridge or one town from another.  You know you are somewhere special the minute you enter town.  Much of our construction today evokes "Anywhere, USA".  From bridge to buildings, you can't tell where you are.  You could be in Connecticut or you could be in Texas, the styles of newer structures and chains tend to be similar.  We're losing our regional architecture and, with it, our sense of place.  That's why it is so painful to see catastrophic damage to the historic structures that define the uniqueness of our communities.  That's why we should make an effort to repair or reconstruct rather than demolish and replace.


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