May has been termed as Historic Preservation Month. The month has been set aside to promote historic places and heritage tourism, and demonstrate the social and economic benefits of historic preservation. But what is historic preservation and how did Historic Preservation Month Begin?
According to the National Park Service, historic preservation is a conversation about our past and future. It gives us the opportunity to ask, “What is important in our history?” and “What parts of our past can we preserve for the future?” We look at history in different ways, ask different questions about the past, and learn new things about our history and ourselves.
History has many facets, and historic preservation helps tell these stories. Historic preservation involves celebrating events, people, places, and ideas that we are proud of; other times it involves recognizing moments in our history that are painful or uncomfortable to remember.
Preservation Month began as National Preservation Week in 1973. In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration to the entire month of May, declaring it Preservation Month to provide an even greater opportunity to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states.
It was on May 6-12, 1973 that the first National Preservation Week was celebrated. On October 27, 1972, at the annual meeting of the Trustees Advisory Committee on Membership and Public Relations, Donald T. Sheehan, a member of the committee, proposed the idea of a National Preservation Week as a “means of relating local and state preservation progress to the national effort for the mutual benefits of both.”
On February 15, 1973, Senator Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the Senate Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, introduced a Joint Congressional Resolution to designate the week of May 6-12, 1973, as National Preservation Week. President Richard Nixon signed the resolution into law on May 5, 1973.
First Lady Patricia Nixon presented the National Trust awards during the annual Awards Luncheon on May 8th, and read the Presidential proclamation:
As the pace of change accelerates in the world around us, Americans more than ever need a lively awareness of our roots and origins in the past on which to base our sense of identity in the present and our directions for the future.
The Historical and Genealogical Society of Indiana County (“HGSIC”) is dedicated to the preservation of Indiana County’s past. Beginning in 1938 with six friends in the living room of Frances and Blaine Helman, the HGSIC began its preservation efforts through Frances’ extensive collection of reference materials and genealogical research.
But the preservation efforts soon moved toward structures and artifacts as well; in November 1957, the HGSIC received the deed to the Buena Vista Furnace, and began a project to stabilize and open the site for public access. Through these early efforts, Buena Vista Furnace was saved and has been preserved so that anyone can observe the furnace and learn about life during that period. Although the Buena Vista Furnace is located approximately 3 miles in on the Ghost Town Trail, through technology the HGSIC is able to educate the public about this county treasure.
With the purchase of the old National Guard Armory in 1999, the possibilities of preservation for the HGSIC expanded, and work soon began on creating a county historical museum and a memorial to the county veterans. Today, visitors are able to visit the museum and see artifacts from Indiana County’s past that have been preserved thanks to the efforts of the past, present and future staff and volunteers of the HGSIC.
HGSIC’s preservation can be seen through recent events and efforts by staff and volunteers. On June 16, 2022 at 6:30 p.m. the Program Committee in conjunction with the Museum Committee will be hosting a Bridal Exhibit and Reception. The exhibit, which will be up throughout the month of June and July, will feature 21 dresses ranging from the Victorian Period to the Modern Era. These dresses will show how bridal trends are ever evolving, yet hold some commonalities between them. Through preservation efforts of our collection, the HGSIC is able to display these dresses for the public, now and in the future.
But preservation goes beyond collecting and preserving artifacts, what about the stories of “the good old days.” The HGSIC helps preserve this history as well. This past March, the HGSIC held its second annual National Vietnam War Veterans Day Program, which brought over 150 people in through HGSIC’s doors to hear and learn about the stories of Vietnam Veterans. These stories are not something you can put on display, or keep in a box, but they have to be told and recorded, and thanks to the efforts of the Program Committee these stories are able to be told. But our efforts do not stop here, we have tried to begin recording these programs to preserve the history for future generations, but we do not yet have all the proper equipment to make this happen. If you would be interested in donating toward this effort, please contact the society or visit our donation page.
A few years ago the HGSIC partnered with students at Indiana University of Pennsylvania to collect oral histories of Indiana County citizens. The oral histories are an incredible asset to the HGSIC and the local community. This is just another example of how the HGSIC is preserving the history of Indiana County for the present and future generations.
A final note on preservation, beginning in January 2022, the Museum Committee, in large part through the efforts of Museum Chair Cori Woods, volunteer Allen Fiechuk, and Executive Director Jonathan Bogert, implemented an interactive Clark House Tour occurring once a month. This tour features a guide giving the history of the grounds and the home, along with Silas and Clara Clark, the original owners of the home, telling about life in the home. If you have not attended the tour I would recommend you take advantage of one of the upcoming tours. And if you have already joined a tour, I recommend you attend another as the themes for each tour are different. All proceeds from ticket sales go to the Clark House Fund to be used for preservation of the home, purchase of collections management, décor, furniture, and clothing and accessory pieces.
Preservation is important to help us continue to learn about the past, but also as a way to better understand life today. Those who have come before us, lived much like we do, and it is through preservation that we can see exactly how our ancestors lived and how we can connect with them.