Earlier this month I traveled to the Northeast Kingdom to attend the annual conference of the Vermont Downtown Program and The Preservation Trust of Vermont. The Flynn Center in Burlington was one of 10 awardees recognized by the Preservation Trust for recent renovations. The winners were a disparate, determined group, most taking decades to rehab, renovate and rebuild historically significant buildings.
It’s such a balancing act to honor the archeology of century-old structures, while adapting for energy efficiency and accessibility needs. Attention to architectural details and craftsmanship is very important, but community participation and buy-in is just as essential for these facilities to be relevant.
Here are a few stories from the awards ceremony:
Dot’s Restaurant was built in 1832 alongside the Deerfield River in Wilmington.
Sadly, Hurricane Irene destroyed the building’s foundation. Neighbors raised funds to repair the foundation, as well as flood-proof and reconstruct the restaurant’s interior in a historically sensitive manner.
In Guilford, citizens have been restoring derelict properties and remediating a toxic brown-field site. Five years ago, they took ownership of The Guilford Country Store, originally opened in 1817.
Donations, grants, loans, and sweat equity allowed them to refurbish it, guaranteeing this community a vital gathering place.
Green Mountain College and the town of Poultney did the same with Charles Humphrey's 1900 mansion.
They transformed the structure, taking what had become a deteriorated storage facility and creating a central meeting and event center for both town and college.
Another award celebrated the efforts of volunteers over a 15-year period to resurrect the 1891 Bloomfield Town Hall.
The town hall is one of Vermont's only stick style buildings. Its resurrection began in 1999, when residents raised funds for a new roof, window repair and a polychromatic painting restoration.
Residents of Island Pond had a similar journey as they restored their Brighton Town Hall’s original architectural elements from 1889.
The town hall is one of the most prominent landmarks in the town. As the building was repeatedly repurposed over the years, most of its historic characteristics were covered. In 2010, the idea of restoring the building to its former grandeur took hold.
And the Housing Trust of Rutland County was recognized for its rehabilitation of a former Catholic school and convent into 17 units of affordable housing.
Installation of solar panels made this one of the lowest cost housing projects in the state to operate.
Bellows Falls Middle School also rejuvenated its building, modeling adaptive historic reuse with sustainable energy features in creating their 21st-century classrooms.
The school was constructed in 1926. By 2010, the building was deteriorating. After much discussion, the community decided pursue renovation over rebuilding.
On a regional level, Two Rivers Ottauquechee Planning Commission was acknowledged for its work prioritizing redevelopment in downtown districts, thereby keeping villages robust and farms and forest lands secure.
Finally, historians Glen Andres’ and Curtis Johnson’s comprehensive study, Buildings of Vermont, received accolades for its quality and for their persistence. It took them 20 years to complete this important compendium.
At the conference, I heard a new term, not a word really, but still apt as it combines preserve and perseverance. It’s called “pre-serverance.” I know it’s made-up, but it reflects the grit and dogged determination needed to save iconic landmarks, not as relics of bygone eras, but as vital components in the heart of each of our communities today.