Forum Bulletin

National Treasures: Brought to Life 

03-23-2012 00:00

Fundraising, marketing, legal work, advocacy—all come in to play when protecting historic sites. Saving a place is never easy, but if you can bring an array of expertise to solve a preservation problem it’s a completely different story. This all-hands-on-deck approach is the founding principle behind National Treasures.

National Treasures are irreplaceable and critically threatened historic places across the country. The Trust is making a deep organizational investment in these sites, bringing staff and resources together in a coordinated campaign to ensure their preservation. The Trust has brought this integrated approach to more than 200 places in recent years, through its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. It has proven remarkably successful; just 3 percent of these sites have been lost.

From historic buildings to cultural landscapes, National Trust National Treasures are unique, movement-defining places—some of them iconic, others less familiar—that galvanize support and spark greater public understanding of how preservation contributes to vibrant communities.

Working with thousands of local preservationists and preservation professionals from coast to coast, the National Trust is identifying Treasures and taking action to save them. This means raising needed funds, building coalitions, stopping demolitions, and advocating in the courts or in the halls of government to ensure these icons remain part of the American landscape.

Eleven sites were announced last October followed by 8 more in February, bringing the total number of National Treasures to 19. In June the list will grow again with the addition of the sites from America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places List. As resources permit, the National Trust hopes to eventually expand the list to 100 National Treasures in a revolving portfolio of sites. Treasures will rotate off the list once their preservation objectives have been achieved. 

Sites and Their Threats

Each Treasure faces a specific threat, but these threats are also representative of larger preservation issues.

Several National Treasures face imminent closure. These include the Battle Mountain Sanitarium in Hot Springs, S.D., opened in 1907 as a National Home for Disabled Soldiers; and Pond Farm, a California State Park and the studio and home of noted potter and German refugee Marguerite Wildenhain.   

Other sites are in danger of being lost to neglect, including the 1867 Milwaukee VA Soldiers Home in Wisconsin; Rosenwald Schools across the South.

Insufficient protection also threatens many of our historic resources.  Cities such as Charleston, S.C., maritime resources such as the Nantucket Lightship in Boston Harbor, and sites such as Chimney Rock, Colo., Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., and White Grass Dude Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyo., lack adequate legal or regulatory protections. 

Three sites have been included as National Treasures because proposed new development could compromise their historic integrity. These sites are New Mexico’s Mount Taylor, a pilgrimage site for Native Americans; and Union Station, the Beaux-Arts gateway to the nation’s capital.

A lack of funding threatens several National Treasures.  These include the Gothic Revival mansion Lyndhurst in New York, Woodlawn/Pope-Leighey House in Virginia, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in Mississippi, Miami Marine Stadium in Florida, the Washington National Cathedral.

Demolition and deterioration jeopardize the future of such sites as  Hinchliffe Stadium in Patterson, N.J.; Manhattan Project sites in New Mexico, Washington, and Tennessee; and Chicago’s Prentice Hospital.

Becoming a National Treasure

Saving a Treasure is one goal. However, just as importantly, the National Trust hopes that the lessons learned, challenges overcome, and successes achieved will serve as models that can be replicated across the country. As such, the National Trust has developed a set of criteria for selecting National Treasures that reflects these objectives. Foremost among them is the requirement that a site is nationally significant and/or the preservation implications are national in nature.  Importantly, National Treasures should be representative of a diverse range of historic places and a diverse range of preservation issues and threats.

When selecting sites, the National Trust also considers the long-term consequences of its involvement with the project. Will the Trust’s intervention have national implications, provide opportunities to model best practices nationally, and/or catalyze broad public support for preservation? Will its involvement leverage the work of the National Trust, is the historic place protectable, is the project fundable, and can the work be collaborative?

Collaboration is an essential part of this process, since saving places is only achievable with the help of preservation partners from the local and national level.

A Treasure Up Close: Rosenwald Schools

Over a decade ago the staff from the Trust’s Southern Regional Office started getting calls from local grassroots groups and alumni associations that wanted to preserve their Rosenwald Schools, community schools built for African American students from 1913 to 1932. Over the years, these schools had suffered from neglect, poor maintenance, and lack of recognition. Few people were aware of the role Rosenwald schools played in our nation’s history and few resources existed to help them.

In response to these calls for assistance from grassroots activists and former Rosenwald students, the Trust raised funds and hired staff, and the Rosenwald School Initiative took off. Today there have been a number of success stories, but more remains to be done.  Therefore, Rosenwald Schools were selected to be part of the initial National Treasures portfolio in 2011. The central objective for the project over the next three years is to use the centennial celebration of the program to save 100 Rosenwald Schools as vital hubs of community life and inspire others to save hundreds more.

To achieve this goal, the Rosenwald National Treasures team, along with input from an advisory task force composed of National Trust staff, a variety of local groups and state historic preservation officers, and National Trust advisors in affected states, developed a strategic plan with specific actions designed to make the most of the centennial celebration. Plans are well underway for the National Rosenwald Schools Conference taking place June 14-16 in Tuskegee, Ala.  Through the theme 100 Years of Pride, Progress, and Preservation, this conference will provide preservationists, community groups, and alumni the opportunity to interact and develop skills to save these important places (if you are interested in attending registration opened March 15).

While the Treasures themselves vary widely and the threats are quite different, work on each National Treasure will involve a clear objective, a strong commitment to direct action, and a flexible approach to protect these historic resources.

The rich and diverse history of this country has produced many treasures—they can be found on Main Streets, in quiet rural hamlets, and in the middle of large cities. Guided by more than 60 years of experience, the National Trust is taking direct action to protect these places and promote their history and significance, engaging local preservationists to help it advance the cause of preservation nationally.

A micro site will soon be available with more information on how to nominate sites to the portfolio.  We will let you know as soon as it becomes available.  In the meantime go to for more information.

#FortMonroe #Woodlawn #PondFarm #NationalTreasure #Charleston #Rosenwald #ChimneyRock #Lyndhurst #MilwaukeeSoldiersHome #Hinchliffe #BattleMountainSanitarium #ForumBulletin #ManhattanProject

Author(s):National Trust Staff

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