Forum Bulletin

Preservation from the Ground Up in the Pacific Northwest 

08-16-2012 00:00


This coming Monday, participants in the Pacific Northwest Preservation Field School will descend on the historic Frenchglen Hotel in southeastern Oregon for two weeks. Their mission? To repair eight wooden sash windows, repair and replace historic siding, and repair a broken porch rafter tail while learning more about preservation, especially the hands-on aspect of restoring historic sites. A week later, another group of students will go to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon and lift the Peter French Office structure at the Sod House Ranch to repair the foundation sill. They will also repair floor joists and historic flooring.

The Pacific Northwest Field School, run by a partnership between the National Park Service, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington State Parks and State Historic Preservation Offices, and the Historic Preservation Program at the University of Oregon, attracts participants from all walks of life—students and professionals, retirees and maintenance workers. Up to 10 students participate in four to six, one-week sessions offered every summer. Some have never picked up hammer before while others are experienced craftspeople. What they all share is a passion for historic preservation and a desire to learn. The breathtaking settings of the Pacific Northwest are an added bonus.

The program is a combination of hands-on work, reading, and lectures. The students work in small groups with professionals to learn basic preservation techniques. They also participate in decisions about how and what to save when preserving a building. At the Frenchglen Hotel, for example, Amy McCauley of Oculus Fine Carpentry, a window and door specialty business, will teach participants how to use traditional tools and techniques to restore the historic windows of this eight-room hotel. The hotel, which was constructed in the mid 1920s, is operated by the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department as a guesthouse for visitors to the region.

Each year the partnership selects different sites throughout the Pacific Northwest that are in need of preservation. The program, now in its 18th year, is approached by different public and private agencies about potential projects. Director Shannon Bell explains that the partnership generally looks for projects with a variety of teaching and learning opportunities on structures and sites owned by a nonprofit or public agency. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, is hosting the summer 2012 field school.

Over the years, field school students have worked on a variety of structures including the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Gordon House (1964) in Oregon, lighthouses in Oregon and Washington, Harriman Ranch in eastern Idaho, and log structures dating from the 1930s in Olympic National Park in Washington.  Students have also worked on sites close to Spokane, the site of this year’s National Preservation Conference, including Heyburn State Park in Plummer, Idaho, and the Boise State Penitentiary.

Bell is enthusiastic about the mix of abilities and experiences that students bring to the field school. She notes that the more experienced students often help preservation newcomers with basic carpentry skills. She especially appreciates the caution that beginners bring to preservation—noting that caution can be a positive thing when working with historic fabric.

But most of all, she says that the rewarding part of her work is seeing what partnerships can do to make successful preservation projects.

“Participants come because they are interested in some aspect of historic preservation. These opportunities, made possible by our partnering agencies, share the burden of hands-on craft, funding, logistics, and support. All these groups working together does great things for the region and provides wonderful opportunities for further career advancement.”

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Author(s):National Trust Staff

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