Sites to See
By Stephanie K. Meeks | From Preservation | November/December 2010
I've spent the first few months of my presidency visiting National Trust Historic Sites, and the experience has been eye opening. Our 29 sites illuminate extraordinary facets of the nation's story—from the majesty of Boston's 1806 African Meeting House to the ingenuity of Philip Johnson's Glass House, from the 18th-century grandeur of Drayton Hall to the immigration history of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. I hope each of you has the opportunity to explore a few of these places in the new year. I promise, you won't be disappointed.
You may not be aware that the National Trust for Historic Preservation was originally chartered by Congress in 1949 to "provide for the preservation of historic American sites." Although we no longer receive federal funding to support this effort and are supported exclusively by members and private donors, the stewardship of historic sites remains at the core of our mission. Today we're working with renewed focus to preserve all the places under our care and to make sure they fully represent the diversity of the American experience.
Drayton Hall, in Charleston, S.C., the oldest unrestored plantation house in America that is open to the public, is a good example. National Trust staff members there have been working with the descendants of slaves who once toiled at the plantation to interpret stories and memorialize a small cemetery on the property. (In October, they dedicated a commemorative arch at the entrance to the burying ground—one of the oldest African American cemeteries in the nation still in use.) An archaeological dig at Drayton Hall over the summer unearthed more than 100,000 artifacts from an area about the size of my office desk—a veritable treasure trove of stories waiting to be told.
House museums and historic sites across the country all face an enormous challenge: reinventing themselves to meet the ever-changing needs of the public. After just a few months as president, it's obvious to me that our National Trust Historic Sites have embraced this challenge and excelled. They are not only telling their stories in innovative ways, they are also taking on roles as community preservation anchors—working with partners and others to save, protect, and revitalize the areas around them.
I can assure you that the National Trust will continue to embark on varied and creative avenues to save and share our collective heritage. Whether that is with thoughtful and ingenious ways of caring for and interpreting our historic sites, or through our commitment to helping communities save and preserve the places that make them unique, we will strive to stay at the forefront of protecting our country's sense of place.
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