May is Preservation Month! Join us in celebrating the preservation of special Pennsylvania places all this month! We’ve put together a few ideas to help get you inspired.
“Historic preservation” can mean so many things, from legacy businesses that are the backbone of our small town economies to the owners in historic districts who lovingly care for their old houses. This May, there are many ways to celebrate preservation: discover new things about your community on a walking tour, visit a historic house museum or local historical society, walk your downtown to shop at small, family-owned businesses in historic buildings. We’ve gathered a few suggestions from across the state to get you started in celebrating Preservation Month in Pennsylvania. Share your ideas in the comments below!
How To Get Involved
Promote Preservation on Social Media
The National Trust for Historic Preservation has an assortment of stickers you can add to your Instagram posts this month to share your love for all things old. Share your favorite buildings or legacy businesses. Find architectural details that give your downtown corridor its distinctive character. Celebrate historic windows. Don’t forget to tag @savingplaces and @pres_pa! Click here to learn more.
Go for a walk
Get outside! Look around and look up. Hunt for details like decorative flourishes, animals, or initials. Look for interesting patterns of old windows or unusual rooflines. Ask yourself what is your favorite building in your community? What about it speaks to you? Do you have a favorite street in your downtown or a local neighborhood? Why do you feel connected to that place? You may like it because you have good memories there or like the way it looks. Old buildings help link a community to its past and are emblematic of past craftsmanship and style preferences.
Download our Preservation Month BINGO to help get you motivated!
ANYWHERE IN PENNSYLVANIA: Check and see if your local historical society or historic house museums are hosting any walks or special gatherings for Preservation Month.
PHILADELPHIA AREA: Whether you take a guided tour or just head out your front door, there are so many great historic places to see and learn about. Jane’s Walk PHL 2023 will take place from May 5-7 to celebrate Jane Jacobs’ birthday. Click here to sign up to lead a walk or learn about the walks being offered. There are nine free walks to choose from over the weekend. Consult the schedule here.
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia offers tours ranging from a foray through Old City Philadelphia to the Public Art, Landmarks, and Transformations Along the Schuylkill River. (Click here to see more than 40 options.) Sign up for their newsletter to receive regular updates on events happening in the greater Philadelphia area.
Also in Philadelphia, check out Hidden City tours, including Death & Life at Mount Moriah Cemetery and Philly’s Jazz Legacy. (Click here to view current offerings.)
Be like Jane Jacobs – participate and advocate for your special places!
Activist and Scranton native Jane Jacobs wrote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
SCRANTON: Her birthplace of Scranton ( Lackawanna County) will celebrate her legacy in 2023 with the second annual Observe Scranton festival, to take place May 4-5. Observe Scranton is a community festival celebrating Scranton through the eyes of Jane Jacobs, on what would be her 107th birthday. This year’s Observe Scranton festival will include exhibits, lectures, and Jane Jacobs Walks all across the city, as well as an exhibit and sneak peek at Historic Lace Village. Visit observescranton.org to learn more. (Watch the American Masters documentary about Jane Jacobs on YouTube.)
Plan a roadtrip or special visit
How long have you driven past that museum or historical society in your community and thought to yourself, “I should stop in there some day…”? Well, pick a day in May and visit! These places help you learn local stories and they regularly host events of special interest!
VisitPA.com has a list of historic AirBnBs you can stay in (some more “historic” than others…). Click here to check out the list and pick one!
Historic Hotels of America has a dazzling array of 20 places to call home on your travels, from former factories to Gilded Era hotels. Click here to browse.
On a personal note, we’d like to mention the Lincoln Motor Court, the last surviving motor court on the Lincoln Highway (and a 2014 Pennsylvania At Risk), the Shoe House, now a vacation rental (1994 Pennsylvania At Risk), as well as Polymath Park (recipient of a 2022 Historic Preservation Award), where you can stay overnight in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home.
Tell a place you love it
Maybe it’s the diner that has been part of your community since 1931, with a lovingly cared for stainless steel exterior that makes the whole street sparkle. Maybe it’s the bakery with the groovy mid-century sign that pokes up into the sky. Maybe it’s the house in your neighborhood that reminds you of a Frank Lloyd Wright house or a fairytale cottage. Write a love note or postcard and let them know! Thank them for caring for the place so well. Tell them you appreciate how special their place is and what it means to you to have it in the community.
Attend a local government or commission meeting
We get so many people reaching out for help as the bulldozers are on the way. That’s often too late. An old (and true) adage says that “preservation happens locally.” Start checking the agendas for upcoming meetings in your municipality. Attend meetings. Be informed. Be involved. And remember when election time rolls around to ask your candidates about the preservation issues that matter to you!
Discover amazing places online
Some preservationists will confess to a secret delight: using the National Archives repository of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation to view photographs and detailed drawings of places from their community, their state or anywhere in the United States. As the HABS/HAER page at the National Archives explains:
The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) collections are among the largest and most heavily used in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. Since 2000, documentation from the Historic American Landscapes Survey (HALS) has been added to the holdings. The collections document achievements in architecture, engineering, and landscape design in the United States and its territories through a comprehensive range of building types, engineering technologies, and landscapes, including examples as diverse as the Pueblo of Acoma, houses, windmills, one-room schools, the Golden Gate Bridge, and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Administered since 1933 through cooperative agreements with the National Park Service, the Library of Congress, and the private sector, ongoing programs of the National Park Service have recorded America’s built environment in multiformat surveys comprising more than 581,000 measured drawings, large-format photographs, and written histories for more than 43,000 historic structures and sites dating from Pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century. This online presentation of the HABS/HAER/HALS collections includes digitized images of measured drawings, black-and-white photographs, color transparencies, photo captions, written history pages, and supplemental materials. Since the National Park Service’s HABS, HAER and HALS programs create new documentation each year, documentation will continue to be added to the collections. The first phase of digitization of the Historic American Engineering Record collection was made possible by the generous support of the Shell Oil Company Foundation.
Click here to browse Pennsylvania places or search for any location you’d like to learn more about.
Here’s an easy place to continue your preservation journey – check out our guide “How to Protect and Preserve the Places that Matter to You.” It’s a free pdf that’s available for reading online or download. Click here for the guide.
Have a neighbor who is thinking of replacing all their old windows with new replacement windows? Check out our guide, “Considering the Repair, Retrofit and Replacement of Historic Windows,” explaining why restoring old windows and using storm windows makes sense and is better for the planet!
We’ll share just a few of our favorite books, which you might want to consider perusing at your local library or bookshop (or Bookshop.org which supports local, independent booksellers).
Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States by Kenneth T. Jackson is the first full-scale history of the development of the American suburb, creating the car-centric landscape of the modern age.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs was first published in 1961 and is “a direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century,”
A Field Guide to American Houses: The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture by Virginia Savage McAlester is the perfect companion for your walks around town.
The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities by Stephanie Meeks, former head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation
Place, Race, and Story: Essays on the Past and Future of Historic Preservation by Ned Kaufman
Why Old Places Matter: How Historic Places Affect Our Identity and Well-Being by Thompson M. Mayes
And last, but certainly not least….
Support a Preservation Organization
Preservation Pennsylvania‘s members are the voice of preservation across the state. We advocate for preservation-friendly policies at the state and federal levels. As part of our Pennsylvania At Risk work, we get in to the nitty-gritty of attending meetings and writing letters of support. We celebrate the amazing preservation work each year at our Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Awards. We hope you will consider becoming a member or making a donation so we can continue to provide statewide preservation services.
Stay in touch by connecting with us on Facebook (@preservationpa) or Instagram (@pres_pa). Check out our YouTube channel, featuring recordings of informative conference sessions and webinars we’ve held. Sign up for our enews to be sure you receive alerts in the future about upcoming events, funding opportunities, job opportunities, news items and advocacy alerts.
At the national level, consider becoming a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which also works on policy, education and preservation. (Plus, you’ll receive Preservation Magazine.) Click here to learn more.
And don’t overlook your important local organizations, whether it’s the area’s preservation advocacy organization or historical society or even a historic house museum you admire.
Places need your support or they won’t be there anymore!
Have a great Preservation Month in Pennsylvania and let us know in the comments what adventures you enjoyed!