By Alice Guerrant, Historic Archaeologist
This is HCA’s first blog on the topic of preservation, so we thought it appropriate to introduce, for what may be the first time for many readers, the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.
Historic preservation means the study, protection, and maintenance of the historic places that keep us in touch with our state’s history. For instance:
• The Green in the heart of old New Castle brings you close to our colonial and early national past.
• Archaeological sites may be excavated by consultants from DelDOT before building a road through the area in order to study and protect artifacts and living spaces last touched thousands of years ago.
Back in the 1960s, urban renewal, interstate highways, and other efforts led by the federal government led to the disappearance of many local historical sites and buildings. People were unhappy that these projects, however needed, were tearing down their neighborhoods with no input from the people who lived there or nearby. Out of these problems was born a national commitment to historic preservation, in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
The most important thing this act did was to establish a federal-state partnership for historic preservation, giving a way to voice local concerns. This created a State Historic Preservation Office in every state and territory. In Delaware, the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs houses this office and the Director of the Division is the State Historic Preservation Officer.
The Preservation Team works with government agencies to avoid damage to historic properties from their projects. If that can’t be done, the agency documents buildings with photographs and drawings or archaeological sites with excavation. These kinds of reviews (called Section 106 reviews after the part of the Act that created them) take up a great deal of our staff’s time.
So what else does the Preservation Team do?
• We help people get places important to them listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
• We help owners get state or federal tax credits for National Register-listed buildings if the owner fixes them up in an approved way.
• We work with communities that want to protect their historic places in land use planning and as partners with us, called Certified Local Governments.
• We produce a statewide plan for historic preservation every five years.
• We maintain a Research Center of all the information, photographs, and reports that people have produced about Delaware’s historic buildings, sites, structures, and objects since this program started.
• We work with local and statewide historical, archaeological, and preservation groups, and students in these fields.
• We sponsor a research symposium for historians and archaeologists interested in the Delaware Valley’s 17th-century experience.
Our history is all around us. It touches us all, and reminds us of where we came from. Some places have disappeared. Nevertheless, there are many important historic places that are worth keeping for Delawareans now and in the future.
What places are important to you?