Owners and SPNEA: Partners in Preservation
The newest addition to SPNEA's Stewardship Program is Little Orchard, a late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century antiquarian restoration of a smaller, perhaps First Period, structure.
SPNEA's preservation restrictions routinely protect interior features such as the paneling, windows, shutters, floorboards, and painted “curtains” in the parlor at the Norwood-Hyatt House.
The c.1790 Captain Barney Hicks House represents an unaltered farm complex comprised of a main house with an attached barn, sheds, a corncrib, and numerous stone walls framing the one-acre farmyard.
Tucked away from any major road, the c.1780 Holland-Towne house is a nearly unaltered example of vernacular building in central Massachusetts.
All across NewEngland committed individuals work to preserve the region's architectural heritage.
Our perception of New England as a place is closely tied to history and historic buildings. Compared to other regions of the country, old structures abound here. Yet New England's architectural record is increasingly threatened by demolition or insensitive alteration, with the character-defining features of many buildings, especially the interiors of privately-owned historic houses, being altered beyond recognition.
Old houses are handmade houses, and their interior architectural features preserve the proof: woodwork attached using wrought-iron nails, plaster walls and ceilings showing the tracks of a hand-held trowel, hand-planed floorboards, and individual window panes each with its own imperfections. Every surviving element embodies unique evidence of the past. Altering these historic features means removing evidence of previous owners' decisions regarding style and function, of their economic status, or perhaps what materials were available at a particular period in history. If this evidence is carelessly altered, the opportunity to investigate and understand it is lost forever.
For the past twenty years, SPNEA has been quietly overseeing the preservation of many privately-owned historic buildings and landscapes across New England through its Stewardship Program. The program relies on a partnership between SPNEA and individual owners of historic buildings concerned about their long-term preservation. It operates by means of legal restrictions protecting specific features of a historic property from alteration or neglect. With over sixty properties enrolled, the program is currently experiencing dramatic growth. Last year alone, five additional historic properties, comprising thirteen historic buildings, nearly seventy acres of gardens, fields, and forest, and site features such as stone walls, gates, and even a small cemetery, were added.
The Stewardship Program is one of the oldest and largest easement programs in the country and is regarded as a model nationwide. SPNEA's protection goes even further than that of other programs, because it can include interiors, often the most vulnerable features of an old house. At the Norwood-Hyatt House on Boston's North Shore (see cover and page 3), for example, the charming decorative paintings on walls and woodwork, left by three generations of an artistic family, are now protected as important evidence of New England cultural history.
Properties protected through SPNEA's restrictions remain in private ownership, and owners retain rights and obligations related to the property (including the right to live in, sell or bequeath it) as well as the responsibility to maintain it in good condition. Some of an owner's interests are transferred to SPNEA—the right to alter, neglect, or demolish a building, and even decisions about how it may be used in the future. In addition to donating easements, owners contribute to SPNEA's Stewardship Fund, which supports the program's administrative and enforcement costs.
Stewardship staff works closely with owners, visiting each property at least annually, inspecting protected features, and providing advice on maintenance and repair. When new owners acquire a Stewardship property, the staff's active involvement helps foster sensitivity to preservation issues. If the value of the past's intact evidence is understood and honored, owners rarely propose replacing intact building components. And if properly maintained and protected, the significant features of historic buildings, which impart so much character to the region, can last indefinitely.
For additional information on the Stewardship Program, please call (781) 891-4882, ext. 225.