Q&A with: Historical preservationist Jennifer Goodman

Jennifer Goodman is a product of the 1970s environmental movement. Her parents, educators and environmentalists, instilled in her a sense of preservation that grew from conserving land to conserving structures and even whole villages.

It was no wonder that, after such varied careers as working for an architect and a museum, she wound up in 1998 working for the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. Today, the 41-year-old comes to work as the alliance’s executive director in a building constructed when Martin Van Buren was president, complete with small fireplaces in every room, delightfully squeaky doors and a loose wooden newell post cap on the stair case.

The alliance, founded in 1985, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. While barely out of organizational adolescence, it seems fitting, almost mandatory, that a nonprofit whose mission is to protect New Hampshire’s heritage should be guided by someone who is passionate about saving the Granite State’s past to make a better future.

Q. How did you become involved with the alliance?

A. Part of my growing up was in a suburb where “there was no there there.” I worked for an architect and a museum, and the experiences made me realize I wanted to do more on the public-policy side. I wanted to combine my love of old places and special places with a desire to advance positive change.

Q. How does the work done by the Preservation Alliance fit in with the state government and the other historical and preservation organizations in the state?

A. We are the statewide nonprofit historic preservation education and advocacy group. We’re in the facilitation and support business, helping investors and community groups advance and succeed in historic preservation projects. We changed our name from “Inherit New Hampshire” in 1998 to be more obvious about our mission and to show that there was an alliance of groups and individuals.

We feel the alliance concept is important because there is a network organization that is supporting local groups across the state as well as connecting to other statewide organizations like the state’s historic preservation office, New Hampshire Main Street program, Plan New Hampshire and the Travel and Tourism Division.

Q. What is “historic” according to the alliance?

A. One definition of historic we use is the National Parks Services’ definition of 50 years — but that’s really just a point of departure. Interestingly, the movement is toward the recent past as historic and evaluating that.

Q. In terms of preservation, does something as recent as 10 or 20 years old have just as much relevance as something 100 years old?

A. I think the themes remain valid. We look at the association with people and events, and how the place is representative of cultural development. Those themes will continue to be good lenses to look through for 1980s buildings a generation from now.

Historic preservation is about saving individual landmarks with associations to the past, but it’s also a community development tool. How do we want to live in our communities? In that instance, whether something’s 10 years old or 50 or 150 years old, using historic preservation tools help us think about how or even if we want to preserve “Main Street” or open spaces.

Q. What things from the past do we cherish that we want to continue?

A. Many people think about historic preservation in terms of saving architectural landmarks, but it’s also about the broad patterns of history, the events and activities that took place in a certain location, say the civil rights movement.

Q. Has the popularity of shows like “Antiques Roadshow,” “Restore America,” even “This Old House,” increased people’s awareness and even desire to save and reuse historic properties?

A. Yes — the movement is definitely growing. Homeowners that are taking care of their homes are also the heroes of historic preservation. Often in our work, we’re thinking of the complicated community project or languishing commercial landmark that needs to saved, but we have to remember that everyone has the potential to be a player in the historic preservation movement by being a good steward of their own properties.

Q. What are some answers to preserving the past without having it clash with today’s needs?

A. Historic preservation is not about stopping growth, it’s about helping communities and investors make good decisions about where growth goes. In terms of choosing to reuse or build new, it’s helping people do a fair side-by-side comparison.

It’s also getting people to look at the return on investment. You can replace your roof with asphalt shingles, and it might last 10 or 20 years. There might be a more expensive option, but it might last a lot longer. Not everybody can exercise that kind of option, but it’s our job to help people do an apple-to-apples assessment and learn about what tools are available to them.

Q. The alliance does a lot of work helping to preserve barns. What are some of the special challenges in restoring or preserving barns?

A. We consider barns an endangered species because they are suffering from changes in agricultural land use patterns and growth. Combine that with deferred maintenance, potential high cost of repair and high taxes — that leaves many barns under-utilized.

Q. High taxes?

A. It differs from community to community, but some barns are taxed at their highest and best use. For owners of underused barns, that’s sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, and many plan to demolish them.

Because we heard that high taxes were one of the issues for barn preservation, we helped to pass a barn tax incentive, RSA 79D, which allows owners to request from their municipality a 25 to 75 percent reduction in their property tax. It’s designed to put more money into a barn owner’s pocket that they will hopefully be used for upkeep. It also removes the disincentive against repairing barns, only to get an increase in your taxes.

Q. How are you affiliated with the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program?

A. We’ve been one of the leaders in development of the program and supporters for its funding. Certainly, we feel that there’s a need for greater funding for this incredibly effective program, and we have been discouraged when funding has been so low, but we’re glad to see the program whole and being effective.

A study found that for every $1 that is invested in an LCHIP project, $13 are returned. It underscored something we always suspected anecdotally — that historic preservation projects like the ones LCHIP has funded are great in terms of creating well-paying jobs and keeping dollars circulating in the local community.

Q. Are you going before the Legislature to try and restore that funding?

A. We continue to educate decision-makers about the effectiveness of the program. There are also a few of bills before the Legislature for this upcoming year to try and restore LCHIP’s funding.

Q. What are some preservation projects that stand out in your mind over the years?

A. There are key projects that stand out.

Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth did two things. First was the recognition that it is not just individual buildings that are important, but a whole community. Second, it was also the first use in the whole country of urban renewal dollars for historic preservation. That was a landmark event in New Hampshire.

Historic Harrisville also stands out. It was a project where an abandoned mill village was slowly but surely revived as an active, working mill village again. Today, it is known not only for using that economic development effort for historic preservation, but also for its novel conservation techniques using lime mortars and wooden window preservation. It continues to be a real model.

Certainly the grand hotel rescues, such as the Wentworth By the Sea and the Mountain View Grand, are wonderful examples of very, very complicated projects where the owners and local groups just didn’t give up and finally had success.

I think the work that’s gone on in Manchester in the millyard revitalization, PSNH’s leadership role in reuse of Energy Park, and the work up and down Elm Street by individual property owners as well as the city partnership has been exceptional.

More recently, our barn program and LCHIP have been held up as great models for their design and their effectiveness.

Also, the village stores like the Canterbury Shaker Village store and the Acworth store, were LCHIP projects. They are reminders that these buildings are more than just physical landmarks, visual landmarks and community centers, but real social gathering places, places where social networks are fostered.

Q. Where does New Hampshire fit in terms of “ranking,” if you will, of its activity or success of historic preservation compared to other states?

A. I think that because of our growth pressures, our modest state support and the Preservation Alliance’s relative youth, New Hampshire’s strength in the preservation movement is in the middle, but quickly moving ahead.

If you look at other organizations around the country like ours, New Hampshire is behind in its use of traditional tools, like putting places on the National Register, having historic resource surveys and the use of existing tax incentives.

I think, however, the rest of the country does look to New England, especially northern New England, for history and heritage. Preservationists in other parts of the country are jealous of that latent sense of stewardship and commitment to the past that we hold in New England.

Nationally, programs like our barn program, LCHIP and the Main Street programs are recognized as up and coming, and doing a lot of great work.

Q. What are some of the projects on your plate now?

A. The Webster Farm in Franklin. The property was on the market for five or six years, and there was a proposal to develop it, but it has recently been purchased by sympathetic conservation and preservation owner, the Trust for Public Land.

Webster Farm is a complex of buildings on 140 acres of prime farmland along the Merrimack River. It has incredible natural resources. It has a link to Daniel Webster and all these other layers of history — it had been used as the New Hampshire orphan’s home, and later for a Catholic order. The buildings have deteriorated and need some creative reuse solutions.

Other endangered property types where we want to have a role are waterfront properties. They are threatened by the property value and people wanting to replace historic structure with something new.

Another type is religious properties, churches. We want to help congregations “sell” their structure as a community asset and look for ways to sustain their operations that way, or, if forced to leave the structure, help the community find a sensitive reuse option for that landmark.

Another project we’re working on is finding good solutions for farmers. Land assets as well as historic assets can be protected.

Also on our agenda are some new tax incentives. These are local options, but they encourage investment in existing developed areas in downtowns and villages. The proposal before the Legislature isn’t just historic preservation, but it goes back to the idea where part of our interest is investing within existing structures and communities.

Historic preservation is one side of the two-sided smart growth coin. If you’re investing in downtown, you’re doing something to prevent costly sprawl.

Q. Where would you like to see the alliance go in the next 20 years?

A. I see the historic preservation movement now where the environmental movement was 20 years ago. I think the state is filled with latent preservationists. There is that sense of stewardship and the desire for healthy communities from both the long-timers and the newcomers to the state. I’d like to tap into that even more to effect the kind of look and character of our communities and the economic vitality of the state.

I also want to see us do even more in strengthening local communities, so that they can use historic preservation tools effectively and have the kind of communities they want—not only for a sense of place, but for the economic vitality of the community.

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