We hear a lot about endangered species. But each year for 24 years, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been spotlighting 11 endangered places in the United States – from battlefields to state and national parks to the deteriorating homes of legendary Americans. Even eccentric old motels and gas stations have made the list.
The nonprofit trust was chartered by Congress in 1949. Ever since, it and some of its almost 400,000 members have been campaigning to spare architectural treasures from the wrecker’s ball and natural sites from destruction.
The trust also bought 29 historic properties itself, including an entire Indian pueblo in New Mexico and President Abraham Lincoln’s one-time summer cottage in Washington, D.C.
Each year, it focuses special attention on 11 “Endangered Places.” Eleven rather than 10 because, several years ago, a trust president could not decide between two of the final candidates.
This year’s finalists include the now-vacant and severely damaged Long Island, New York, home of jazz legend John Coltrane; Fort Gaines, a Civil War fortress on Alabama’s Dauphin Island in Mobile Bay and China Alley, a dilapidated former immigrant neighborhood in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Sometimes the threat to such places is direct and acute, as in the Coltrane home situation. Other times, the site may be stable but threatened by encroaching development.
For instance, a few years ago, the National Trust helped blunt the giant Walt Disney entertainment corporation’s plan to create a theme park near Virginia’s Civil War battlefields.
The trust says wind-farm and oil exploration threatens Bear Butte, one of this year’s sites. The low mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a place of prayer and meditation for as many as 17 American Indian tribes.
The proposed development, in the trust’s words, “will negatively impact the sacred site and further degrade the cultural landscape.”
According to the trust’s calculations, financial contributions from its members and others have helped save just over half of the threatened sites from destruction since the endangered list started in 1988.
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