Heritage Matters is a favored catch-phrase of mine, perhaps familiar to many of you as being the chosen name of newsletters and magazines published by those in the preservation / conservation community seemingly the whole world over.
I’m choosing to cite this phrase in this months entry in that I am penning it as a response to a number of recent news “stories” – stealth missions really, thinly veiled opinion pieces questioning the use of public monies to fund Covered Bridge preservation. The piece that touched a nerve, visited a single bypassed bridge, and suggests spending dime one to maintain such is wholly unreasonable, then goes on to intimate that funding maintenance on any example is money poorly spent.
I would ask those suggesting zero maintenance what alternative is it they see or might suggest. The funding of immediate demolition? The gating of Portals and simply letting time and neglect take the bridge to the river, someday accepting the inevitable expense of in stream cleanup and removal?
These are the only alternatives – Both are as silly as zero maintenance, and I would contend the cost of either would exceed the cost of decade upon decade of maintenance.
Postponing simple maintenance, is the unspoken of multiplier that drives up the cost of bridge rehabilitation’s. Timber does not simply go bad – Unchecked leaks in roofing or siding, and the buildup of dirt and leaf-litter, these all too easily preventable and correctable issues, are the causal factor in most all problems requiring any more than simple maintenance.
Putting aside that heritage tourism inarguably though indirectly offsets the cost of simple maintenance, (though perhaps not the costs of neglect) lets talk about heritage…
Unwittingly, even to those who care not one iota about history or historic preservation, Built Heritage still matters. In that this is where our sense of selves and place come from. The barns and historic homes we pass each day are our sense of place.
The Brownstones of Boston, Brooklyn and Harlem, the Victorian rowhouses of the Haight-Asbury, the Triple-Deckers of Mattapan, Manchester and Pawtucket, the Log Crib Barns of Appalachia, the Forebay Barns of Pennsylvania and beyond, all provide our sense of region and place.
This sense of place is also carried by the Howe Truss bridges of Oregon and the place-bound iconic Kennedy Portals of central Indiana – These things are all part of the landscapes which tell us who both we, and our Grandparents are. These things are who we are.
Forsythe Covered Bridge, Orange Township Indiana, Built by Emmett L. Kennedy & Sons
Photo credit James W. Rosenthal – Use courtesy of The Library of Congress, Prints and Photograph Division HAER: IN-106-2.
Transportation Heritage like all Built Heritage is part of this little thought of, almost subconscious sense of who we are. With any and every example of our built heritage forever removed from our landscape, part of who we are is also lost.
Our sense of place is now being endlessly eroded and homogenized, as it is re-placed with strip-malls, chain restaurants and tract-mansions.
Heritage lost, is the loss of who and what we are, both as a culture and a people.
Why would we want to intentionally fail to maintain any of it?