WHAT IS HISTORIC PRESERVATION?

Oldest Unaltered Colonial House in Greenwich

Historic preservation is an effort to save places that matter for the benefit of current and future generations. Today, Historic Preservation is also an important economic development tool and strategy that builds sustainable, livable communities. Historic Preservation also serves as a proven catalyst for heritage tourism and small business development in rural and urban communities.

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WHAT DOES ‘HISTORIC’ MEAN FOR A SITE?

Today, most preservationists start with a 50-year cut-off to determine the ‘historic’ eligibility of a particular resource. Thus, something built before 1966 could technically qualify as historic. “Historic” also includes other measures of criteria that were established by the National Register of Historic Places (created in 1966) and guide the work of most preservation efforts and projects and include:

The National Register broadly defines eligibility in four categories:
· Associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or
· Associated with the lives of significant persons in or past; or
· Embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
· Have yielded or may be likely to yield, information important in history or prehistory.

Using these categories, preservationists across the country are able to focus their work on compelling and important places – places worth preserving. These categories are also used for property owners attempting to list their property on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places.

Listing on the Connecticut State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places does not preclude changes to a building or its demolition, but it does encourage preservation. In Connecticut approximately 32,000 such resources in more than 140 towns are listed on the National Register. In Greenwich there are 30 properties listed including houses, churches, bridges, mills, municipal buildings, a lighthouse, railroad stations and a parkway. In addition to individual properties, there are six historic districts and each contains many properties.

PRESERVATION IN THE U.S. AND THE TOWN OF GREENWICH

Historic Preservation, as a discipline and movement in the United States, is a relatively young endeavor. It was not until the mid-19th century that efforts commenced to ‘save’ or ‘preserve’ important homes, public buildings and later landscapes. George Washington’s Mount Vernon and America’s Civil War battlefields are now fondly remembered as some of the nation’s first forays into legitimate preservation – setting the tone for generations to come.

Today, nearly 150 years after the first American preservation project began, much has changed and oddly much remains exactly the same.

From day one – preservation in the United States has been a decidedly grassroots effort. While government agencies have taken on an important role in most aspects of preservation – nearly every major preservation campaign has first started with a group of concerned citizens sounding the alarm, organizing and then identifying ways to save places that matter.

In 2006, a similar group of concerned Greenwich citizens gathered to establish the Thomas Lyon House Committee – known today as Greenwich Preservation Trust. Their initial goal was to save the Thomas Lyon House from demolition but soon thereafter expanded their mission to the preservation of all of Greenwich’s unique building history.

A decade later, that effort continues.