Wednesday, November 20, 2013

We're More Than Just Good Looks

I listened to the ceremony for the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address yesterday. The remark was made that the National Park Service takes on not only the onerous responsibility for preserving America's National Parks, but also for preserving America's national stories.

In Norristown, we applaud the efforts of anyone who'll take on the task of restoring our beautiful architecture. And why not? We LIKE our look. It's the reason Norristonians went to the trouble of applying for National Historical Register status for our historic districts, to protect our great old buildings from the wrecking ball. Our architecture needs this protection and preservation, if nothing more, as works of art.

Most of the time, though, the restorers are mainly interested in what function the building will serve after restoration--office building, apartment house, restaurant. They aren't concerned with the stories of previous occupants, of the family or organization that built the building, unless a story can be used to enhance the economic potential of the property. But, of course, not every building will have a famous war hero or notorious criminal associated with it, so the majority of Norristown's stories are in danger of being lost.

We're lucky in that we have our own NPS -- not the National Park Service, but the Norristown Preservation Society. As I've mentioned in a previous blog, the Society owns Selma Mansion, and is in the process of restoring it. In just the past month, the woodwork on the 2nd and 3rd floor exterior was repaired and painted. Above is a "before" photo. At left is the "after" photo. But there's so much more work to do on the building.

The Park Service has a budget from the Federal government, tens of thousands of skilled employees and eager volunteers, "Friends" organizations for most of the parks, millions of visitors each year, and the full support of the American people. The Preservation Society has whatever funds they can raise and a handful of regular volunteers. On the plus side, those volunteers include an historic preservation architect, a contractor, and a few people with experience in historic interpretation (that is, doing historical research and piecing the facts together for presentation to the public). They have an incredibly creative Events Committee, and volunteers who'll show up to decorate and man Selma for each event, even if it means spending hours being cold (keep your fingers crossed--the house may be getting heat soon).

Still, they aren't the SELMA Preservation Society, but the Norristown Preservation Society. They're interested in the fate of other endangered historic buildings in the borough, notably at the moment, the old Montgomery County Prison on Airy Street. And like the Park Service, they're committed to preserving the stories from Norristown's history, as well as our buildings.

I joined the Society's board a month ago, and I can give you hints as to upcoming events. First, Christmas at Selma on December 14 from 10 am to 4 pm. Kids activities, games, music, 18th century mummery (not the string band kind), Civil War history, and Yuletide traditions covering 2 centuries. Proceeds will go right back into the restoration. I'll post more details closer to the date, but put it on your calendar now.

On January 18th, the Society will partnering with The Norristown Project as part of the MLK Day of Service. Volunteers will work in 3 of Norristown's most historic buildings that day: the OIC (old Hancock School), Selma Mansion, and the Centre Theater.

If you're into ghost stories, the Society will be hosting late night and overnight paranormal investigations at the mansion, where you and your friends will be able to come hear about Selma's ghosts. Again, all proceeds go to the restoration fund. More information to come.

What can you do to support the Preservation Society?  If you're interested in volunteering at Selma, email If you're on Facebook, LIKE their page . They post photos of Selma and items about Norristown history, plus information about upcoming events.

The best thing you can do right now is come to the events at Selma, and spread the information about them to anyone you know. The better the attendance, the faster Selma can be restored and the more resources the Preservation Society will have for preserving Norristown's architecture and history.

No comments:

Post a Comment