Why Does Protecting Old Buildings Even Matter?

The American Preservation Movement

The beginning of historic preservation began in the 1850’s when it was discovered that George Washington’s Mount Vernon home was in disarray and starting to look like good land to become a development site for other, newer buildings. This lone building is what started the American preservation movement lead by Ann Pamela Cunningham, a.k.a.  “The Mother of the American preservation movement,” because of her incredible strength to move the country into a new direction. Trying to do this had its obstacles, and you also have think about what time period this was. At this time in American history, slavery was dividing the country so it makes you wonder what people thought about her plea during this time. Despite any problems along the way, Ms. Cunningham wrote an article, which helped her cause because soon, there were supporters from both sides of the divided country. These people even started to create committees to prevent destruction of old places. From within this movement, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association began and they started a campaign to change the mind of Americans. Finally in 1860, Ann Pamela Cunningham and her organization was able to secure the preservation of Mount Vernon. Even after her goal was achieved, she knew that other places needed to be saved and she continued her long-term goal of preserving history. Her courage and resilience is something that really did change how we view the nation’s heritage and what we can do to save it.

National Historic Preservation Act

After WWII, the need for a better life was on the rise, and this included creating new buildings. Towns were basically destroyed to make room for these new buildings to be created. This meant that historic buildings were being destroyed as well. Like in the American Preservation Movement, people were outraged about preservation after the 1800’s and there were two acts that were created to keep these buildings safe. These were just basic acts, but neither of these were as powerful as the National Preservation Act (NHPA) that was passed in 1966. The goal of this act was to expand historic preservation and enrich future generations of our country.

The National Historic Preservation Act helped not only to preserve history, but also to create new roles. This act stated that there needed to be a National Register of Historic Places that would include buildings, structures, etc that show significance to American history. Within this, they also included incorporating leadership roles and people with expertise for these historical places. I think that it is wonderful that this act helped people to obtain jobs that they could enjoy. Before this act was passed, people within this field would most likely be in more academic areas and have a decreased chance of moving up through the ranks like most jobs have. While getting the government involved isn’t always the best idea, but in this case it was able to provide assistance to communities who have historic buildings that needed to be saved before they got destroyed. People never stopped caring about the integrity and history that historic buildings hold to their community and our roots as a country. Overall, this act helped (and still helps) to recognize historic preservation that would hone in on creating a cultural, educational, and communal legacy to benefit the public.


Terms to Define

  • Preservation To protect objects, and this case buildings, from further damage. The main goal of preservation is to extend the existence of these buildings.


“National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Historic Preservation Act of 1966

“National Historic Preservation Act.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 16 Oct. 2017, National Parks Service

Young, Dwight. “The American Preservation Movement’s Founding Mother.” National Trust for Historic Preservation, 25 Mar. 2016, National Trust for Historic Preservation


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