Rocky Mount Mills: From Adaptive Reuse to Community History
Rocky Mount Mills: From Adaptive Reuse to Community History

Rocky Mount Mills: From Adaptive Reuse to Community History

The DIL’s 3-year investment in  community history and archiving in Gastonia turned out to be one of the most ambitious public humanities project undertaken by any unit at the university.  Its success helped to spur the creation in 2016 of the Community Histories Workshop (CHW) in the summer of 2016.  It also brought the new unit to the attention of Capitol Broadcasting (CBC) which was undertaking the preservation and repurposing of Rocky Mount Mills (RMM) in Rocky Mount, NC., the  oldest surviving cotton mill in the state.  Through its development of the multi-award winning American Tobacco Campus in Durham, NC, Capitol Broadcasting had earned the reputation as one of the most innovative adaptive reuse developers in the region.   Plans called for the RMM site to be  redeveloped into a mixed-use space – offices, apartments, restaurants, and a craft brewing incubator.   CBC had also purchased the small mill village and were in the process of renovating the surviving mill houses for residential rental.

Project manager Evan Covington-Chavez invited me to visit the site.  As she noted at an adaptive reuse charrette the CHW organized on June 11, 2019, Evan’s nonprofit background at Durham’s Self-Help Credit Union  informed her approach to the redevelopment project.  In her eyes, the mill’s success should be gauged not merely on economic terms but also by its social impact on the community.  As a result, she sought CHW’s expertise to highlight the human elements of the mill site. Learning from CBC’s experience with the American Tobacco Campus , she and her colleagues at CBC thought it was important for the renovated Rocky Mount Mills to keep alive the stories of the people who worked at the mill and lived in its mill village—as well as those in the African American community who were excluded from both.

She shared with Elijah Gaddis and me plans for an event in October 2016 on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the closing of the mill to recognize families in the Rocky Mount area whose members worked at the mill prior to its closing in 1996.   Elijah and I proposed setting up oral history interview stations around the mill campus (the mill building itself did not reopen until 2018).  We called the project “Closing Stories.”

To us, working with CBC and RMM represented an opportunity to apply what we had learned through the Loray project to another mill-based adaptive reuse initiative,  but one with a different historical dynamic.  RMM opened in 1818 as a water-powered mill on the Tar River, some one hundred miles east of Chapel Hill.  Slaves built the original mill dam and provided the labor to operate the mill through the 1840s.  It had been owned for most of its 200-year history by the Battle family, whose history was intertwined with that of UNC and whose papers were held by the Southern Historical Collection.   It was also a chance to work with another far-sighted and risk-taking developer.

In preparation for the interviews, we met with John Mebane, the last president of the mill (and member of the Battle family), who oversaw its closure in 1996.  From him they learned that for most of its post-Civil War history, the mill’s workforce was overwhelmingly white—the only African Americans employed were male workers on the loading dock.   As we learned from our research on the Loray project, this was typical of Southern cotton mills.  What we learned from John Mebane, however, was that workplace demographics changed dramatically in the 1960s as a result of the passage of the Civil Rights Act.  By the 1980s, African Americans represented nearly 80% of the total workforce.  This information prompted a revision of plans to recruit subjects for oral history interviews to reflect the African American experience as workers at the mill, particularly during the first decade of racial integration.   With funding from CBC over the 2016-17 academic year, we built on the interviews conducted for “Closing Stories” to collect, transcribe, and curate 23 short-form oral history interviews, contributed by White and Black former Rocky Mount Mills employees and their families.

We also piloted a “history harvest” in cooperation with the local public library in Rocky Mount (Braswell Memorial Library).  Community members were invited to bring family memorabilia: photographs, letters, and even home movies to the library’s event space.  There CHW research fellows hosted scanning stations where this material was digitized.  The original material was returned to the families along with a digital copy.  Families were also asked to allow their memorabilia to be added to a digital archive, again with the assistance of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center.

 

Rocky Mount Mills: From Adaptive Reuse to Public Engagement

Within a few months of the CHW’s establishment in the summer of 2016, we received news of a grant program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission that, we thought, aligned with the CHW’s goals and would provide us with an opportunity to build on the work we had done with the Loray project.

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) of the National Archives “supports projects that promote access to America’s historical records to encourage understanding of our democracy, history, and culture.”  The “Public Engagement with Historical Records” grant program “seeks projects that encourage public engagement with historical records, including the development of new tools that enable people to engage online.”

The call for proposals gave examples of the types of programming and activities that might be funded through these grants:

  • Enlist volunteer “citizen archivists” in projects to accelerate access to historical records, especially those online. This may include, but is not limited to, efforts to identify, tag, transcribe, annotate, or otherwise enhance digitized historical records.
  • Develop educational programs for K-12 students, undergraduate classes, or community members that encourage them to engage with historical records already in repositories or that are collected as part of the project.
  • Collect primary source material from people through public gatherings and sponsor discussions or websites about the results.
  • Use historical records in artistic endeavors. This could include K-12 students, undergraduate classes, or community members. Examples include projects that encourage researching and writing life stories for performance; using record facsimiles in painting, sculpture, or audiovisual collages; or using text as lyrics for music or as music.
  • Develop technologies that encourage the sharing of information about historical records.

Elijah Gaddis, Seth Kotch, and I quickly concluded that this NHPRC grant program represented a singular opportunity to further develop our work at the intersection of adaptive reuse and community history and archiving, and to apply what we did with the Loray project to other iconic sites.  Furthermore, our emerging connection with the Rocky Mount Mills project came at a particularly propitious time.  Research we had done in conjunction with our initial work in Rocky Mount revealed that Rocky Mount Mills gave us a singular opportunity to recover the history of one of the last surviving early nineteen-century textile mills—a history that had deep  connections with UNC:  the papers of the Battle Family, which owned and operated Rocky Mount Mills over most of its 200-year history, were held by UNC’s Southern Historical Collection, along with the papers of the mill itself.  This was also an opportunity to continue working with one of the most visionary adaptive reuse developers in the region (Capitol Broadcasting) and to help change the way an economically disadvantage community (Rocky Mount) understood its history and future, and the way archives, scholars, developers, and cultural heritage organizations collaborate.

Historical Contexts

In the grant application, one of our first tasks was to place our proposed project  in a larger historical context, particularly for prospective readers who would not be familiar with the role of the textile industry in North Carolina or, indeed, the region.

Here’s part of what we wrote.

Between 1885 and 1920, the economic, social, and cultural landscape of the southeastern Piedmont was transformed by what a contemporaneous commentator called the “Cotton Mill Campaign.” From Virginia to Alabama, thousands of textile mills and villages to house the families who worked in them seemed to sprout from the red clay. Nowhere was this transformation more pronounced than in North Carolina, where the number of mills increased five-fold. By the beginning of World War I, more than fifty thousand white men, women, and children (some younger than twelve) worked in mills. An even larger number of North Carolinians—white, black, and Native American—were connected to the mills in some way: growing, processing, selling, or transporting cotton; cooking in boarding houses and lunchrooms; caring for children; preaching in the mill churches; and teaching in the mill schools.

The cotton mill boom was itself built on the modest success of pioneering industrialists who harnessed shoals and falls in the state’s inland river valleys—such as the Tar River in eastern North Carolina–to power small cotton gins and mills and leased slave labor from surrounding farms to operate them. Whether these settler-entrepreneurs knew it or not, the falls they appropriated had been important features in the indigenous landscape for thousands of years.

The deployment of slaves and free persons of color as mill operatives came to an end after the Civil War. The business model of the late nineteenth century textile industry in the South depended upon a great regional migration of tens of thousands of white farming families, pushed off the land by ruinous tenant and sharecropping practices and lured into “public work” in the burgeoning small towns of the Piedmont by the prospect of housing, steady work for multiple family members, and the amenities of village life. As steam and electricity replaced water power, cotton mills and villages were sited along the expanding rail networks that connected raw cotton to manufacturing to markets for yarn, sheeting, and woven goods. Although African Americans would continue to be connected to the textile economy, by 1898 when African American entrepreneur Warren Coleman established the first black-owned and operated mill in North Carolina, the New York Times reported that there were no black “operatives” in any of the state’s two hundred mills.

As historian Jacquelyn Hall and her colleagues demonstrated in their path-breaking book, Like a Family, a distinctive culture grew out of cotton mill work and mill village communities in North Carolina, affecting every aspect of everyday life: religion, music, education, sports and leisure, foodways, health, gender roles, and race relations. As they argue, cotton mills were sites of long, hard, and dirty work. They were also sites of struggle over working conditions and low pay that sometimes erupted into violence.  But cotton mill life engendered distinctive social relations and identities that spanned multiple generations across the twentieth century. Conditions were different in Roanoke Rapids and Ranlo, Saxapahaw and Shelby, but there were strands of shared experience involved in life on the mill village wherever it was.

African Americans, however, were excluded from most jobs in textile production for most of the twentieth century, and, concomitantly, from mill village communities. African American men worked on the loading docks in some plants; African American women were restricted to cleaning jobs and food service. In the 1960s and 1970s, however, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other victories in the struggle to break down Jim Crow barriers to equal employment resulted in a change in the textile workforce in the South of historic proportions. In 1960, textiles were still the South’s largest industry, but only 3.3% of textile workers were black. By the end of the 1970s, African Americans held more than a quarter of all production jobs. Historian Gavin Wright has called the dramatic influx of black workers, both male and female, in the 1960s and 1970s “a genuine revolution, very deserving of a prominent place in the history of the civil rights movement.”

A century after the “Cotton Mill Campaign” began and over the same amount of time that it developed, the textile and apparel industry in North Carolina withered. Foreign competition, international trade agreements, changes in import quotas, the admission of China, Vietnam, and other low-wage manufacturing countries to the WTO combined in the 1980s and 1990s to drive hundreds of U.S. textile companies out of business. In North Carolina alone between 1982 and 1985, seventy-six plants closed putting 10,000 textile workers out of a job. The second largest textile producing state in the country, North Carolina lost more textile jobs and closed more plants than any other state. Between 1996 and 2006, fifty-five percent of its apparel plants closed, and its textile workforce dropped from 233,000 to 80,000.

The effects of the collapse of the textile industry in North Carolina cascaded through hundreds of small towns: unemployment soared; municipal tax bases shrank; small businesses that served mill communities failed. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, the landscape of Piedmont North Carolina was pockmarked by abandoned textile plants, derelict mill houses, and boarded-up storefronts. Some plants and houses were demolished, but many stood as mute reminders of a bygone way of life.

Then we related the history of RMM to these larger processes.  The mill, we argued instantiated the long arc of the state’s textile history—from its creation of a water-powered mill along the falls of the Tar River in 1818, the operation of the mill by slaves during the Antebellum period; the conversion of the business model of the mill to the employment of multiple (white) family members; and the creation of a “village” of worker housing around the mill by the 1880s.  Although the mill is reported to made cloth for the use of the Confederate Army (which led to its being burned by Union troops in 1863), for most of its life the mill was a spinning mill: converting raw cotton to thread and twine.  At the time of the mill’s closure in 1993, it made twine used to tie bundles of tobacco leaves together.

The mill’s modern (20th century) history is an example of social patterns common in mill communities.  Under the Battle family, the mill was the center of economic, social, and cultural life for generations of Rocky Mount residents. By the 1920s, the mill operated a community center, park, laundry, school, and movie theater for its (white) employees, and provided electricity, water, and sewer to the village. Lots were designed to encourage family gardens.  The mill closed in 1996, but its last owner, John Mebane, himself a member of the Battle family, was determined that it not be abandoned or demolished. Capitol Broadcasting Company of Raleigh, N.C., purchased the site, including mill buildings and other industrial structures (300,000 square feet), thirty mill houses, the seven-acre island in the Tar River that had once served as a recreation area, and 30 vacant lots in the mill village–a total of nearly sixty acres. It committed to developing the site as a mixed-use campus, with loft-style apartments; retail, commercial, dining, and event space; a craft brewing incubator; community garden; “rails to trails” greenway; and riverside walk.   Houses in the mill village were to be restored for rental.[4]

Adaptive Reuse As Catalyst for Community History

In our development of the NHPRC proposal, several priorities and singular opportunities emerged.  We were eager to take on projects that demonstrated how multiple publics might  engage in new ways with different types of historical records, and, in doing so expand the very concept of “the archive” as applied to community history. We also saw this as an opportunity to extend the use of digital humanities tools and platforms to address the particular needs of collaborative community history projects: community archiving, data visualization, crowdsourcing, content management, and online publication.

Working within the context of a major public university, we were eager to realize collaborations across realms of academic endeavor: scholarly research, public history, public humanities, archiving, graduate and professional training, pedagogy, and curriculum development.

Our position—within the state in the South whose history is most associated with the rise and fall of the textile industry—gave us unparalleled opportunities help former textile communities to document and explore their histories.  For cultural heritage organizations and community groups, these moments of collective reflection and recovery could be opportunities to add capacity, extend their reach into underserved communities, and gain new skills. Teachers and students at all grade levels could contribute to a dynamic, community-based archive, producing durable resources from which new generations of students could learn. For groups leading architectural rehabilitation and reuse efforts, community history initiatives can help to connect the history of iconic sites to their new purposes and both to the communities that will use them in these new ways.

As humanists at the flagship research university in North Carolina, we felt a special responsibility to seek out opportunities to work with communities that are struggling to reimagine themselves as post-mill, post-industrial towns. Our colleagues at land-grant universities have long connected with local communities across the state through their agricultural extension and outreach services. We strongly felt that faculty and graduates students in the humanities and “soft” social sciences needed to develop new models to connect resources, expertise, and scholarship with local communities.  To do this, we would need new organizational structures—such as the CHW–within which these models can be devised, implemented, and evaluated.

We argued that increasingly, the digitization of archival collections and online publication of finding-aids across institutions was allowing researchers to trace out multiple connections in which a particular mill was involved. For example, for more than a decade the North Carolina Collection at UNC’s Wilson Library had been engaged in the mass digitization of printed and published material that documented those communities: city directories, maps (including all pre-1923 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps), postcards, photographs, and more than 3.6 million pages of digitized local newspapers.

The Digital Innovation Lab’s three years of experience designing and implementing an ambitious collaborative community history initiative around the Loray Mill in Gastonia, N.C. served as an important precedent for our proposed Rocky Mount Mills project.  We had  experience creating an online archival collection and developing online and onsite exhibits based upon it, creating and sustaining multi-organizational partnerships, leveraging institutional archival resources for the benefit of a local community, working with both commercial property developers and preservation organizations, facilitating the donation of paper and artifactual materials to cultural heritage organizations, incorporating student research into project exhibits, and organizing onsite programmatic events and activities for public audiences.

Of course, one of the greatest archival challenges represented by community history projects centered on mill communities is recovering the lives of the millions of “ordinary” people who worked in the mills and whose families lived in the mill villages. However, the explosion in digitized public records primarily for genealogical use had revolutionized our ability to conduct community histories at the level of the individual household, map migrations from mountains to mills, and “reconstruct” mill communities at particular points in the past. Thanks to a gift from Ancestry.com in 2014, all UNC Library patrons had access to its more than 16 billion sources, including census enumerations (including slave censuses), immigration and naturalization records, and death certificates.

The RMM project would give us an opportunity to explore more fully than we were able to do in Gastonia the “structuring absence” of the histories of all communities in the South, but particularly cotton mill communities: the role of African Americans in the state’s textile history.  In Rocky Mount we could see that African Americans were the first Southern mill workers in the antebellum period–both slaves and free persons of color. When the Southern textile business model shifted to white family labor after the Civil War, the role of African Americans in mill communities was marginalized if not expunged in most historical accounts.   We strongly felt that our project should address the urgent need to recover the roles of African Americans in the mill and in the larger mill community.   The “archive” of the lived experience of cotton mill communities is to be found in the living memories, home movies, mementos, and stories of those–black and white–who continue to live there.  In some cases, they are our only link to the working world inside the mills and the culture of mill communities.

In May, 2017, the Archivist of the United States announced that we were one of three projects to be funded through this category of NHPRC grants.  Unfortunately, the dispersal of funds for the project was held up for more than five months (March 2018) as a result of Congressional delays in the passing of a budget and funding approval for the National Archives and Records Administration.   Nicole Coscolluela, a recent graduate of NCSU’s MA program in public history, was hired as the RMM project manager.   The initiative’s implementation was delayed while the funding issues were resolved, and we were granted an extension to December 31, 2019 to complete programmatic activities.

The initiative was comprised of several strands.

Teaching the History of Cotton Mill Communities

For a decade I had worked with Christie Norris, Director of Carolina K-12, a unit of Carolina Public Humanities, which provides curricular and professional development programming for K-12 teachers in North Carolina.  Carolina K-12 offers unique training opportunities and materials for North Carolina’s educators and students. In a single year, Carolina K-12 works with over 750 educators, affecting over 105,000 students.

Two local educators (Renny Taylor and Elijah Kane) were recruited to serve lead teachers for the project and to help identify other potential participants.  They also reviewed oral histories, primary sources, materials collected and digitized from the history harvest, and the historical narrative prepared for the project to  identify resources that might be especially useful for the creation of class learning units aligning with N.C. curriculum guidelines.  Renny Tused his connections with community members to locate surviving issues of the Riverside Bulletin, the mill’s World War II-era newspaper.

Under Christie’s leadership, a workshop was planned for middle and high school history and social studies teachers, on the basis of which eight lesson plans were created around the history of Rocky Mount Mills and the surrounding region.  Christie and her staff edited and curated the plans, adding them to Carolina K-12’s online archive.

Then an undergraduate research fellow in the CHW, UNC student  (and now a PHD student in cultural geography at Berkeley) Morgan Vickers wrote, produced, and edited a brief (8 minute) video that provides a documentary history of the textile industry in North Carolina and Rocky Mount Mills in particular.  It focuses on the role of African Americans in this history, particularly during the period of integration.  It was designed to be an introduction to the individual oral history interviews for K-12 teachers and students.

The Slave History of Rocky Mount

An often neglected part of scholarly research and public history is the kind of fine-grained genealogical research conducted by a wide variety of scholars both amateur and professional. For this project, we turned to colleagues in the Southern Historical Collection, in particular Bernetiae Reed, a skilled African American genealogist, to recover the history of enslaved people who worked in the Rocky Mount Mills and in the cotton fields that helped supplied its raw materials.  Through this work we  developed a set of resources and research strategies that could be used by local libraries, genealogical societies, community colleges, and K-12 teachers to document family genealogies that reached back to the period of slavery.  NIcole also organized a slave genealogy workshop in June 2019, bringing together genealogists, archivists, teachers, librarians, and community members.

Community Stories

Over the course of the initiative, Nicole, Elijah, and other members of the CHW team arranged, recorded, and transcribed some 20 short-form oral history interviews with African American and White members of the Rocky Mount Mills “community.”  Together, the interviews chronicle life in the mill village, multiple perspectives on working conditions in the mill, leisure and family life, the struggle for civil rights in Eastern North Carolina, the transition from farm life to industrial life for hundreds of African American families, and the decline of the textile industry and closure of Rocky Mount Mills in 1996.

Mill History

Early in our research, we discovered that there wasn’t a compact, well-researched, accessible narrative history of Rocky Mount Mills and the surrounding community.  Project manager Nicole Coscolluela took on the challenge of researching, writing, and editing a seven-part narrative history and publishing it to the Digital Rocky Mount Mills website.  Chapters included: Landscape and Environment; Native American Connections; Reconstruction-Era Political Turmoil; the Great Depression; and the Integration of the Mill in the 1960s.

Digital Archive

Very little in the way of company records survived for the Loray Mill in Gastonia.  The mill changed ownership several times over its first two decades, and in 1919 the mill was purchased by a textile manufacturing company outside the region (Mansville-Jencks in Rhode Island).  Even though one company (Firestone Tire and Rubber) owned the mill from 1935 until its closure in 1993, at which time operations were transferred to the nearby town of Kings Mountain.

Rocky Mount Mills, on the other hand, was owned and operated for most of its 200-year history by an extended local family–the Battle family–whose papers had been donated to UNC’s Southern Historical Collection.  Furthermore,  at the time of the  mill’s closure in 1996, president John Mebane  donated surviving company records to the SHC as well.    CHW graduate research fellow Lucas Kelley led the effort to research and curate a collection of images and documents that could be included in an online digital archive.  The archive also includes material  contributed by Capitol Broadcasting and those gathered from community members at the “history harvet” we had held.

Connecting Adaptive Reuse and University Curriculum

With the formation of the CHW,  I re-designed an American Studies course for advanced undergraduates and graduate students entitled “Documenting Communities” to serve as a flexible curricular vehicle for community-engaged experiential education courses offered by American Studies faculty.  My offerings of “Documenting Communities” (AMST 475) during the period of the RMM initiative were designed to bridge classroom and community through connecting students at all levels and across multiple disciplines with the work of the CHW and the communities in which it works.  The class visited both the Loray Mill in Gastonia and Rocky Mount Mills and proposed projects that revised, extended, or adapted the work of the CHW and its partners in those communities.

Adaptive Reuse  White Paper and Charrette

With both the Loray Mill and Rocky Mount Mills projects, the CHW had seized upon the repurposing of an iconic industrial structure as a catalyst for a “long-tail” community history and archiving initiative.  These projects have both involved partnerships with progressive property developers with a passion for the restoration and re-use of federally-recognized historical sites, eagerness to incorporate the history of the site as a part of the user experience, and willingness to collaborate with preservation organizations, cultural heritage organizations, and multiple university units.  The CHW had played an important role in mobilizing and sustaining such adaptive reuse/community history initiatives; bringing university expertise to bear upon these projects;  add capacity to local cultural heritage organizations and community groups; and facilitating the participation of individuals and groups whose voices have typically not been heard in cultural heritage programming.

As a component of the NHPRC-funded initiative we undertook an adaptive reuse  charrette in June of 2019, held in the newly-reopened Rocky Mount Mills.  More than twenty representatives of adaptive reuse stakeholders–development companies, historical preservation organizations,  architectural firms, universities, libraries, and community groups–gathered for a conversation about the relationship between adaptive reuse and community history and archiving.  A discussion of the charrette and an interview with developer Rory Dowling are included in a summary white paper I wrote on adaptive reuse (September 2019).

An edited version of the white paper can be found here.

Professional Outreach

As a component of the NHPRC-funded initiative we were encouraged to participate in relevant professional organization meetings.   At the  2018 National Humanities Conference, organized by the National Humanities Alliance and the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the project was showcased in a dedicated panel, chaired by project coordinator Nicole Coscolluela, entitled “Historians and Developers, Pitfalls and Potential.” Audience members were keen to know more about how community history projects might be catalyzed by adaptive reuse of historic site and the professional and ethical dimensions of working with property developers.

We  also sought out an opportunity to be featured at the annual meeting of the North Carolina Preservation Consortium on November 16, 2018 at North Carolina State University (Raleigh, NC). The conference’s theme was “Preserving Community Heritage.” a perfect fit for our work.  It was a great opportunity to discuss our work with preservationists, public historians, archivists, museum directors, and community organizations.  These meetings, taking place in the fall of 2018, also allowed us to incorporate feedback and comments into our professional practice going forward.

Writing the white paper and organizing the charrette was also an opportunity to reflect on the adaptive reuse/community history nexus–the “place” Elijah and I had worked since 2013.

Here are some of the take-aways:

Work at the intersection of adaptive reuse and community history/archiving involves multiple stakeholders, yet they seldom gather to discuss their roles, interests, and goals.

They include:

–commercial adaptive reuse developers

–adaptive reuse architects

–non-profit adaptive reuse developers

–historic preservationists

–local cultural heritage organizations

–university-sponsored community history and archiving initiatives

–university economic development specialists

–university city and regional planning experts

–academic historians

–archivists

–librarians

–public arts administrators

–public historians

–community members

Making commercial adaptive rehabilitation and repurposing of iconic sites a catalyst for community history and an opportunity for university outreach requires a farsighted developer with an appreciation for the multiform values of the site’s history and role in the community.

Stakeholders must be mindful of the long time frame in which adaptive reuse development projects unfold and the uncertainties that are endemic to the process.   The Loray Mill closed in 1993.  It did not reopen until 2015.  The Rocky Mount Mills redevelopment began in 2015 and was fully ready for occupancy in 2019.

Historic preservation organizations, such as Preservation NC, can play a crucial role in preventing the demolition of iconic structures and preventing the further deterioration of abandoned sites.  They also can help attract developers (public or private) for rehabilitation and reuse.

Federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits are often crucial in putting together funding packages for adaptive reuse projects.  Thus, state-level offices of historic preservation and the National Park Service are key entities in the process, through nomination of the property for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

National Register criteria do more than acknowledge the architectural value of a property, they point to the social, economic, and cultural legacy of the site.  Thus, they open opportunities for connecting the future of the site with its past and that of its community.  National Register nomination research can uncover key events, people, and places associated with a site’s history.

Academic units such as the Community Histories Workshop can play important roles as instigators of community history initiatives and mobilization of community organizations and groups in support of local history and archiving.

The most effective academic  units working at this intersection are institutionally “persistent”: they have an organizational stability that goes beyond one particular project or academic period (semester or academic year).  Such long-term persistence also recognizes the long time frame of adaptive reuse projects.

The CHW has provided important opportunities for professional training for undergraduate and graduate students from a wide range of disciplinary orientations: public history, archiving, folklore, oral history, Native American Studies, digital humanities, public humanities.

The CHW has created durable interdisciplinary and trans-domain partnerships, linking scholars, archivists, and technologists, which can be mobilized through individual projects.  These institutional collaborations help to bring high-level resources and expertise to local communities.

Successful adaptive reuse/community history initiatives depend upon sustained engagement with cultural heritage organizations in the community: public libraries, museums, historical and genealogical societies.  Successful partnerships result in increased capacity and visibility for these organizations.

Essential to the involvement of academic entities in community history and archiving projects is the adoption of a set of core values that inform all partnerships and activities: integrity, trust, diversity, inclusion, and respect for local expertise and experience.

Individual community members are key resources in any community history/archiving project.  They are gatekeepers to the “intangible heritage” of a community and the keepers of public memory.  They are unique sources of local knowledge and expertise.

All adaptive reuse projects across the South involve fraught histories of racial oppression and exclusion.  A key goal of community history and archiving projects should be a confrontation with this complex history and providing opportunities for the recovery of silenced and marginalized voices.

css.php