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Historical Background

Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings

Suggested Reading

Colonials and Patriots
Survey of
Historic Sites and Buildings

ENGLISH COLONIAL and Revolutionary War sites and buildings are abundant along the Atlantic coast, particularly in the New England and Middle Atlantic States. War and economic distress have taken a great toll in the South, and War for Independence sites were fewer there to begin with, but there are still many important locations. Selection was a major problem in almost all phases of the Survey's work. Even a rigid application of the criteria of exceptional value barely reduced the field to manageable proportions. Approximately 650 places relating to the period 1700-1775 were noted and evaluated from written sources, for instance. Field historians then made formal visits to more than a hundred of these. The Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments has approved 38 sites and buildings and 5 historic districts in this period as meeting the criteria and therefore eligible for the Registry of National Historic Landmarks; and an additional 22 sites in the period of the War for Independence.

Many important sites have been "lost" in one way or another. The exact locations of some, such as Fort Moore, a South Carolina trading post, are unknown in the light of present knowledge. Others have lost their integrity because of undesirable encroachments or the destruction of original features. Among these may be noted the Carlyle House, a magnificent Georgian mansion built by one of the founders of Alexandria, Va., and the Lucas Plantation, where 16-year-old Eliza Lucas demonstrated that indigo could become a major export crop in South Carolina. Most of the lost sites have been obliterated by the growth of communities and industries since the colonial period. For example, New Post, Spotsylvania County, Va., headquarters of the General Post Office for America for 23 years, has been destroyed by a sand-and-gravel operation; the Albany Congress site by the streets and buildings of downtown Albany, N.Y.; the site of the Boston Tea Party by a commercial building; and battle areas of Long Island, Manhattan, Trenton, Germantown, and Savannah have been overwhelmed by urban expansion.

Most of the important 18th-century sites and buildings that survive appear to be protected adequately against destruction. A number of them are in State or municipal ownership while others—such as Boston's Old South Meeting House and Virginia's Stratford Hall—are well maintained by private organizations. Some notable restorations have been accomplished within the past generation, of which the most famous is Colonial Williamsburg.

The toll among less significant sites and buildings continues, however. The boom period since World War II, with its accompanying acceleration of industrial, housing, and highway development, has greatly increased the threat. A particular threat, the full extent of which is not yet known, is the interstate highway program. The damage is being offset and blocked to some extent by an increasing awareness of preservation needs by historical societies and the public at large.

Groups and individuals active in historic preservation are too numerous to mention individually. They range from the National Trust for Historic Preservation through such regional organizations as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, State groups such as the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, to groups such as the Historic Charleston Foundation, Inc., the Deerfield (Mass.) Heritage Foundation, and the Elfreth's Alley Association of Philadelphia. The work done by these groups, and many others like them, is invaluable in the preservation of our historic heritage.

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Last Updated: 09-Jan-2005