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Preparing for Preservation Month: Why advocacy and awareness matter

November 30, 2022 | Ben White

May is Preservation Month, which is a time to celebrate a community’s unique cultural and historic assets. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation ”Preservation Month began as National Preservation Week in 1973. [Then] in 2005, [they] extended the celebration to the entire month of May and declared it Preservation Month to provide an even greater opportunity to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states.” Preservation Month celebrations present both an opportunity to create events that tell the history and heritage in the historic district as well as advocate for preservation efforts. If Main Street doesn’t advocate for itself and its historic district, it will end up just like so many of the forgotten historic buildings that were demolished by neglect.

Main Street organizations can start planning early on how to implement historic educational programming and preservation advocacy efforts. These efforts should have the goal to bring awareness to the historic assets in their district and provide information on how vital preservation-based economic development is to their local economy.

Historic Educational Programming

Harrisonville National Preservation WeekThere are so many ways that Missouri Main Streets have utilized historic educational programming to celebrate Preservation Month. Local Main Street organizations should first look at their own history and district to see what opportunities they can promote and then look other communities for examples. One effective event that many communities plan for is a walking tour of the historic assets in a downtown and community.

  • In Marceline, the Downtown Marceline Foundation held a self-guided walking tour with guides in historic buildings. These guides were able to tell the story of each of their district’s important downtown buildings, citing the history of the buildings, and the businesses that have called it home over the years.

  • In Chillicothe, Main Street Chillicothe held a walking tour with 4th graders. This event provided an opportunity to educate the youth on the history and importance of downtown. In addition, the organization gave the school kids an architectural scavenger hunt to help emphasize important architectural features. This activity kept the children engaged and excited about history.

  • In Washington, Downtown Washington, Inc. put a unique twist on the historic tour model through a Haunted History Ride. This horse-drawn wagon tour of downtown Washington featured some of its most well-known historic sites and the hauntings surrounding them.  The guide told of the bizarre accidents and strange murders of the past, as well as more recent paranormal activity. This tour also included Washington’s everyday history and how downtown has changed over the years.
Washington Haunted History Tours logo

Preservation Advocacy Efforts

Each example of the historic educational programming above presents an opportunity to also advocate for preservation. During each educational program there is an opportunity to share with a captivated audience at the fun event as to how they can join in advocating the preservation of the history. These two are interconnected while also standing alone as Main Street organizations can put together advocacy campaigns to demonstrate the importance of their preservation-based economic development efforts in their local economy.

  • The Main Street Chillicothe Walking Tour, mentioned above, provided an opportunity for a tour guide to advocate for the historic resources in the downtown district. While telling the history of downtown Chillicothe, the tour guide tried to instill a sense of pride and ownership in downtown Chillicothe throughout the tour.

  • In 2018, Old Town Cape, Inc. in Cape Girardeau used Preservation Month as an opportunity to expose the community to one of their prominent buildings in downtown, the H&H Building. This presentation advocated for saving and adaptively reusing the building to become an asset again.

There are many ways to celebrate Preservation Month in your community. Education and advocacy efforts can come in different forms, but it’s vitally important to tell the history and significance of downtown so that the community and heritage travelers gain a better understanding and appreciation for what is unique to your community.

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