“Tradition is not to preserve the ashes, but to pass on the fire.” —Gustav Mahler
The Historic Preservation movement in the United States had a fitful start: preserving Mount Vernon from becoming the site of an amusement park; the unsuccessful battle to save Penn Station; and several other wins and losses on the way to the Historic Preservation Act of 1966. In today’s Congress, it wouldn’t have a chance—very likely characterized as an unlawful taking of property or an impediment to Free Enterprise Capitalism. HP is the equivalent of building fences that inhibit free-range grazing; cattlemen don’t like that. But during these fifty-plus years, the physical evidence of American character has been at least partially preserved for the next generations.
As the long-time resident of a Midwestern town I’ve seen the slow acceptance of historic preservation since my arrival here in 1971. I recall a conversation with a city planning official about the preservation of historic street lighting along one of our more architecturally significant streets: “But when all those houses become museum, who will staff all of them?” The notion that HP was akin to pickling is still with us, but happily that official has long since retired.
So, what of HP in Agincourt?
If the place I’ve described is typical, there probably had been some watershed issue which encouraged the coalition of Agincourt’s preservation-minded folk. Saving a landmark like the second Fennimore county courthouse; or a valued open space like Gnostic Grove; or the elegant home of a former banker, lawyer, politico or other prominent citizen would qualify. At the moment—looking back on twelve years of writing and blogging about the place—I have a suspicion what that issue may have been. And it’s surprising low key.