Recently, my husband and I took a vacation to Charleston, South Carolina. I had never been and, as an historian specializing in the American Revolution, it was on my bucket list of places to visit. I had a long list of things to do including visiting museums, historic plantations, nature hikes, and more. In the four days we spent there, we only made it though half of the list. Now, I had compiled quite a long list of things to see and do, but we also just spent a lot of time wandering around the city, because we loved being there!
It was beautiful, the weather was lovely, and Charleston was so full of history! Alleys harkened back to the 18th-century city design. We toured dungeons that the British had used to hold treasonous patriots during the Revolution. The steeples of churches that had welcomed centuries of parishioners dotted the city skyline. We even passed by houses that signers of the Declaration of Independence and ratifiers of the Constitution had called home. I was in history heaven, to say the least.
Charleston was founded in 1670, so it makes sense that they have 96 buildings on the National Parks Register of Historic Places, compared to Flint’s 26. Charleston has a museum, an historical society, and a preservation society; it seemed like every other building had a plaque on it stating the year it was built and who had called it home. Churches in the city (Charleston holds the nickname “The Holy City” for a reason) claimed to have the oldest congregation, the oldest building, cemeteries that held prominent Americans, and more! If they could be the first of something, they would claim it. I found it inspiring.
Although I felt a tinge of jealousy for this rich and illustrious history, it made me appreciate the structures we have here in Flint even more. Some were houses, some were businesses. Some, like the Durant-Dort Carriage Company Headquarters, are national landmarks. The list includes museums, offices, theaters, and more.Today we watch so much history being ripped down around us, that saving those few buildings that can be saved becomes ever more important. I have traveled to Europe (Greece and Italy to be exact) and the history you find there is so incredibly rich and attracts people from all over the world, as does a city like Charleston, or others like Boston (another history-rich city I’ve had the opportunity to explore) and they are able to preserve their history for the future and turn it into an asset for their residents.
Presently, a cohort of public history professionals are working to promote the History Relevance Campaign to help spread the message that history is vitally important to life today. These individuals drafted a Value Statement which can be found here, but it emphasizes the value that history has in our communities. In addition to explaining the ways that history helps to develop critical thinking skills and reinforces civic duty, it explains that preservation can be a “catalyst for economic growth.” People are drawn to cities with a rich heritage and an appreciation for it. Creative and innovative people want to be involved in communities that are unique and have a strong sense of culture and heritage. Additionally, it can help bring in visitors and the money they spend while visiting.
Additionally, history is an important feature of a location’s sense of place. It illuminates who lived here, what they were like, the struggles they endured, and the successes they celebrated. History can help us appreciate the work done by generations before us. We can learn important lessons about how we should and should not act. And we learn about the shared memories, traditions, and responsibilities that unite us as a community. Without these reminders sprinkled throughout the city, it’s so easy to forget the past that unites us all as members of the Flint community. This is why preservation is important to the city and why we work so hard to ensure that the Whaley House continues as an important sentinel of Flint’s past. If we don’t preserve, then who will?