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Celebrating historic preservation in the First State

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Delaware Public Media
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For preservationists, 2016 is a big year for anniversaries. Not only is it the 50th anniversary of the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act, but it is also the centennial of the National Park Service.

The anniversaries are, of course, cause for celebration and commemoration, and many activities are being planned in Delaware.

“One of the most important things about this celebration is that it’s for everyone, at every level – federal, state, county and city governments, community groups, historical societies and individual residents,” says Bev Laing, a historian in the state Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

Although no main event has been scheduled yet, “we’re doing a lot of little things,” says historian Kim R. Burdick, the coordinator of the state’s informal Preservation 50 organization.

However, as of now, there’s no easy way to keep track of all the activities planned under the Preservation 50 umbrella.

That will change as of March 1, Laing says, when the state launches a new web page, which will feature a calendar of upcoming preservation events. The calendar will include activities sponsored not only by the state, but also by other government agencies, historical societies and preservation groups. (Don’t look now; all you will see is an “under construction” notice.)

In the meantime, a Facebook group page that Burdick has created, Delaware-Historic Preservation Celebration 2016, features posts of event announcements, photos of historic sites and links to articles of interest to the preservation community.

Meetings of the Preservation 50 group give representatives of government agencies and historical societies, as well as private citizens, an opportunity to share ideas and spread the word about upcoming events. The next meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday, March 14, most likely at the Wilmington Train Station. Details will be announced on the historic preservation Facebook page.   

Among the activities planned are a series of four preservation-themed field days for fourth-grade students on The Green in Dover in April, Laing says.

Also, the 83rd Dover Days festival, scheduled for May 6-8, will have a preservation theme, she says.

On April 30, Kent County Tourism will host a preservation workshop at the Smyrna Opera House, according to a spokeswoman for the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs. Details are still being worked out but the program is expected to include local preservation case studies and site tours, as well as presentations on Historic Preservation Tax Credit programs and listings on the National Register of Historic Places.

A series of February events will link the Preservation theme to Black History Month.

Laing and state Historic Preservation Office researcher Carlton Hall will make two presentations on “The Green Book,” a travel and vacation guidebook for people of color during the segregation era, and the challenges of living through the Jim Crow laws in Delaware from the 1920s through the 1960s. The first program is set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 13, at the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, Admission is free, but reservations are required by Feb. 12 for the Lewes presentation. Call 302-645-1148.

The second “Green Book” presentation, on Feb. 27, will conclude a series of four Saturday talks at the Old State House in Dover. On Feb. 6, a panel of historians will discuss preserving African-American history in Delaware. On Feb. 13, historian Madeline Dunn will talk about “Maps, Taxes and African-American Presence in Kent County, Delaware 1837 and 1845.” On Feb. 20, archaeologist Craig Lukezic will tell the story of Aaron Cooper, a free black man who was kidnapped, sold by a slave trader in Mississippi in 1811, and eventually regained his freedom and returned to Delaware. Admission to all four talks is free.

Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.