I was lucky enough to represent the University of Florida at the National Trust for Historic Preservation Conference last week in Nashville. (Thanks, Florida taxpayers!)
The conference consisted of preservation lectures, trips, meals, and booths with an estimated 2,000 students and professionals attending. From Civil War battlefield tours to sustainability lectures to Jack Daniels distillery tours to a lunch with Laura Bush, there was something for everyone.
After driving into rainy and cool Nashville on Tuesday evening, my conference kicked off Wednesday morning when I took a bus tour titled “Footsteps of Andrew Jackson: Case Studies in Preservation Leadership.” We visited the Hermitage, Jackson’s plantation, along with Stone Hall and Two Rivers Mansion.
I didn’t know much about the Hermitage beforehand, and I came away impressed. I just wish the tour had more time to see everything. First, I was surprised by the site’s size — the property is more than 1,000 acres. There’s also a number of outbuildings, many added after the Hermitage became a museum in 1889. There’s also a lot of original artifacts inside — the workers boast they have more than Mount Vernon and Monticello combined. The curatorial staff take incredible pains to add missing objects. For example, extensive research and discussion went into the dining room chairs and carpeting — they didn’t just throw out any antique.
Afterward, I attended the Save America’s Treasures luncheon. SAT is a public-private partnership that awards grants to preservation projects. Bowling Green, Ky., Mayor Elaine Walker and her husband, Dorian Walker, gave an excellent presentation on their efforts to restore neglected circa 1900 houses in their hometown. Another speaker talked about grants, not my cup of tea but important nevertheless. Before the lunch ended, Richard Moe, the president of the National Trust and everyone’s favorite preservationist, made a surprise appearance. That night, I missed the Opening Plenary, but I attended the Opening Reception at Frist Center for the Visual Center, which used to be a Post Office. Wow.
Thursday morning, I boarded another bus again for “Nashville Overview.” It was a superb way to get a quick lesson on the city’s history and preservation efforts. We stopped at Fisk University, a historically black school, and the Parthenon, a scale reconstruction of the original in Greece. However, it was difficult to see everything in downtown simply because there was so much in such a condensed area. Areas of note:
- East Nashville, a once blighted area now has pricey restored homes and is a trendy part of town;
- Music Row, the business side of Nashville’s music industry has recording studios, law firms, and other offices in former single-family homes;
- The Gulch used to a be an industrial area now it’s the site of incredible Modernist condos;
- and the Second Avenue North clubs and bars that used to be warehouses on the riverfront wharf — great adaptive uses.
Thursday afternoon, I attended the lecture “Extreme Makeover: Transform Yourself Into an Effective Advocate for 1950-70s Landmarks.” Preserving post World War II housing is big in preservation now and it’s only going to get bigger. The lecturers suggested ways preservationists can improve advocacy for these often overlooked structures. Thursday evening was the University of Florida and friends gathering.
Friday morning I attended the “Considering a Preservation Career?” lecture in the morning. In the afternoon, I took another bus tour, “Keep it Country: Rural Preservation in Nashville’s Bells Bend.” Bells Bend is a rural area very close to Nashville, and the residents there are fighting off developers to retain their laid back way of life. We visited two recently created nature parks and met with activists who helped fend off a recent effort to plop a new urbanism community out there. It was nice to get a perspective on preservation that doesn’t include just buildings.
The conference rivals Preservation Institute: Nantucket for the best preservation experience I’ve had. Just meeting and talking with students from other schools made it worthwhile. And getting to talk to working professionals about what they face day to day was icing on the cake. I can’t wait for Austin next year!