Historic preservation and downtowns go hand-in-hand, as so many of our beautiful, timeless treasurers are located amongst their lively streets. One ally in keeping these buildings maintained and for contemporary enjoyment is the State Historic Preservation Office. SHPO shares many values with Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC), such as how our historic buildings have important links to sustainability, adaptive reuse, and nurturing connections among people.
SHPO’s work encompasses three main areas: regulatory, educational, and program administration. They are federally mandated – every state in the nation has a SHPO office. However, they also have several state programs and policies that mirror the federal ones, such as administering the state historic tax credit program, in additional to the federal historic tax credit program. While they have regulatory responsibilities pursuant to laws such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and the CT Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), they’re also focused on and incentivizing preservation and protection of our historic gems.
SHPO understands that while it’s important to maintain the characteristics of our historic buildings, it’s also important to allow them to evolve. “House museums are wonderful, and there’s certainly a place for them, but we don’t want every historic building to be preserved like a museum. We want these buildings to be viable, living pieces of the community that people can use, that they can live in, that they can work in, that they can enjoy because those are the best ways to preserve these buildings,” says Jonathan Kinney, State Historic Preservation Office and Director of Operations.
Mr. Kinney’s advice for downtowns is to reach out as soon as you can and talk to them about potential projects, whether you’re an economic development official or a business owner. This lets SHPO get in on the ground floor and identify where there may be concerns about historic properties and provide guidance up front so people aren’t searching around for what to do.
Engaging SHPO is easier than many may think. They encourage early dialogue with municipalities or developers so that they can help identify any potential obstacles and offer resources to assist in addressing them. SHPO also works with many partners across the state, including their statutory partner, Preservation CT, a statewide non-profit staffed with preservation professionals, including Circuit Riders, who travel the state providing boots-on-the-ground guidance and advice on SHPO’s grant and other programs.
SHPO is eager for people to know they are there to be a resource in protecting and preserving our historic assets, especially when viewed in the larger context of other pressing issues, such as sustainability, housing, and education. As they begin the statewide planning phase for their 2024-2029 plan, these issues are at the forefront of Mr. Kinney’s mind. “Historic preservation can’t singlehandedly address all of those issues, but it has a strong connection to each one and is a tool that is available to the people of Connecticut to help with each.” He notes how, “the greenest building is the one that’s already there,” notably the embodied energy savings of historic building; how historic mill buildings can be great tools to help construct housing units, including much-needed affordable units; and how these buildings offer us living connections to the past. “There’s something really neat about historic buildings in that they give us context and they allow us to experience something that goes beyond just one human life. It places us us into a longer timeline which I think people find comforting.”
Mr. Kinney was particularly proud of a SHPO project headed by Jenny Scofield, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer/National Register Coordinator last year, in partnership with Preservation CT, which surveyed Frederick Law Olmstead projects around the state. While one of the nation’s most famous historic landscape architects, Olmstead was from Connecticut, but a comprehensive look at his projects in the state had never been undertaken before. In yet another fascinating example, Mr. Kinney also shared how work is underway in Simsbury to document . It turns out that during both World Wars, southern seasonal workers were recruited to help, including through a partnership with Morehouse College students in Atlanta during WWII – where a young Martin Luther King attended. Dr. King’s time in the north working the Connecticut tobacco fields would prove to be a transitional time for him, and he would later say it was during this summer that he was called to service as a minister.
As one of the oldest states in the nation, with an even older indigenous history, it’s reassuring to know SHPO is deploying resources to preserve and protect our vibrant history, one that is deeply embedded in our downtown and village centers. We encourage you to reach out to them or Preservation CT if you have a project you’re considering, or if you would like more information on the resources and programs they offer.
CMSC is the expert resource for developing and sustaining vibrant downtowns that fuel our state’s prosperity. Our mission is to assess, educate, convene, and advocate to develop and grow our traditional downtowns, village centers, and urban mixed-use neighborhoods. We provide education and training, resources and technical assistance, and function as the statewide champion for downtowns and Main Streets of all sizes.
CMSC is supported by its Founding Sponsors, the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and Eversource Energy. CMSC is also supported by its Growth Sponsors, UIL Holdings and the State Historic Preservation Office. More information is available at www.ctmainstreet.org.