Heritage Restoration, Inc.

Why Bother Saving Buildings?

Kingston Historic District

Buildings are more than just design and assembly. They are a snapshot of life. The parts are the technology, skill, and materials of a time, while the style is the culture. As buildings age, some get overlooked, fall apart or fade away, while others receive the necessary maintenance, or dumb luck, to exist. Every building has a story, yet the story is told not through books, but by what is seen.

The Kingston Historic District shows a built environment on how commerce and transportation created a cluster of 18th century buildings. Each wood building has a simple unique charm and character typical of the region and the period, like the Cape style Fayerweather House. The stone Towers, the Palisades Mill, and the Peace Dale Library represent the power, style and ingenuity of the Industrial Revolution. Each of these buildings have adapted over time, but each maintains architectural features from a period of time. Parts may change, but over time, the building defines a community.

Fayerweather House

America’s regional architecture evolved from each settler’s culture, as well as the available skills, technology, and materials. Until the late 19th century, regional styles had huge separations of technology and techniques. Each building contains thousands of history markers frozen in time, from each nail, wood, stone, brick, glass, or piece of metal, to the layers of paint covering the wood. These parts can tell the story of the whole.

In the mid 19th century, mass production during the America’s Industrial

Narragansett Tower

Revolution rejected hundreds of years of building evolution and practice. Structures went up higher, faster, cheaper, and bigger than before. The Industrial Revolution made all of the Victorian period architectural designs possible. You could not have the Towers and the original Casino without mass production. But techniques and products would continually evolve and skills would try to adapt. They pushed limits and experimented with products, some succeeding and some failing. The ones that succeeded still remain, while the bad faded away.

The mid 20th century changed even faster, with many new products like plastic, asphalt, asbestos, and vinyl. In less than 100 years, we went from an honest, wood on wood structure to a confusing something else on wood. Fixing, covering, filling, and replacing old and tired parts is how buildings evolve. But each part of an old building deserves pause and respect. Imagine a modern double pane window lasting 200 plus years. Or an asphalt roof that lasts 150 years. Or vinyl siding that lasts 250 years. Crazy, right? Old buildings have thousands of parts that have lasted that long and more.

We have a profound and permanent effect on our built environment. We may consider 10 years a long time inside a building, but to a 200-year-old building, it’s nothing. Buildings have a lot to say, but they need someone looking and listening. Today gives us countless choices, and keeping perspective in an old house pays respect not only to the people who preceded us, but follow us. Assembly is not craft without skills and thought. If we look we can learn from failure, especially those conducted generations ago.