Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Nominating Process

I heard back from the Office of Historic preservation this week about my nomination to add The Thomas D. Petch House to The National Register of Historic Places. As I suspected, I was asked to make some changes to the application. Most would not be too difficult to do. Basically, I was asked to move some things around and to clarify a few points.

Some of the request are nearly impossible to fulfil, though. For instance, there is no way to tell when the garage/apartment structure was built, yet the hand written notes on my write-up seem to indicate they want proof. I’m not really sure if I should not include it or just say I don’t know. There are no records that prove exactly when it was built. Also, I stated that the period of significance is 1895 to 1926. The 1926 is because of the garage structure, but I was told that the period of significance should end in 1920 when the house leaves the Petch family. Again, should I not include the 1926 garage/apartment building. I’m sure this could be cleared up with an email.

Other things are odd, though. According to the hand written notes, if I don’t explicitly say something is original it is questioned by the person who reviewed the application. For instance, when I describe the wrap-around porch there is a hand written note, “original?”. This is a little confusing because I plainly state what is not original to the house, so it would seem intuitive that everything else is original. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to explicitly say what is original and what isn’t. Do I itemize every window and stair tread? It seems that if I clearly state what is not original I should not need to state what is original.

Again, this is minor stuff and I’m not really dinked that much. They do say that “The physical description is very well organized and detailed”. Another odd thing, though. I’m told that “The statement of significance must begin with a summary paragraph stating which criteria the property meets and the level of significance”. I broke this up in to three short paragraphs, which was a mistake I guess. I was going for both the architecture and the a significant person. Maybe it would just be a matter of taking out some line breaks. Again, very minor stuff and easily fixed.

There were a few things that were not minor and not easily fixed. First, the reviewer did not think I made a strong enough case that Mowry was the architect. I will admit that the association is tenuous. There is no “smoking gun” that proves that Mowry built the house, yet the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. I would either need to delete all of this, or go on what would be an almost certainly fruitless search to find something that says that Mowry built the house. Another house just down the street is on the National Register and it claims that Mowry is the builder/architect. Some question this around town. I’m not sure where they got the proof for this. Mowry was prominent enough that there may be an archive some place, but I’ve never found it, and no one I know has ever seen anything like it. I’ve been in every archive in the county.

Also, the reviewer did not think that Petch was significant enough to warrant being considered for Criterion B. Another way to look at it is that I did not make a strong enough case. This is another area where there just is not enough information available. Unless I just start making things up, there is really nothing else to add. Maybe I could embellish all of my paragraphs and stretch it out, but I don’t think that is what they are looking for. Again, either a lot more research needs to be done, or it would need to be removed. I don’t know where else to research. It is a small county with few resources.

The last issue that would be a stumbling block is the photographs. This was the most puzzling because the reviewer said my photographs did not meet the standards. What is most puzzling about this is that I bought a printer, ink, and paper that is listed on the National Parks Service web site as being acceptable. The person who reviewed did not really say how they came to the conclusion that my pictures did not meet the standards, she just said, “The photos do not meet The National Park Standards. If the photos are digitally produce they must be printed with the combination of papers and ink that are recommended by the NPS”. This is the only one that really made me mad. Instead of asking how I produce the photographs, I am just old that they don’t meet the standard. It’s just, you know, give me the benefit of the doubt. It goes a long way.

As for the photos, I think that is just a mistake on their part and could be cleared up. As for the Petch and Mowry connections, I’m left with the choice of taking it all out, or at least not trying to make the case for it, or spend a lot more time researching. Neither of those things is appealing right now. I know Mowry is the builder/architect and he should be recognized. I also feel that Thomas Petch should be noted for his early work with electricity in the county.

Do I cave in just so I can stick a feather in my cap. I don’t think so. It seems it is better to withdraw the nomination until the facts can be found to prove the case I know is right. I don’t have the time or the emotional strength to go back in to a researching mode right now. I wrote the following in an email to the woman at the Office of Historic Preservation that reviewed my application…

Thank you for getting back to me about my nomination of The Thomas D. Petch House to the National Register of Historic Places. Rather than make the changes you’ve requested I’ve decided to withdraw my nomination. I am in the middle of a crucial part of the restoration and I don’t think I will have the time this year to do the research and complete the changes you requested.

I doubt I will be resubmitting the nomination in the future. I have found after 6 years of working on this house that it is not so much the end results that I enjoy, as much as it is the process. Teaching myself traditional plaster work was much more enjoyable than the finished walls. Teaching myself to make cabinets is more enjoyable than using the cabinets. In this same light, doing the research on the house and submitting the nomination was far more enjoyable than actually getting the house on the register.

It is interesting that after 6 years of research and working on the house, after literally uncovering the hidden past of the house, I found that I almost forgot about the nomination once the package was in the mail. It is the journey that I enjoy and not so much the destination.

I'm going to give my nomination and the reviewer's notes to the The Heritage Society and someone else can take up the cause in the future. Honestly, it's not that important to me any more. I had my fun. I got to do all of the research.

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