A year full of celebration is in order for the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation as it turns 50 this year. After the National Historic Preservation Act was passed in 1966, the ACHF came together to save the Church-Waddel-Brumby House (circa 1820) in 1967. Since then, the house, now the home of the Athens Welcome Center, has stood as a symbol of the effort to reclaim and preserve historic resources across the city.
But to Amy Kissane, the executive director of ACHF for 15 years, celebrating 50 years is as much about looking back as it is about looking forward. One of the toughest challenges historic preservation faces in general is complacency, Kissane says. People tend to take their historic resources, the environment and their neighborhoods for granted. “Because they’ve always been here, people tend to think they will always be here,” she says. “It’s not until emergency or tragedy strikes that people realize we could be without those things.”
ACHF’s biggest goal this year is to increase community engagement across the board, especially with groups such as younger Athenians and University of Georgia students that haven’t been as much of the focus in the past. Kissane hopes to localize a National Trust for Historic Preservation project called This Place Matters. Athenians of all ages would submit pictures of places that matter to them, regardless of their connection to a famous historical event or when it occurred.
“Places aren’t just historic because of where they’re built, but because they’re where our memories are,” she says. “They’re a part of our social identity. Just our association with things make them matter. This program will begin to illustrate that historic preservation is about more than architecture, it’s about the history of our lives, our heritage.
“It will help people understand that these things do matter to us,” she says. “The natural and the built environment all have to do with our quality of life, so we have to be conscious of how we treat them.”
A digital historic photo archive is another initiative Kissane hopes to see started this year. She envisions an online directory in which a street address or other search criteria could be entered to pull up photos associated with a certain location. “Our No. 1 request is for historic photos of a building, and most of the time I don’t have them,” she says. An archive would enable anyone who has photos of certain buildings or locations to submit their photos to be scanned into the system, creating a vast resource of digital history for anyone to use. “I hope just to start laying the foundation this year,” she says.
As it looks back on its 50 years, although it’s suffered some defeats, the list of historic landmarks ACHF has helped to restore and save is a long one. A strong push for historic preservation swept through Athens in the ’60s as locals realized what older, important historic resources they were losing, Kissane says. Now, 50 years later, it is the buildings and resources from the era of ACHF’s founding that are in need of protection. “This post-war, ’50s, ’60s architecture—these are things we have to start looking at to preserve,” she says. “What makes them cool? What’s important about them? We have figure out the criteria that characterized this era.”
Events will take place throughout the year in honor of this golden anniversary, and more details will be available closer to each event:
- A Founder’s Day breakfast reception at the Church-Waddel-Brumby House on Thursday, Mar. 16 at 10 a.m., in honor of the date ACHF’s charter was signed. Mayor Nancy Denson will issue a proclamation, and a new “History of Preservation” tour will debut.
- On May 22 at 7 p.m., a special 50th-anniversary edition of the Historic Preservation Awards will take place at the Morton Theatre.
- A formal Golden Jubilee Dinner at the Lyndon House Arts Center, one of ACHF’s programming partners, on June 4, with keynote speaker David Brown, executive vice president and chief preservation officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
- From June 5–Aug. 25, rare items connected to the history of the ACHF from the archives of the UGA Special Collections Libraries will be on display.
- A collaboration with the Rabbit Box monthly storytelling series at 7 p.m. July 12 at The Foundry will draw from stories of those who experienced Athens during the 1960s historic preservation movement, as well as their relationship with historic buildings here.
- A mid-century modern lecture and tour series, “The Art of the Retro,” on Oct. 6 and 7.
- After taking a year off, on Dec. 3 the Heritage Holiday Gala home tour will return to wrap up the yearlong anniversary celebration.
The ACHF website, achfonline.org, will also feature a neighborhood of the month. (January was Dearing Street and Henderson Avenue, and February was the Cobbham Historic District.) Finally, following last year’s New Year’s Eve party success, Kissane said another go-round might be on the itinerary.
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