Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sam Brown House Indirectly Shows Enduring Value of New Deal; Respects to Historian Sue Bell

front page today
A couple of interesting history notes in the paper today.

The other day a reader pointed out the story in the online SJ - and today in print, with a three-page article featured on the front page - about the prospects for "demolition by neglect" of the historic Sam Brown House in Gervais.

The house and property were first documented in 1934.

No mention of the depression or New Deal
(via Library of Congress, note added)
The story, however, leaves out that the Historic American Buildings Survey was, as Wikipedia puts it,
a constructive make-work program for architects, draftsmen and photographers left jobless by the Great Depression.
It wasn't just the "first federal preservation program," it was part of the greater New Deal!

And here we are, three generations later, and the "make-work program" has turned out to be enormously useful.

Now, a Green New Deal might also have things we regard as "make-work," but which future generations will find valuable. (Indeed, as we look back, the ARRA was a tremendous missed opportunity: Not only was the stimulus too small, it should have been linked to climate disruption. Future historians - if we have not killed off our species - will look back on this in dismay.)

The article also points out some of the ways that our historic preservation program needs more funding, and indirectly is evidence for a revised approach to historic preservation that designates fewer "resources" but then provides more support for the buildings and places that meet a new and higher threshold for significance. Our approach is too broad and dilute now, and the "demolition by neglect" we are seeing at the Brown House is one of the consequences.

The whole article is worth a read.

Also in the paper is an obituary for Sue Bell.

If you've read the online history at, you'll have noticed her byline on several pieces. She wrote about the old City Hall, for example. (The search function on the site no longer works, like it's not indexed or something and the micro-site clearly needs some funding for just on-going IT maintenance so the march of software and hardware updates doesn't simply brick the site.)

She also wrote a series of cemetery profiles, and the burials in them, and the recent research on the North Campus of the State Hospital would have started with her "The Asylum Cemetery, 1883-1913." All or nearly all of them are in bound form in the Hugh Morrow collection at the Library. They're worth looking at just for a sense of the accumulated lives that went before us; and of course if you have more specific interests they are greatly helpful also.

The obituary has no preferred mode for memorials to Bell, but a different obituary today has a lovely thought. It could be extended to historical research also - really any of our great human cultural practices that involve beauty, truth, and goodness. Terry Melton's obituary reads:
He would suggest that you, reader of this notice, purchase a painting or sculpture from a serious artist, live with it for a while, then give it to a worthwhile museum in honor of a best friend or lover or both.

Addendum, May 11th, 2021

There was a March 2020 update that I did not note here and should have.

March 2020

A new owner purchased the house and hopes to rehabilitate and restore it.

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