An IPad walks into the National Archives and meets wi-fi.

On Monday, November 29, 2010, I set out for the National Archives at College Park (Archives II) armed with my new IPad. This was my first research outing with the IPad. I was at Archives II on a project to identify Civilian Conservation Corps records related to a 1937-1940 lake improvement project in Wisconsin.

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Pittsburgh loses another historic site with the demolition of former meatpacking plant

Wednesday afternoon, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call from Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Bob Bauder. Bauder was working on a story about the demolition of  buildings located along the north shore of the Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. The reporter had gotten my name from a colleague who had kept a copy of a 1997 web page I had written about some historic preservation regulatory review work done along the road where the buildings known as the Millvale Industrial Park were located. Bauder wanted to get some more information on the building he had driven by many times and his story ran in the November 26, 2010, edition of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Continue reading

Montgomery County employees working on PR, not parks, letters to newspapers show [updated]

Updated December 2, 2010

Montgomery County residents see a bleak future for vital public services and amenities due to an evolving budget crisis. Over the past several weeks, we have learned that public safety jobs may be cut and that revenues continue to disappoint county leaders. So in times that demand austerity, I wonder why Montgomery County officials believe we have the resources to undertake a public relations campaign to promote the development of the park formerly known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”? Continue reading

Montgomery County wants to spend $5 million on Uncle Tom’s Cabin

The Montgomery County Planning Department will hold a work session next week on the proposed Josiah Henson Special Park master plan. Today, the Montgomery County Parks Department posted its staff memo to the Planning Board detailing its cost estimates to develop the park. Parks Department staff estimates that it will cost between $3 and $5 million to implement the option recommended at the October 28, 2010 hearing. Continue reading

The gas man, George Washington, and a magic lantern (Part I)

One hundred and sixty-three years ago this Thursday, gas lights replaced oil lamps in the U.S. Capitol. On the evening of Thursday, November 18, 1847, gas made in a plant beneath the Capitol flowed through newly installed pipes and into light fixtures throughout the building. “We witnessed last evening one of the most splendid and beautiful spectacles we ever beheld,” reported one Washington newspaper the next day. “It was the first time that the gas-lights of Mr. James Crutchett were exhibited.”

James Crutchett (1816-1889) was a self-styled engineer who briefly gained fame in 1847 for installing a gas-fueled lantern atop the Capitol dome in a failed bid to secure a contract to light the nation’s capital city. Crutchett spent the final 45 years of his life in Washington and his entrepreneurial exploits have largely been overlooked by Washington historians. His Capitol lantern scheme became a sidebar to architectural histories of the Capitol and his four decades as a gas man are little more than a footnote in the narratives on the history of Washington’s gas infrastructure. Continue reading

My research mistakes: a CRM parable

In 1997 the newsletter editor for the California Council for the Promotion of History read an email list post I had sent out documenting how the then-new Internet could contribute to revising historical research with factual errors. In that case, it was my factual error stemming from a Section 106 (National Historic Preservation Act) survey for a highway project (Internet Archive link) I had done a few years before the post.

Here is the reprint from the Fall 1997 California History Action newsletter:

Montgomery County refuses to release “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” records

The Montgomery County Parks Department has spent more than $100,000 on historical and archaeological consultants to do research at the Josiah Henson Site (formerly known as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”). Except for the archaeology reports, you can read all of the consultants’ work at the park’s website. If you want to read about the archaeology done at the site, you are out of luck. Continue reading

Montgomery County’s historic preservation law is broken and needs a tune-up

The landmark 1978 Supreme Court decision in Penn Central Transportation v. New York City is sacrosanct to historic preservationists. The case settled the question of the constitutionality of local historic preservation landmarking laws. Penn Central and a handful of other precedents are historic preservationists’ first line of defense when lawmakers attempt to rewrite historic preservation laws like Montgomery County’s 31-year-old ordinance, a law sorely in need of a legislative tune-up.

Last year, Montgomery County Councilmember Mike Knapp attempted to amend Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code, the county’s historic preservation law. The councilmember who decided to not seek re-election this year wanted to revise the law by removing a controversial criterion for historic designation and by including provisions for owner consent prior to any property being designated historic. Continue reading