In early November I, along with several other staff from Mead & Hunt, had the pleasure of attending a two-day online session exploring a variety of topics and perspectives about historic roads. The session was held in preparation of the upcoming Preserving the Historic Road International conference whose theme is “Advocacy to Action: Meeting the Challenges of the Next Generation” in Portland, Oregon, planned for September 22nd-24th, 2022.
The upcoming Preserving the Historic Road International conference is billed as an opportunity to engage in “direct conversations with experts, put you in the field with some of America’s greatest roads, and invite you to reimagine how we identify, preserve, and manage the next generation of historic roads.”
The goal of the November sessions was for participants to do some pre-work in advance of the conference to “develop an agenda and action plan for the future identification, protection and management of historic highways, roads, and streets that will focus on the needs of federal, state, and local transportation agencies; Native American Tribes; historic preservation agencies and organizations; underrepresented communities; heritage tourism professionals; and private sector firms.”
The sessions included presentations that addressed topics ranging from the challenges of managing the historic Columbia River Parkway in Oregon, to scenic and historic byways in Colorado and Ohio to heritage corridors in Texas, Puerto Rico, and France, and to the iconic Route 66. One overarching theme that emerged was the need to capture the intangible history and stories that roads hold for many groups. This includes considering the important connections these roads provide for certain groups, and the many related events that occur along the routes.
For example, my colleague, Kristen Zschomler, together with the Georgia Department of Transportation Historian Terri Lotti asked the audience to question the standard narratives we research for bridges and roads, specifically around engineering significance and association with white tourism or transportation. They demonstrated that historic bridges and roads could be locations of intimidation and racial discrimination for African Americans, such as the infamous Hanging Bridge in Mississippi or that roads may have been built with prison or slave labor. Terri and Kristen also provided an overview of underrepresented communities, often displaced by road projects, who often used them as places of demonstration and civil protest. The presentation highlighted new questions to address when conducting research to expand our view of what makes a place historically significant so as not miss to properties associated with underrepresented communities.
The November session concluded with a panel discussion focusing on the issues and challenges raised and the different categories of historic roads. Session organizers presented two main categories of historic roads to be explored in the fall 2022 conference:
- Emerging Historic Roads: roads, highways, corridors, and streets that are recently or newly recognized for their aesthetic, engineered, and/or cultural qualities; and
- Established Historic Roads: those that have been recognized and formally designated at the national, state, or local levels.
More will be discussed around these topics at the conference in September. You can check the website for updates and background on previous conferences.
I really enjoyed the sessions and my participation reminded me of many of the topics and challenges that roads present—and that I have encountered working in several states. I plan to share some of the key highlights and take-aways I have learned from nearly a decade of research and documentation along Route 66 in California, developing National Register of Historic Places evaluation of the Lincoln Highway and Victory Highway in Nevada, and leading the completion of a statewide history and evaluation methodology of state highways in Idaho. More to come!