Preserving the past: What were the greatest preservation initiatives in 2019?

Photo courtesy of Jack Thomson

What were some of the most impactful preservation initiatives in 2019? We raised the question to Jack Thomson, former executive director of The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County, who served the nonprofit from September 2010 to November 2019.

1. Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority funding for (1) African American Cultural District and Interactive Museum and (2) YMI Cultural Center Improvements (see “Local nonprofits resurrect Asheville’s African American history,” Xpress, Jan. 18)

A cumulative total of $900,000 has been awarded by the BCTDA to celebrate and enhance the rich history of Asheville’s African American community. The development of the African American Cultural District will bring attention to both the Southside and East End neighborhoods, while professional museum enhancements at the Stephens-Lee Alumni Room will increase the accessibility to the important story of early black education initiatives.

2. History Harvest at the North Carolina Room at Pack Library (see “Asheville reflects on the legacy of slavery,” Xpress, Oct. 17)

The North Carolina Room serves as Buncombe County’s special historical research collection. Through public outreach known as a History Harvest, it is proactively working to tell a more detailed story of our African American communities. The public is encouraged to bring their scrapbooks, letters and photographs for scanning and inclusion in the collection, while the owner retains the original materials.

3. Johnny Baxter Award (see “Asheville reflects on the legacy of slavery,” Xpress, Oct. 17)

Johnny Baxter, an amateur historian and founding member of PSABC, was the leading figure in the preservation of the YMI in the late 1970s. To honor Baxter’s work, PSABC has established an award in his memory, funding UNC Asheville student-led research into the history of the African American community as represented through our historic built environment.

4. PSABC grants program

PSABC has committed $20,000 per year in our new preservation grant program designed to support projects with funding from $500 to $5,000 in the following categories: Bricks & Mortar, Public Education and Planning/Survey/Designation.

5. Basilica Historic Structures Report

Designed by Rafael Guastavino, the masterpiece of St. Lawrence is a national treasure and in severe need of critical restoration efforts. The privately funded Historic Structure Report serves as the principal planning document charting a course to a successful preservation project.

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