Yesterday was the last official day of my spring internship at the Historic Wilmington Foundation. Even though I had worked at a preservation non-profit before, this experience allowed me to see how another, slightly larger organization operates.
HWF has a staff of 4, which includes a part-time accountant. However, they have a large membership base and an active board and membership. Thus, the foundation is able to carry out many events and programs. I was impressed with the number of educational initiatives the foundation has in addition to its preservation programs. As more of a museum person, I find myself more interested in objects and personal stories than the built environment, which is more of the focus of historic preservation. However, the foundation’s educational programs such as its plaque program, guided walking tours, traveling exhibits, and public lectures expand the organization’s mission from preservation to education.
My role in the organization this semester has been one of many facets. I started the semester by researching the homes on the annual Azalea Festival Home Tour. These homes are all restored historic houses, put on tour for their aesthetic appeal and excellence in restoration or rehabilitation. Most of them this year had the foundation’s plaques, thus making my research a little easier. HWF maintains plaque files on all of the over 500 homes that have received a plaque. Information in these files includes the chain of ownership, architectural significance, and changes to the architecture or interiors over the years.
My next big project was an article in HWF’s newsletter about Brookwood, a neighborhood that is finally completing a National Register district nomination. Writing this article taught me more about Section 106 review and mitigation, which provided the funding for the nomination preparation.
In addition to these two larger projects I have assisted the director with preparing for meetings and events, such as the Annual Meeting and the Board Retreat by preparing presentations, programs and other materials as well as writing press releases. I also helped with daily administrative tasks such as answering and making calls and preparing mailings. Most recently, I have been helping with preparations for the Guided Architectural Walking Tours and National Preservation Month. HWF offers two different guided walking tours in the summer months. I assisted with scheduling guides and making edits to the tour scripts.
National Preservation Month has been my focus over the past few weeks. Every year, HWF gives out Preservation Awards to honor excellence in preservation projects, leadership, or other initiatives. HWF also releases an annual list of the region’s most threatened historic places, which draws attention to the places that are at risk of demolition or neglect. HWF takes nominations from the public for these two initiatives and it was my job to solicit nominations from other preservation groups, community leaders, and local historians and associations. I then compiled the nominations and prepared the files for review by the relevant committees. Preservation Month is a major undertaking for the organization, with an extensive calendar of events including fundraisers, public lectures and tours, the Preservation Awards Ceremony, and the release of the Most Threatened Historic Places list. While my official internship is complete, I will be returning to help HWF finish preparing for the awards ceremony and MTHP release as well as volunteer at some of the month’s events.
Overall, I learned a lot about preservation’s role in creating environments like Wilmington’s vibrant, historic downtown, as well as a bit about the economic benefits of preservation. I also found that some people in the community are deeply invested in maintaining the historic integrity of the place they call home, such as those residents in Brookwood that have pushed for the district nomination. Of course, I developed some practical skills as well, such as writing news releases and working with Microsoft Publisher to create programs and materials for events. In addition, I learned more about the history of Wilmington, my new home, and the resources available to learn even more.
While I finish up my time with HWF with Preservation Month in May, I will also be beginning a new experience volunteering at the Cape Fear Museum. As much as I enjoyed and appreciated my experience with the Historic Wilmington Foundation I am excited to return to a museum environment, which my various internships as well as my coursework in graduate school have told me is my favorite place to be. So stay tuned to hear about my adventures in collections this summer!