Historic Preservation: an Overlooked Economic Driver

Historic Preservation: an Overlooked Economic Driver

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In Rhode Island, historic preservation is at the intersection of sustainable development and fiscal responsibility.

Historic  preservation pays dividends for Rhode Island. However, there is a risk that the contribution of historic buildings sites and neighborhoods will be overlooked because they are so integrated in Rhode Island life.

The historic resources of Rhode Island attract visitors who spend significant amounts of money. The beneficiaries of those expenditures are local workers and businesses who are hosts to that market.

Historic  neighborhoods are often the location of choice for millennials, new residents, small and new businesses and the creative and knowledge industries.  Since 2000, more than half the population growth occurred within historical districts.  Rich ethnic diversity is mirrored in the state’s historic districts.

Did you know?

  • Nearly 10 million visitors who are interested in history come to Rhode Island each year and contribute nearly $1.4 billion to the state’s economy.
  • The spending of heritage visitors creates 26,000 direct and indirect jobs and $906 million in direct and indirect wages.
  • Tax credits are available for renovation of historic buildings. 326 historic buildings have been rehabilitated in 26 of Rhode Island’s 39 communities using state Historic Tax Credits.  For every $1.00 the state invests in a tax credit project, $10.53 of economic activity in Rhode Island is generated. Over $1.4 billion has been invested in Rhode Island. That adds $85 million to the economy in direct and indirect wages.

Learn about the economic impact that preservation has on the Rhode Island economy. Download the newly-released statewide report commissioned by The Preserve Rhode Island and the Preservation Society of Newport County.

From the Preservation Plaque Coordinator

From the Preservation Plaque Coordinator

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I have a long history of loving, admiring and enjoying the old houses and buildings of Block Island. I am lucky that I happen to own an 1879 charmer. I know that throngs of people come to Block Island for the ocean vistas, the beaches and the miles of trails. For me, my first love is the historic architecture on the island. To arrive by boat and take in that long row of historic buildings that comprises our “downtown” is truly something to behold.

Scenic Block Island has been deeply moved by the loss of historic homes around the island due to neglect or demolition. We don’t want to lose another home to a bulldozer. Thankfully, SBI has taken on a two-fold project; to honor historic buildings by placing historic plaques on them. In addition, we plan to educate and share ways of caring for older buildings by providing helpful and cost saving information on our website.

Cindy Lasser
Preservation Plaque Project, coordinator

The Influence of Mary Newhouse

The Influence of Mary Newhouse

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Mary Newhouse founded Scenic Block Island in 1989. Mary’s daughter Andrea Newhouse Moynier shared some of her favorite memories from that time.

Scenic Block Island (SBI) grew from two other organizations, H.U.S.T.L.E (Help Us Save The Land and Environment) and SOS (Save our Sights). The year was 1989, and the catalyst was the Cutting Cottages project. I remember my mom and several others protesting (carrying signs) by the side of the road during the Cutting Cottages development. Raising public awareness, HUSTLE wanted to help influence the town’s zoning ordinances.

My mom was upset that the Cutting Cottages proposed development would be so big and that it would be so prominent, visually. She was against seeing a large housing development that stood out along the island’s coastline. She was also against the huge McMansions that were starting to be built in the early 90’s. Block Island is lucky to have what my mom would call “small-scale” cottages, and she appreciated the beautiful sense of scale on the island as an artist. She loved the small sized summer shacks, the low lying stone walls, rolling hills and vegetation, all the natural vistas that give the island its uniqueness and beauty. She worked hard to fight for this vision through Scenic Block Island. She wanted to keep the views from the roads as natural as possible, and thought new development should blend into the landscape, instead of overpowering it. She wanted to encourage new homeowners to think about this before they built their new homes. Much of Scenic Block Island’s work has been educational; inviting experts in various fields to give talks on how to maintain island’s special character of the island.

By 1993, HUSTLE and the newly formed group SOS had worked together with other Block Island organizations (Block Island Economic Development, Block Island Conservancy, Block Island Land Trust, Block Island Resident’s Association, and Block Island Historical Society) to consider alternatives to the purposed subdivision on the grounds of The Spring House. The result was a conservation and historic façade easement. That insured the preservation of the great east lawn and building.

She believed that the town should focus on and encourage high-density building development within the Old Harbor area; she wanted to keep historic buildings and preserve part of the water front land into parks (i.e. Water Street park that Esta and Jack Gray preserved known as Esta’s Park). She also fought to designate Block Island’s state-owned roads as scenic highways. Scenic Block Island became a voice in and of the community; a public and educational forum, interested in protecting Historic District guidelines and zoning ordinances. Scenic Block Island encouraged the town to sponsor an “Our Town Workshop”, which led to hiring the Town’s first Town Planner.

Scenic Block Island’s original mission was: to combat “irresponsible development” in the interest of the island’s rural and open spaces, its natural assets, and its community spirit. Polls showed that a heavy majority of island residents were concerned about preserving the character of the island, to protect for future generations.

Andrea Newhouse Moynier

The Effort to Save The Spring House Pump House

The Effort to Save The Spring House Pump House

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In January of 2011, following a winter storm with wind gusts reaching 90 miles-per-hour, the Spring House Pump House had received such significant damage that it was determined that it should be taken down.  In the months preceding that time, a group of concerned people had mounted an effort to save the Pump House and rebuild it but the storm sealed its fate.

Subsequently, Scenic Block Island took on the challenge of raising funds to build an exact replica of the Pump House on the land where it originally stood.  Also involved in that effort were Pam Gasner, Doug Gilpin, Peter Greenman, Chuck McMellon, Bob Newhouse, Ray Torrey, Mark Vaillencourt and Bryan Wilson.  Many concerned people donated to the project and the effort was also supported by The Block Island Historical Society, the Historic District Commission, Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and Preserve Rhode Island.

Eventually, the Land Trust hired an environmental engineering firm to study the safety of the site.  Their work revealed that the east side bluff of the pond adjacent to the Pump House was eroding making the site unsafe to build on. At that point, the effort to rebuild the Pump House was abandoned.

The actual spring and pump house had been part of Block Island history for well over a century and it was one of the many reasons that Scenic Block Island exists –- to preserve our historic buildings and viewsheds and to apply a sense of this preservation to the entire Island.

In the spring of 2018, Scenic Block Island will place a marker on the corner of Spring Street where the Spring House Pump House stood.  The plaque will remind those who stop to read it that the building that once stood there was a part of the history and fiber of Block Island. See a mockup of the plaque to be installed.

First-time and repeat visitors and Island residents alike are smitten by the fact that there is simply nowhere else like Block Island. Stepping off the ferry you journey back in time and there is a sense of serenity that comes from the historic hotels, modest farmhouses, rolling hills, hidden ponds, beaches and stone walls.  It is just that feeling that Scenic Block Island seeks to preserve.

Pumphouse Teardown Gallery