Adaptation, preservation, restoration, reconstruction: these are the four primary means of treating old buildings. The techniques are often difficult to distinguish from one another, because the maintenance of an early structure may involve elements of each approach. Yet each method exemplifies a different attitude toward early structures, each has met the needs of different people at different times, and each is seen in various buildings at Strawbery Banke.
The Heritage House Program is a further initiative Strawbery Banke Museum has undertaken to widen use of the Museum's resources. All efforts are guided by basic principles:
Adaptation is the first process that occurs in the historical evolution of any building. It has been the traditional method by which all people of all ages have treated early structures, and hardly a building exists that has not been adapted to some degree. Adaptation simply means the alteration of a structure to meet the changing needs of a new owner or a new generation. The installation of gas or electricity, the addition of a wing, or the conversion of a chamber into a bathroom are all common examples of adaptation. Adaptation of historic buildings fell into disrepute during the mid-twentieth century; at that period, an old building was often either restored or demolished. But changing times have brought a realization that it is impossible to restore every early structure. At the same time, a desire to save many old buildings has emerged from a recognition of their beauty, their importance in the local landscape, and the enduring quality of their construction. These factors have brought about a return to adaptation, coupled with an increased commitment to the careful preservation of key architectural features, as a practical means of saving a building and maintaining its usefulness to society. Examples of adaptation at Strawbery Banke include the alteration of Lowd House as a museum of early tools, the conversion of Jones House, first to an archaeological laboratory and then the Discovery Center, and the adaptation of various other buildings for the use of modern day craftsmen.
Preservation in the strict sense is simply the maintenance of an early structure as it has survived to the present moment. Because almost all old buildings have been altered over the years, preservation includes the retention of alterations which portray the evolution of a building throughout its history. Preservation does not involve further change to a building except for routine maintenance. Examples of preservation at Strawbery Banke include the retention of the 1807 dining room in the 1762 Chase House, the mid-nineteenth century Greek Revival elements in the 1811 Governor Goodwin Mansion, and the twentieth century bay window on the early eighteenth century Marden House.
Restoration means physically returning a building to a specific date in its history. Because alterations have occurred in most buildings over the years, restoration usually entails the removal of later features and the substitution of reproductions of earlier ones in order to recreate the appearance of a former time. Because almost all restoration entails a certain amount of speculation about the appearance of lost features and a certain amount of reproduction of missing elements, this approach must be governed by careful investigation and sensitive workmanship if it is to have validity. Restoration became the principal means of treating historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century; Strawbery Banke, as a creation of that period, was founded with restoration of its houses as its accepted goal. Restoration at Strawbery Banke has been seen as an educational tool designed to show the visitor what a building presumably looked like at a certain date. In some cases, as in Wheelwright House, restoration is meant to portray the period at which a structure was built. Here two early (but not original) wings were removed to permit the viewer to see the house at its earliest date. Restoration may also attempt to portray a house after major features had been added. In Walsh House, for example, an early (but not original) rear shed was retained to show the growth of the building. Restoration at Strawbery Banke has gradually been superseded by various combinations of adaptation and preservation, both of which better illustrate the process of historical change. Done properly, these approaches always preserve the evidence necessary for future restoration if that is later desired.
Reconstruction is the creation of a replica of an early building which has been largely or wholly destroyed. Because this technique involves much speculation, it is most valid when a great deal of evidence about the lost building has survived. Even at best, however, reconstruction is difficult, expensive, and fraught with the dangers of inaccuracy and speculation; for these reasons, it is seldom attempted today. Reconstruction in its most extreme form is seen at Strawbery Banke in the Rider-Wood privy, based on inventory references, archaeological evidence, and details copied from a nearby survivor. A less speculative example of reconstruction is the Dinsmore Blacksmith Shop, where the frame and some boarding had survived, and where photographs were available to guide the rebuilding of such missing features as the forge.
At Strawbery Banke we seek to make the minimum modern permanent alterations in our buildings, seeking to preserve wherever possible. In fact, it is the particular circumstances of each individual building which dictates the approach to rehabilitation that we will attempt.
For more information on historic preservation at Strawbery Banke, please contact Chief Curator and Manager of the Collection, Elizabeth Farish, at 603.422.7526 or