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  • Louis Venters

Congratulations to the Winners of the 2015 S.C. Historic Preservation Awards

I wasn't able to attend the presentation at the State House, but I wanted to add my hearty congratulations to those honored this year with South Carolina Historic Preservation Awards, presented by the Palmetto Trust for Historic Preservation and the Office of the Governor.

Among the projects recognized were the renovation of the beautiful Robert Mills-designed Willimasburg County Courthouse and construction of an adjacent, historically-appropriate new administration building in Kingstree and the renovation of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home in Columbia, where the future 28th president of the United States and founder of the League of Nations grew up. Martin Meek, a preservation architect with many important projects to his credit, and his collaborators won for the rehabilitation of the Schuyler Building, a mid-twentieth century apartment building in Spartanburg which I'm proud to say was listed on the National Register of Historic Places last year, during my tenure as a member of the S.C. Board of Review for that program. The Elected Official Award went to Dr. Edward Lee, Mayor of York, S.C., and my old history professor at Winthrop University.

And it's particularly gratifying to see one of my mentors, Dr. Robert Weyeneth of the University of South Carolina, receive the Governor's Award for lifetime service to historic preservation in the state. Bob's scholarship and practice in the field has been wide-ranging and influential, particularly in the important area of controversial or uncomfortable local community histories. For example, under his tutelage a growing number of sites in South Carolina associated with Jim Crow racial segregation have been documented and listed in the National Register, their lessons available for future generations to study and learn from. As co-director of USC's Public History program, Bob introduced me to the field, supervised my internship with the S.C. Mayors Institute for Community Design (unfortunately now defunct as a result of short-sighted state budget cuts) and led my practicum that produced the Camden African American Heritage Project, which itself won an award from the S.C. African American Heritage Commission in 2007. I was pleased to have him serve on my doctoral dissertation committee, in which capacity he brought his rigorous standards of scholarship and writing to bear on improving that work. The state is truly indebted to Bob for his tireless efforts to preserve, protect, and interpret the places that tell the stories of South Carolina's multilayered past, and to train hundreds of young preservationists to do the same.

One indelible lesson that Bob Weyeneth taught me is that historic preservation isn't just about financing and paint colors and window restoration, important as those technical matters are. Really, historic preservation is very much about a community's values and priorities, and the strength of the social bonds that connect people to each other and to their collective past. On that note, it's great to hear that the state government continues to put its money, so to speak, where its mouth is. Just a few days after the presentation of the Historic Preservation Awards, the legislature passed, and Governor Nikki Haley signed, a law to more than double the state historic preservation tax credit to 25 per cent. This measure will make it even more feasible for builders and investors to rehabilitate historic structures across the state, with significant ripple effects throughout local economies. There is still plenty of work to do, but here's to good signs all around for building the strong ethos of historic preservation--coupled with effective marshalling of material resources--that a state as significant as South Carolina deserves.

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