Preservationists plead with property owners to help save history in Selma

Published 4:22 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2023

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By Travis Gupton

The Selma Times-Journal

In a city rich with history, Selma can add Thursday’s tornado to the long list of historical events that have impacted the Queen City of the Blackbelt. Now, just days after the storm, Selma is starting to pick up the pieces, and local and national preservationists are pleading with residents to preserve any of the historic elements of homes and buildings that may have been damaged by the storm.

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The Dallas County Historic Preservation Society in partnership with Atlantic Heritage is encouraging those people who live in or around historic homes to consider saving the history of the homes while putting things back together and beginning the cleanup process.

“When safe to do so, gather any historic elements that may have blown off of your building in the tornado – rafters, siding, decorative trim elements, etc. Collect all historic elements, no matter their apparent condition,” Atlantic Heritage’s Ed Barnes wrote in an email. “Save at least a sample of the roofing material, and more if possible. Some types of roofing material do not need to be discarded when they become detached, and can be successfully reinstalled. Maximum retention of all historic elements should be your guiding principle as you assess the damage to your historic building,”

Barnes said even if you think a piece of an historic structure is damaged beyond repair, do not be quick to discard it as it may be able to be repaired and reinstalled, which will maintain the historic nature of the property.

“Quite often, historic elements that appear to have sustained significant damage are in fact repairable,” he said, “Do not be quick to replace original historic wood elements that can be repaired, as historic lumber is far superior to the lumber commercially available today in terms of rot and termite resistance. By saving everything you can in the immediate aftermath of the storm, it will be easier for a historic preservation craftsperson to reassemble the elements of your historic building and retain as much of the original historic material as possible.”

Barnes advised property owners to make sure to neatly stack historic elements in a pile, and to make sure they are marked so they will not be thrown away.

“Cover your stack with tarps, if possible, and affix signs on your stack that say ‘Not garbage. Do not throw away. Important!’ Remember that disaster relief workers will not assess the historic value of your building as they conduct their clean-up efforts and will throw away anything and everything that might be lying around.”

Along with the materials and wood of the houses the Barnes is also asking people not throw away any broken windows or other glass from historic properties.

“Windows are one of the things that people often call a character-defining feature of a historic building,” Barnes said. “When they are replaced, the building doesn’t quite look right. That’s an aesthetic thing. It really is a major part of maintaining the integrity of a historic building within an historic landscape.”

Barnes said the cost of repairing a historic window might actually be less than replacing it.

“Even the most damaged of historic windows are worth saving,” Barnes said. “Their wood is of far superior quality, and will last much longer than any replacements, whether new wood, vinyl, PVC, or plastic. Virtually any historic wooden window can be repaired successfully. Contractors and disaster relief workers are often unaware of this, or are operating with different purposes and aims than saving you money and retaining historic fabric.

Barnes said skilled craftspersons for historic wooden window repair are located in Montgomery, Savannah, Georgia, and in Greensboro North Carolina, and will come to Selma to assist in preservation and restoration if contacted.

Barnes advised property owners to call the Dallas County Historic Preservation Society at 334-407-9313, or Atlantic Heritage at 305-904-2558 or 757-710-8030 for more information or to seek help.