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Saving The Factories

May 2024
1min read

We have just received word of a vigorous historic preservation society that was hitherto unknown to us. The Society for Industrial Archeology, which operates under the aegis of the National Museum of History and Technology in the Smithsonian Institution, is dedicated to the saving and refurbishing of monuments from our technological past. The society casts a wide net and addresses its attentions to such diverse relics as factories, railroad sheds, ferryboats, and canals. While constantly battling the problems of a “bad image” (factories are big and dirty and frequently viewed as symbols of exploitation), the society seems to be making good headway in its various campaigns.

A recent issue of the SIA newsletter reports with happy surprise that the C&O/B&O (combined) Railroad has announced a million-dollar renovation of the magnificent old B&O Museum in Baltimore, which houses in a huge circular 1884 car shop the finest collection of historical locomotives and rolling stock in the country. On the other hand, nobody was able to save the passenger shed of Chattanooga Union Depot, that city’s last pre-Civil War building. The newsletter remarks that by and large, Chattanooga has been sadly indifferent to its historical heritage, industrial and otherwise. The city has no historical museum and the entire old part of town has been leveled. Little effort seems to have been made to explore adaptive uses for Union Depot although the preservation of the Southern’s Terminal Station as The Chattanooga Choo Choo is commendable, despite its branding with a cutsie name.

The society, realizing that few industrial buildings are likely to be saved for their architectural purity alone, stresses adaptive use of surviving structures. For instance, the newsletter reports the old V M Ybor Cigar Factory complex in Tampa, Florida, is in the process of being transformed into a shopping mall with accommodations for apartments and museums above the shops. One wing, however, will be preserved as a cigar museum complete with artisans rolling cigars. Feather fanciers will rejoice in the salvation of a San Francisco feather factory that, with its basement feather-cleaning plant and three stories, will become a hardware store.

Perhaps the most startling adaptive-use proposal concerns our dwindling supply of Liberty Ships. Of the twenty-seven hundred built to carry goods during World War n something over one hundred survive today. About forty of these are in foreign cargo service, and seventy-two are mouldering in the moth-ball fleet and due for scrapping. One, however, may escape this fate. The John W. Brown , which has been serving as a floating school in New York City and is now due for replacement and return to the government, may be preserved as a floating marine museum.

We heartily endorse all of these projects and wish the Society for Industrial Archeology all good fortune in its efforts to preserve a most significant part of our past.

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