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A Sense of History: Past Tense: Active Voice
by Cortland P. Auser

For the last two years especially, our town has been concerned with landmarks preservation. Charles B. Hosmer's book, "Presence of the Past" should be required reading for all history teachers and buffs, landmarks committees, and historical or preservation societies. The entire rationale of the preservation movement is given in this fine work; it has so much relevant to a township like ours, on the outer borders of urbanization.

The antiquity of an "old house...ought to plead" on its behalf. Recent words? Hardly! They were written down in 1796 by Benjamin LaTrobe. Of course, he added, regarding one particular house, "but its inconvenience and deformity are more powerful advocates of its destruction." We Yorktowners who would reserve the sense of history of our township, its beauty, and its autonomy might take lessons and hear the pleas, too.

Even Independence Hall underwent a period of threat of demolition. How it is so restored and the area surrounding it so preserved that it seems the most likely and appropriate center for "IUSA-200" the headquarters of our Bicentennial dates of commemoration.

Preservation can only succeed by the spirited interest of a community and the continued concern of a knowledgeable few. In our own history in this country, individuals by dint of main force and private capital have saved places of importance from destruction. Such was the case of William Ferris Pell and his saving of Fort Ticonderoga. Abraham Touro provides another example, for it was his action which preserved the beautiful old synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, after it had been closed as an old structure in 1790! Uriah Levy's purchase of Monticello, home of Jefferson, contributed toward its ultimate eternal preservation.

The precedent for our own Yorktown Landmarks Preservation Committee was in the foundation of the first such committee as long ago as 1847 in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

One other preservation action might be o particular interest to Yorktowners. In 1881, nearly 100 years ago, at the time of the celebration of the British surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, a Yorktown Centennial Association was formed to preserve the house in which British General Cornwallis signed the articles of surrender.

With the onset of the Bicentennial, there is much for us in Yorktown to do in matters of preservation. Only through the efforts of our Committee supported by the townspeople will we make the "present" meaningful our of the "past tense" as we all become active and alert to the treasury of place and places we have in our township. Appropriate restorations, preservations and markings would constitute a fine historical threshold to the important Bicentennial date - 1976.

The Yorktowner, Vol. 4, No. 45, September 10, 1970

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