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Historic Resource Initiatives

The Historic Barn Initiative 

The Preserve Mass Barns Program began in 2004 when PM President Jim Igoe and Sumner Perlman, author of Barns of Dennis, Massachusetts collaborated to address the lack of organized advocacy for the preservation of historic barns. The void of such advocacy work was becoming ever more visible as long-familiar barns began to disappear from the landscape, often without community comment. From that beginning, an all volunteer Barn Task Force jumped into action, hosting several barn conferences, workshops across the state, publishing newsletters and a website dedicated to getting more information and support for historic barns into the public eye. They focused on continued education about historic barns through online resources, publications and the advocacy strength of Preservation Massachusetts and its membership.


The program transferred from an all volunteer committee to an online resource in 2010, with tips and information hosted and updated by Preservation Massachusetts. By working with everyone from barn owners to community leaders, we can make the case for the preservation and reuse of our historic barns and agricultural buildings, encourage more barn assessments and preservation plans and work cohesively with partner organizations to ensure the historic agrarian architecture of Massachusetts remains for future generations.

The Historic Religious Properties Initiative

The Historic Religious Properties Initiative began in 2004 when the Boston Archdiocese announced the impending closure of many of their parishes and the disposition of their property. Tasked with investigating how the preservation community could aid the Archdiocese and congregations in recognizing the historic importance of many threatened churches, parish houses, schools and convents, Preservation Massachusetts (PM) compiled the Religious Properties Toolkit. This document provides a framework for issues like how to determine a property’s significance or how to sell the property while at the same time maximizing its preservation, as well as provides case study examples specific to Massachusetts.

The Historic School Building Initiative

The Historic School Building Initiative began in 1997 in response to the Massachusetts School Building Assistance Program (SBA) that unambiguously favored and funded new construction over renovation. Although the SBA had been codified by the Massachusetts General Laws (M.G.L.) in 1948, communities were galvanized into action by the mid-1990s in order to subdue the negative effects of sprawl on older downtowns and neighborhoods and ensure the preservation of their historic schools and public open spaces. To aid those communities, Preservation Massachusetts (PM) assembled a group of volunteers and professionals to determine the scope of the problem, identify the issues, and research and promote best practice strategies learned from successful renovations of older school buildings.


In addition to providing assistance in the field to community activists and local preservation commission members, PM wrote The Historic School Building Report., to complement local school facilities planning and review processes by providing background information on school facility policies and standards as well as examples of how Massachusetts’s communities have created outstanding educational spaces through the reuse of their older schools.

The Historic School Building Report was prepared to bring about greater awareness of the benefits of using existing buildings and the challenges communities face as they renovate schools. As the various case studies included in the report demonstrate, existing buildings can not only house extraordinary educational spaces, but they also provide a link to a community’s heritage and protect open space by encouraging rehabilitation over sprawl and new development.

Context: A National Challenge

As we began to research this issue in 1997, we learned that the issue was national. In addition to Massachusetts, states like Maine, Maryland, Vermont, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Georgia sought policy and regulatory changes to stop the abandonment and destruction of their older school buildings. Furthermore, in November 2000, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Historic Schools to its national list of Most Endangered Historic Resources and released its report Historic Neighborhood Schools in the Age of Sprawl: Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School, further highlighting the national scope of threatened school buildings.

Since 1997: Changes - Good and Bad...

The attention focused on the precarious position of neighborhood and historic schools in Massachusetts resulted in positive change. In July 2000, Massachusetts enacted the most far-reaching changes to the SBA since its creation in 1948. A new state law mandates that school construction funding must be guided by principles grounded in the preservation of open space, thoughtful community development, and project flexibility (M.G.L. c. 70B). The Massachusetts Department of Education also adopted new regulations pertaining to the SBA, which emphasizes the reuse of existing structures, alternatives to new construction, sound planning practices, and adequate building maintenance (603 CMR 38.00). The new regulations not only benefit older schools, but also help communities make informed decisions on their school building needs and better manage school construction projects. The first round of funding for school construction and renovation projects under the new laws and regulations was in July 2001.

Unfortunately the regulations that incorporated new positive changes were altered in 2006 and the current MSBA guidelines make it very difficult to restore and reuse historic school buildings. The 2018 listing of Arlington High School on our Massachusetts Most Endangered Historic Resources List made this clear and efforts to once again advocate on behalf of historic schools as viable options for serving the evolving and continued needs of our students.


Burial Grounds

Burial grounds are important landscapes for people, families, and entire communities. They reflect cultural values and practices that demonstrate who we are as people. They are vital repositories for family and community history. Burial grounds show who settled the area, what they believed in, average lifespan for a given time period, and the evolution of burial practices and gravestone architecture. With this in mind, preserving, documenting, and maintaining cemeteries is vitally important. Are you interested in protecting a local cemetery in your community? If so, click on the Frequently Asked Question Sheet for tips on researching your cemetery, potential funding opportunities for documentation and restoration, and finding the right person to do the work. 

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