NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK SURVEY
Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area was fortunate to receive a grant in early March 2017 from the National Park Service to identify sites within the Heritage Area that have the potential for listing as National Historic Landmarks (or for listing in the National Register of Historic Places if not of NHL rank). NHLs “possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.”
The idea for doing this study came from the realization that our region is under-represented among NHLs, with only 17 sites in Massachusetts, the majority of which are Colonial, and none in New Hampshire. To see a listing of the 17 sites, visit: http://freedomsway.org/experience/history/. As Hidden Treasures gained momentum, and partnerships were forged, the question arose as to whether there were sites being overlooked in such a historically and culturally rich area.
A plan was devised to focus on both the communities within the heritage area that are under-represented within the current listings (including those that have lacked the resources to evaluate their historic assets) and the places and stories that have not been recognized within the region including those linked to Native and African American heritage, civil rights, and women’s history. By focusing on under-served communities and stories within the heritage area, the project’s findings will expand the narrative of the National Heritage Area’s rich history to represent the full spectrum of its story.
We reached out to our friends and partners for a beginning “digital conversation” about missing stories and unrecognized historic resources within the Heritage Area. Many organizations and individuals provided valuable information, suggesting potential sites for both the NPS study and the development of future interpretive and educational initiatives. We engaged Elizabeth Watson of Heritage Strategies to spearhead this explorative project. Initial conversations were followed up with visits to over 100 sites, research and exploration.
The potential sites identified in this study are anchors across the Freedom’s Way cultural landscape that have stood the test of time and now testify, individually and as a whole, to a remarkable history. They are critical reminders of the heritage area’s identity, and the region’s impact on the American identity. As the management plan states:
Reflective of its scale, the Heritage Area contains a richly textured mosaic of unique historical, natural and cultural features and sites that reveal the region’s story and role in the shaping of an American identity. Home to Minute Man National Historical Park and Walden Pond, the heritage area is steeped in concepts of individual freedom and responsibility, community cooperation, direct democracy, idealism, and social betterment, perspectives that have inspired national and international movements in governance, education, abolitionism, social justice, conservation and the arts.
This study, therefore, represents a beginning, and not simply of the possibility that many of the remarkable sites identified in this study could pursue national recognition. It provides additional detail for a long-standing insight about this region’s impact on the American identity that led local leaders to work towards National Heritage Area status more than 20 years ago, and confirms the many opportunities ahead for in-depth research into the heritage of this remarkable place. Above all, this study signals possibilities for more programs that will weave insights from this study and the research-to-come in order to allow residents and visitors to experience this landscape and its many stories more deeply than ever before.