Volume 6, Number 4, 1997

Students support Ardens' efforts
to gain national landmark status

You are welcome hither" says Shakespeare's message at an entrance to Arden, Del., and, for a class of University of Delaware graduate students and their professor, that welcome turned out to be mutually productive.

Thirteen students in the University's Center for Historic Architecture and Design were welcomed to the northern New Castle County villages of Arden, Ardentown and Ardencroft last fall as part of their applied work toward graduate degrees in historic preservation. Their seminar was directed by David L. Ames, professor of urban affairs and public policy and geography, and cofounder and director of the 13-year-old center.

Some of those students had recently earned their bachelor's degrees; others were returning to the classroom after more than 20 years. They ranged from former art and English majors to preservation professionals; from those who have long known that they wanted to work in preservation to others who are finding a new career trail. Their interest in historic preservation ranged from architectural paint analysis to living history museums to cultural geography.

The Arden project didn't really become part of the coursework until a few months before the 1996-97 fall term started, Ames says. Beverly Barnett, who heads Arden's Community Planning Committee, appealed to Ames and the center for help in preparing a National Historic Landmark application for the village. Ames recognized that the applied field work, research and resulting theses were a perfect complement to the seminar's theoretical classroom work, reading and lectures.

The course is formally designated as URAF/HIST/ARTH 629-12, showing its connection to the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy of the newly merged College of Human Resources, Education and Public Policy and the UD departments of History and Art History. It's offered as an area of concentration through urban affairs, art history and geography and is also affiliated with the art conservation department, the Museum Studies Program and the Winterthur program in Early American Culture.

Arden, which is getting ready to celebrate its centennial, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Along with Ardentown, founded in 1922, and Ardencroft, Arden is hoping for the more prestigious and rarer landmark status. The three villages have about 1,000 residents.

Landmark communities have usually been so designated by the National Park Service because they are filled with historic buildings or have been the scene of historic events. The Ardens, however, hope to win that recognition for their historic cultural landscape.

At the end of their study, Ames and his students confirmed the importance of the Ardens for the "confluence of at least four major historic themes of the second half of the 19th century: the Single Tax Movement, the Arts and Crafts Movement, the emerging Garden City Planning Movement and, overall, a larger Communitarian Movement advocating utopian settlements as an alternative to industrialized cities."

Briefly summarizing these trends: Single Taxers believe that land should be assessed at its true rental value, so today, Ardenites pay land rent on their property irrespective of the value of the improvements on it. As a counter to the abuses of industrialization, the founders of Arden believed that communities should be created in an environment of music, drama, crafts and other arts. The Garden City Planning Movement affected the way the communities were laid out so that today about half of the Ardens is forests, greens and other commons.

As the students summarized, these values "are kept alive by what the townspeople call 'direct democracy,' the invited participation of all Ardenites in the decisions of the community."

While residents of the Ardens knew they lived in a special place, they needed assistance in spelling out exactly what made it so. Although landmark status provides some help in preserving the history and in getting grants to help that preservation, its principal value would be a recognition by the federal government that the Ardens are a special place, unique in the United States.

The students not only researched the historic movements and how they are kept alive today, but they also provided possible blueprints for the Ardens to plan for the future, including fending off encroachment from surrounding development. One of the graduate students with experience in conservation also detailed guidelines for the best way to keep an archives of that heritage.

The students in the class-individually and in teams-chose areas of interest and specialization and prepared papers. Sketches of five students, who continued the work into the spring term, show the variety in their backgrounds and work:

Karen Theimer, originally from southwestern Virginia who holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, had been working for the National Institute for Conservation of Cultural Properties in Washington. She says she selected Delaware to get her master's degree in urban affairs, concentrating in historic preservation, with an eye toward working in community revitalization and economic development, perhaps along the lines of the Main Street Program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Her Arden work included both research into the single tax and strategy for preservation planning.

Angela Tweedy, another Virginian who had just gotten her undergraduate degree in preservation from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, had become interested in museums' living history and interpretation programs. Tweedy, who will receive a master's degree in urban affairs, concentrated on how Arden became and remains a planned community.

David Clarke, AS '76, a Delaware native, returned to Newark 20 years after getting his bachelor's degree at UD as an art major. He had worked for the DuPont Co. as a technical illustrator but took a buyout to pursue an interest in geography, which went back to his childhood love of maps. He'll get his master's degree in geography but will apply that knowledge to historic preservation. Clarke also worked on the land plan and traced Arden's utopian, communal landscape.

Karen Marshall, whose roots are in Connecticut and South Carolina, had spent most of her career in marketing and public relations in the nonprofit sector, after getting her bachelor's degree in English from Boston University. When she and her husband moved to Pennsylvania, she chose to "retool" her life along something that had long interested her, historical landscapes. She traced the importance of arts and crafts in the history and present environment of Arden.

Susan Buck, who already had her master's in art conservation from the Winterthur program, is working toward her Ph.D. in art conservation research. She commuted every week from Boston, where she was working at the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities Conservation Center. Already trained as a furniture conservator and in architectural paint research, she is using the program to get a more solid grounding in architectural history and preservation. Buck also worked on the arts and crafts research, and used her conservation experience to survey the Arden archives.

These five students joined Ames in distilling their own and their colleagues' research into a summary for officials of the National Park Service, which was presented to a public meeting of the three Ardens. The presentation was followed by a spirited discussion as the Ardens' residents offered comments and suggestions on the findings. All
this material will form the basis for the formal documents that Ardenites hope will eventually lead to the National Historic Landmark status.

The Center for Historic Architecture and Design, formally created in 1984, has four goals, Ames explains: Understanding the evolution of the architectural landscape, historic preservation as public policy, documenting historic resources and preservation advocacy. Ames and his colleagues and students have documented a variety of existing historic places-in some cases to provide a record of buildings and areas about to be destroyed; in others, to plan for their future development in keeping with their historic past.

The students found, as Theimer puts it, "amazing hospitality" from a community that welcomed them with open arms to meetings of the various guilds of the Arden Club, classes of the Henry George Single Tax School, Saturday night community dinners, walks through the paths and woods and visits to individual homes.

-Harry F. Themal, AS '51, is formerly managing editor and currently editorial page columnist for The News Journal in Wilmington. He is a trustee of Ardentown.