Advanced landscape architecture students from North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina have spent the fall semester developing a sustainable vision for the physical and cultural resources of Eatonville, Florida. The students, Christian Anderson, John Dufort and Keana Graham, have worked as a team to prepare a broad set of sustainable proposals tailored to the attributes and heritage of the town.
The A & T team studied the entire six hundred and forty acre town proper in order to develop goals for a green infrastructure and economic sustainability. A video overview will soon be available. The student visions are scheduled to
I served as independent studio advisor and participated in periodic reviews over the semester. I met with the students and their professor, Perry Howard, FASLA, at North Carolina A & T State University last week for a review of their final presentation. The day before the studio review I presented an overview of my Black Settlements In America (TM) applied research to the general. Local coverage was provided by the A & T Aggie Dispatch and Greensboro News & Record newspaper.
I had the great pleasure and honor to participate in the Humanities Texas 40th Anniversary celebration in Austin, Texas this week. In the preceding months I had received a number of requests for a single linked index of products from my projects, including Black Settlements In America, across the United States. Whether a matter of providence or not, Dr. Jim Veninga (Director Emeritus of Humanities Texas) challenged me directly to do this during the Humanities Texas events. So, the following list of links represent the first set of which I am aware:
Mr. Lester Cunningham’s yard and garden will be included in the coming Professional Continuing Education Course to be held in Eatonville, Florida on January 28, 2014. Mr. Cunningham produces a rotating crop every four months using sustainable techniques. This and other landscapes will be used as case studies that demonstrate successful outcomes and techniques.
Course content will include the following:
Historic resources in community development, planning, landscape architecture, architecture
It is difficult to visit Eatonville without encountering some expression of its material culture. That is, some food, clothing, furniture or artifact that represents traditions or customs that could only be authentic “Eatonville”. During my most recent trip Mrs. Ella Dinkins put me on notice that I look at her latest quilting project before I left. She belongs to the local quilting guild. Mrs. Ella and her fellow members have displayed many quilts in area exhibits over the years, including 2007 and 2013. As soon as Mrs. Dinkins began to unfold the quilt I knew it was special. She explained that she was “piecing” it completely from scraps of fabric that she had collected over the years. While she was sorting bags and
bags of her scraps into color groups she realized that she had enough in the same color range, and came up with the idea for this particular quilt. Once the quilt was open she was able to tell me some small anecdote about many of the pieces since none of them had originally been the same size or shape. I could not have received a better lesson in color theory in an advanced art or design class. She also explained that she uses embroidery thread to sew all of the stitches by hand. According to Mrs. Ella the embroidery thread is stronger and adds to the aesthetics. She also explained why a machine stitched quilt does not have the same character as one that is hand stitched.
This past May I had the opportunity to participate in “Preservation Week” produced by Preservation Piedmont in Charlottesville, Albemarle County, Virginia. I wrote about a group of historic Black settlements that I was able to visit while I was there. One in particular, the Jesse Sammons house, built c.1850, had just been placed on Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered list. Its existence, along with the family cemetery that contains Mr. & Mrs. Sammons’ graves, was threatened by a proposed highway project. A contract resource survey that focused primarily on architectural significance had dismissed the property as “…has no significant association with any event or person important to our nation’s history and does one appear to have the ability to yield important information. This architectural resource is recommended as individually not eligible for National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) under Criteria A, B. C, or D”. The survey made no mention of nearly twenty eight acres of land once owned by the Sammons family and containing the house and cemetery.
Sammons family descendants and Charlottesville area historic preservationists, including Preservation Piedmont, were successful in requesting an eligibility review from the Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places. The Keeper sent a representative to inspect the site first hand. Approximately two weeks ago the Keeper issued a written letter stating that the Sammons property is eligible under Criterion B (association with the lives of persons significant in our past) and Criterion D (for its potential to yield important information related to the physical extent of the cemetery). The Keeper’s full letter of determination may be accessed at the following link: http://s3.amazonaws.com/cville/cm%2Fmutlimedia%2F20130827-Keeper-Determination.pdf
The Sammons case provides several lessons for this phase of preservation: 1) All of America’s significant history has not been documented. 2) America’s significant landscape architectural and architectural history is not exclusive to classical design styles. 3) Collective efforts of a group of Americans may be just as significant and heroic as a that of an individual. 4) A significant amount of American, and African American, history lies in the cultural landscape. These are resources composed of embedded layers of environment, land, building and culture.
Advanced landscape architecture students from North Carolina A & T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina will spend the fall semester developing a sustainable vision for the physical resources of Eatonville, Florida. The students, Christian Anderson, John Dufort and Keana Graham, will work as a team to prepare a broad set of proposals tailored to authentic attributes and heritage of the town. Eatonville is widely recognized as America’s oldest African American municipality, the childhood home of Zora Neale Hurston, and the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and the Humanities. The project will provide unique field experiences in an underserved community.
I met the students and their professor, Perry Howard, FASLA, in Eatonville over the past Labor Day weekend for an intensive introduction and overview of the historic, cultural, and environmental background of the community. We met with residents, civic leaders, and toured the town on foot and by car. I provided interpretive materials gathered over the past twenty five years on Eatonville through my Black Settlements In America (TM) applied research. I will also serve as a resource person for the team as it works through the planning process. The student visions are scheduled to be presented in early December, 2013.
Professor Perry Howard, FASLA, is Coordinator of the A & T Landscape Architecture Program.
Perry received the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) President’s Medal in 2012 in recognition of unselfish and devoted service to the ASLA at the national level over a period of not less than five years. He also served as ASLA President in 2008. He was the first, and only, African American to be elected to the ASLA presidency in its one hundred and fourteen year history. In 1995 I had the honor of being elected as an ASLA Fellow (FASLA) with Perry in recognition of significant contributions made to the profession and the public through works, leadership and management, knowledge and service.
Approval is pending from the Landscape Architecture Continuing Education System (LACES) and the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for 6.0 HSW Professional Learning Units for the Eatonville Yards and Gardens Tour scheduled for January 28, 2014 in Eatonville, Florida. Attendance will be monitored, and attendance certificates will be available after the program for most individuals who complete the entire event.
Actual yards and gardens in Eatonville will be used as case studies that demonstrate successful outcomes and techniques. Participants will meet the resident owners of the yards and gardens to discuss theories and practices in sustainable landscaping and gardening. Course content will include the following:
Historic resources in community development, planning, landscape architecture, architecture
For several months Ellen P. Hunt, AIA Architect (http://ww.epharchitect.com), and I have collaborated on landscape and architectural documentation and interpretation of the historic Capote Baptist Church in Texas. Every component has some significance and represented some part of the history and culture of its creators, even the nails. Inspiration (Ellen P. Hunt, AIA) - Something as simple as a nail can be very inspiring. While working on restoring the Capote Church outside Seguin, Texas, we found handmade iron nails. The Capote Church was built in 1872 (now more than 140 years old) by freed slaves. The skill and meticulous attention to detail in the construction of the church and all of its materials leads us to believe that these freed men were talented, trained and dedicated to building a new life for themselves and their families. I was inspired by these nails, and those long ago founders of the church, to design a cross to honor the memory of those creative and resourceful people, and to help fund-raise for the restoration of this historic church. All the profits from the sale of these crosses will be donated to the Capote Church Restoration project. They are hand cast of solid sterling silver with sterling silver 18″ interlocking chains. Each cross and chain is available for $100.00. Please contact me HUNTDESIGNJEWELRY if you’d like to purchase one and contribute to the continuation of this inspiring bit of Texas and US history.
Interpretation (Everett L. Fly, FASLA) - The original church structure was erected only using nails as fasteners. Bolt or screw connections were not added until repairs were made in the 1940‘s or 1950‘s. All of the major structural joints and connections were fastened with hand made and square cut iron nails. Of course this helped us verify the historic construction period of the church. As documentation proceeded it became obvious that the freedmen actually planned and built the church using several hierarchical systems, including the nails. That is, they used specific sizes and types of nails for specific conditions. The largest 30 penny nails (30d, 4 1/2″ long) used in floor beams, 20 penny (20d, 4″ long) for floor joist connections, 12 penny (12d, 3 1/4″ long to secure floor boards, and the smaller 6 penny and 8 penny nails (6d, 8d) in the interior wall paneling. And, they were strategic in placing the nails. The nails were driven in locations and alignments that produced the strongest joint or connection. The nails, especially the large 30d spikes, were driven with great human skill. We did not find multiple holes, split wood or hammer marks at any of the nail points. They also used the nails very efficiently.
Nails were not wasted or duplicated unnecessarily. I believe that Capote Baptist Church was built by experienced, intelligent and skilled craftsmen who planned layouts, and designed spaces, in advance of their manual labor. They serve as examples of the kinds of carpenters, many who went on to become some of the country’s first African American contractors and architects, who helped build the United States.
From my initial exposure to the background of John Edmonston Brent I sought to interpret his career and achievements using multidisciplinary, and professional, standards. I did not pursue the research for nostalgic or sentimental reasons. Through the course of my Black Settlements In America (TM) studies and projects I learned that broad professional primary research of authentic documentation and comparative analysis often reveals more than traditional accounts. Even basic accounts indicated that Mr. Brent’s life and career were extraordinary. He was the son of an African American architect, Calvin T.S. Brent, and a Tusegee graduate. John Brent was the architect of record for Buffalo’s Michigan Street “Colored” YMCA (1926), located at the intersection of Michigan and Broadway. From my 1980‘s research of African American architect, and Tuskegee graduate, W. Sidney Pittman I was aware that this was one of twenty three “Colored Y’s” built with funding from local communities and Mr. Julius Rosenwald (CEO of Sears & Roebuck). These facts also suggested important relationships beyond Buffalo. Unfortunately, the Michigan Y was demolished in the 1970’s.
But a few archived news articles mentioned that Mr. Brent had worked at the Buffalo Zoo. So, I was convinced that there was more to learn, and I decided to search for other pieces of his work that might remain in the city. Dr. Donna Fernandes, Zoo President/CEO, was gracious enough to allow me to interview her staff and enlist their working knowledge of the zoo’s evolution.
At first it seemed as though there was no record of Mr. Brent’s association with the Zoo. But, Ellen Hunt, AIA Architect: http://ww.epharchitect.com, and I made a series of telephone contacts. This led to Mr. Burke Glaser, Senior Architect, with the City of Buffalo. Mr. Glaser knew where the old zoo drawings were stored, and agreed to let me look through them in his downtown office. The drawings were stored in large metal flat files. The first search session yielded seventeen original tracings initialed, “J.E.B.”, by Mr. Brent. Two additional visits yielded twenty three more original drawings. My original expectation was to find architectural drawings, of buildings. Instead, I found a group of what can only be classified as exquisite landscape architectural drawings. Most were pencil on vellum, but a few were pen and ink on linen and mylar.
Apparently, I asked so many questions about Mr. Brent, that a newspaper article and word of mouth eventually reached his descendants, Robert Milner, Janessa Robinson, Jennifer McGriff, and Brent Rollins. They came to a meeting and asked why a Texan was so interested in their great uncle. After quickly outlining my interpretation of Mr. Brent’s significance, the descendants agreed to schedule an oral interview. The first interview set the stage for a series of interviews and conversations over the next six months. These provided insights and leads into, and authentic documentation of, Mr. Brent’s civic and professional career that had not been exposed previously.
Though I had authentic drawings, it was not clear which, if any, of the original structures remained. The zoo exhibits had evolved, and changed out of necessity. And, the gate numbers had changed. In May of 2012 Ms. Jean Miller, Zoo Registrar, and Jennifer Fields, then Zoo Public Relations Coordinator, walked me across the zoo. They pointed out physical changes and shared background stories on various features. Since I had studied the original drawings for gate #3 and #4 I began to recognize specific details as we approached. When we reached the east seat wall of gate #4 I realized that it was intact.
My years on state and municipal historic review boards immediately told me that National Register criteria could be met. The gates were more than 50 years old; remained in their original location; had not been significantly altered; were built using distinctive construction techniques and materials; formed a distinguishable composition; and could be authentically associated with the life and career of John Edmonston Brent. It was clear that the Entrance Court could, and should, be considered on its own merit.
Ellen and I spent the next six months verifying, cross referencing information, and filling in details on the Zoo and Mr. Brent. I made a trip to the Rakow Research Library in Corning, New York to verify the type of glass Mr. Brent specified for the lights in the gate pilasters.
I also spent a day in the National Archives in College Park, Maryland to gather and verify documentation on Mr. Brent’s work in Washington, D.C. The process used obvious existing documentation, but also searched for new authentic information. We used information contained in a single line of text, periodicals and whole books. We used public records and private collections. We combed through municipal, county and state records. We established geographic contexts using local and national references. We compared written data against oral information. We used photographs, maps, engineering and architectural drawings. And, hours were spent on the actual site documenting and studying the physical qualities, characteristics and details of the composition components. The end product was a twenty seven page nomination narrative that covered every aspect of the Entrance Court, from the public art to the key people who worked with Mr. Brent. The comparative multidisciplinary process enabled the State and National Register listing of an important American physical composition and the American landscape architect and architect who created it.
On March 21, 2013 the New York State Historic Preservation Board approved the “Entrance Court at the Buffalo Zoo” National Register nomination that Ellen Hunt and I prepared for the Buffalo Zoo and City of Buffalo, New York. On May 22, 2013 the National Park Service listed the “Entrance Court” to the National Register of Historic Places, the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture: http://www.nps.gov/nr/listings/20130531.htm
Buffalo was established in 1803, and African American residents were recorded as early as 1806. Sixty four properties and districts were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Erie County through 2012. Only three of those were designated with reference to African American historical significance. Now there are four. Numbers change, but I believe that fewer than 2% of the National Register listed resources, nationally, are related to African American significance.
A local media summary with a small part of the 27 page nomination has been posted by “Buffalo Rising” : http://www.buffalorising.com/2013/06/zoo-gate-listed-on-national-register.html
The elapsed time from my first trip to Buffalo to the National Register nomination approval was one year, two months, and five days. We invested more than five hundred hours in the research, interpretation and production of the nomination, without financial compensation. The discovery included the gates and forty (40) original drawings initialed by African American landscape architect and architect John Edmonston Brent. I look forward to exposing more of Mr. Brent’s inspiring story in the coming months.
Special thanks and congratulations to Brent descendants Mrs. Janessa Robinson, Mrs. Jennifer McGriff, Mr. Brent Rollins, Mr. Robert Milner.