TECHNOLOGY FOR CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT: THE HISTORIC HOUSE TRUST INFORMATION SYSTEM
Located throughout the five boroughs of New York City are 22 historic sites owned by the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation. DPR, with more than 28,000 acres of parkland, is faced with an immense management task in operating the many different aspects of an urban park. DPR routinely licenses the use of specific properties for park-related activities, and the historic properties are no different. All 22 sites, a collection consisting of more than 80 historic structures, are licensed out by the city to separate nonprofits. In 1989, faced with a massive park system, declining resources, and the specialized needs of historic properties, DPR realized that its management of historic sites and these licensees would be greatly improved with the creation of a nonprofit professional preservation organization to oversee the entire collection, working in collaboration with DPR. Thus the Historic House Trust of New York City (“the Trust”) was formed, with the mission to preserve and promote these historic houses.
The Trust fulfills its mission by providing a number of services for the sites on a regional, borough-level, and site-specific basis. The Trust has several divisions dedicated to this task, including development, marketing, property management, GIS, curatorial, and architectural conservation. These divisions provide a wide range of services to the houses: advertising and marketing of the sites and events; technical assistance in preservation, conservation, and curatorial and programmatic issues; coordination with DPR to ensure that maintenance and capital projects are provided to the houses in an appropriate manner. The Trust provides a unified voice for the houses not only to the public at large but also within DPR.
The sites represent a rich and diverse collection of structures. They include the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, built ca. 1652, the oldest remaining wood structure in New York state; and the Little Red Lighthouse, a late-19th-century lighthouse located under the George Washington Bridge. The greatest massing of structures is Historic Richmond Town, featuring 30 historic structures on Staten Island. A diverse group, the houses are operated as museums, exhibit space, or even, in the case of the Queens County Farm Museum, an early-20th-century working farm. While important to the history and development of New York City, the structures also represent state and national significance, with 20 structures on the National Register of Historic Places and 10 National Historic Landmarks.
The Trust oversees the collection, but the daily management of the sites is in the hands of an equally diverse group of nonprofit stewards. The National Society of Colonial Dames in the State of New York, operating Van Cortlandt Mansion since 1896, and the International Garden Club, operating Bartow-Pell Manor since 1914, are examples of the oldest of these groups. Some organizations, like the Bronx County Historical Society or the Queens Historical Society, have a broad mission dealing with borough-wide historical resources. Regardless of their missions, all these organizations serve an important role: they are at the sites on a daily basis and provide the site-specific tours, the educational programming, and special events.
The Trust, then, is immersed in the macromanagement of the houses on behalf of DPR but also provides individualized technical preservation assistance to the individual sites. Looking for methods to efficiently manage all its responsibilities with the resources available, the Trust created the Historic House Trust Information System.