Guest Blog: LEARNing from Montpelier

As a born and bred Pittsburgher, and YPA member myself I am excited to share with this community a unique opportunity for some hands on preservation not too far from home!  Only a five-hour drive south of Pittsburgh, Orange, Virginia provides a scenic backdrop for individuals interested in learning more about traditional log building, the life and home of our fourth president, and the often overlooked history of the enslaved African Americans that lived and worked at Montpelier.  

Montpelier, James Madison’s estate was home to not only James and Dolley, but his aging parents, countless guests, and as many as 100 enslaved individuals.  Unfortunately, only two buildings from groupJames’s life remain; the main house, and Mr. Madison’s garden temple.  In an effort to more accurately represent the landscape during James and Dolley’s lifetime, and provide the public with a physical structure marking the sites of enslaved households, Montpelier’s LEARN reconstruction programs were born.  

LEARN is the logo and acronym for the public programs held at Montpelier.  Standing for Locate, Excavate, Analyze, Reconstruct and Network, these week long programs provide an opportunity for members of the public to stay on Montpelier’s property for a week, and work alongside archaeologists and historians to help interpret the vast history at Montpelier.  

The Log Cabin School, held in February each year is especially exciting because it involves the reconstruction component in LEARN.  This program is designed to put historically appropriate tools in the student’s hands, and work side-by-side with master craftsmen and historians to help recreate one of the log cabin quarters at Montpelier.  Because the quarters have long since been demolished, their locations were discovered through archaeology.  During the week, students gain a 16551639422_19d372eae2_ofull understanding of how archaeology can inform the design of the buildings.  Lectures and tours presented by the Historic Preservation and Archaeology staff provide the history of the property and buildings, so that participants learn the broader context of the site they are working on.  The bulk of the course is hands on log building, and the end result is a ghost structure that acts as a reminder of the countless cabins that housed the enslaved families at Montpelier.

15951411154_6553f8d459_oThese programs provide a great resource to preservation professionals and novice historians alike.  Similar to a historic preservation field school in structure, the log cabin school packs a lot of information into a short amount of time.   Lodging is included in the program fee, and due to the possibility of inclement weather, the entire program can be completed in one of our large barns if need be.  Situated in the historic Piedmont region of Virginia, Montpelier is a short drive away from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Shenandoah National Park, and some of the country’s most award winning wineries.   

Any questions or those that would like to register can email or call 540.672.2728 x 167

Interested in Architecture and Preservation at Montpelier? Follow us on Instagram @Preserve_Montpelier


This blog was provided by Betsy Sweeny, YPA Member and Preservation Technician at James Madison’s Montpelier.


2016 Top Ten Soon Approaching

As you hopefully know by now, YPA’s annual Top Ten Preservation Opportunities event is quickly approaching.  This year’s Top Ten event will be held on Thursday, October 20th at The Frick in Point Breeze- if you have never had the opportunity to visit The Frick, this will be an excellent opportunity to experience one of Pittsburgh’s finest historic homes and multi-functional sites.

ten-squareIn this year’s Top 10 list you will find a diverse collection of structures from all over southwestern PA. As you may know, the Top 10 is culled together from a list of submissions sent in from the public over the course of the year and vetted by YPAs board of directors for inclusion. Interestingly enough, over a third of submissions this year included churches and places of worship. In Pittsburgh and across the country, finding a sustainable re-use to keep these beautiful buildings maintained and in active-use continues to be a challenge. To that extent, YPA will be hosting an event centered on that specific topic in February- be on the lookout for details in the coming months.

While this year’s Top 10 is all over the map, one common thread links them back to one of YPA’s key principles- that historic preservation is an essential tool for economic development and regional revitalization.  The restoration and sustainable adaptive re-use of these sites can be a significant contributing factor or a spark that puts their respective communities on the track to positive growth and success. A number of Top 10 sites have followed that path – the McCook Mansion in Shadyside, The Cork Factory in the Strip, the Stand Theater in Zelionople, just to name a few. There’s a quite a few that “still need some love.” We will also be highlighting those this year.

We hope you will join us on October 20th to learn more about this year’s Top 10 Preservation Opportunities, socialize and support the growing preservation community and movement. Remember to use #YPAtopten leading up to and at the event! 

This Place Matters (a nosotros también)

This Place Matters (a nosotros también)

As a YPA board member, one of our goals is to consider historic preservation as an important tool for redevelopment, and not as an afterthought of the planning process. In this blog I want to write about something close to me; that is, how to talk about the fragmented history of minorities in Pittsburgh and how the goals of historic preservation can help make those histories visible.  

September 15 through October 15 marks the recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month, a type of celebration that still feels foreign in a place like Pittsburgh. However, it has been during the last couple of years that a lot has been said in excitement about the rapidly growing Latino population in the city: City counselors recognized the first Latino Day on April 19th and Latinos are positively contributing to communities like Beechview and Brookline.


The Roberto Clemente Bridge, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, during a boxing event where Pittsburgh boxers faced off against Cuban boxers

Most of this is rooted in the idea that Pittsburgh’s Latino population was non-existent until recently and that finding someone who spoke Spanish was as rare as finding parking in the South Side on a Saturday night.  That is definitely true but it also isn’t. Latinos have a rich history in the region: After WWI Mexican workers formed significant segments of the labor force in the steel mills. It is sparsely documented, but exists as part of the song “The Ballad of Pennsylvania” written by some of such immigrants, Lupe Martínez and Pedro Rocha in 1928. Now, the University of Pittsburgh’s Eduardo Lozano Latin American Collection is one of the finest Latin American book collections in the country. Other examples are more ironic. Little about the “Mexican War Streets” celebrates Mexican heritage despite being one of the Pittsburgh History and Landmark Foundation’s most successful preservation projects. Baseball player Roberto Clemente, from Puerto Rico, reached iconic stature in no other place but Pittsburgh, becoming a Hispanic inspiration to many. After the many things named after him nationally, few of them are in Western Pennsylvania.

This mural in Allentown shows what looks like a Puerto Rican flag as part of the design.

The truth is that Pennsylvania has always been diverse and it will continue to be. Yet, historic preservation has done little to address this reality. There is a growing perception that historic preservation is more focused in saving sites associated with rich white men’s history, especially in a place like Pittsburgh where industrialists take center stage in the city’s past. It was only until the 80s that some preservation organizations made deliberate efforts to  incorporate African-American heritage into historic preservation, let alone Latino or Asian history. When these communities are asked to think about preservation, it is largely a recent history of challenging community building.  And so I can’t help but beg the question: can preservation be a meaningful tool to minority groups that lack adequate culturally competent and linguistically appropriate places? Can the Latino community in Pittsburgh even afford historic preservation, and if so, what should it look like?


Here are 4 ways to talk about preservation in the Latino community:


  1. Black Pittsburgh history is Latino history too.

The Latino community cannot relate to the struggles of African-Americans. But looked more closely, the experiences are more similar than we think. The mere existence of an Afro-Latino identity only highlights the legitimacy of such intersection.

Here is an example: Pittsburgh is home to the National Negro Opera House, the first black opera house in the country and one which YPA has actively participated in protecting as a historic landmark. Among many black celebrities, Roberto Clemente also lived there. Much like blacks, Latinos were barred from staying in other places reserved for whites due to segregation. Even some of Teenie Harris photographs, which famously chronicle African American life in the Hill District, debut Caribbean and Puerto Rican people among them.

Blacks and Latinos have always lived in the same neighborhoods and visited the same stores. There are even similar acts of racial privilege and discrimination within the Hispanic community itself. Preserving African American spaces advances the Latino community too.  


National Negro Opera House

  1. Sense of Place

A challenge to the Latino identity in Pittsburgh is that the community is dispersed, unlike in other cities with Latino neighborhoods. On top of that, the community is also diverse in education level, economic status, and unique ethnic background. As many people point out, there is no one Latino community; there are many of them.  

This is exactly the type of challenge historic preservation can help address. Preserving the historic and architectural character of the neighborhood provides the sense of place which the Latino community currently lacks. This can be true even if the area is a “Latino” space or not. Historic preservation could help Latino communities think about placemaking in their communities, reconnect with structures that had historically been deemed outside their culture, and discover how their presence is tied to the revitalization efforts shaping neighborhoods where they live.

  1. Historic preservation attracts investment

Investment is exactly what some minorities neighborhoods in the city need. The rehabilitation of  historic buildings can not only be key to providing affordable housing options for Latinos living in Pittsburgh, it can also provide other benefits like addressing blight, improve the homes where the community lives, and beautifying the physical space.

  1. Places are icebergs

To explore the narrative of Latinos in Pittsburgh is to understand an overarching process of how old and new immigrants of different cultures can bridge generational and cultural divides. Places are physical manifestations of that; they embody collective and individual memories of connection, exclusion, and struggle. Preservation in Latino places is not just about historic buildings, but more so about their invisible meanings. In this way, historic places are icebergs.

Historic preservation can help Latinos achieve a spirit of place and recontextualize the idea that the Latino community can become just as vibrant as what was there before. The architectural preservation of buildings in emerging Latino communities can materialize a vibrant community, but it will take other unusual strategies for preserving and interpreting complex communities to anchor them into a legitimate part of Pittsburgh.


This blog was written by Rene Cuenca, YPA Board Member.


Painting in the Park with YPA

On July 31st, BikePGH held its final Open Streets event for the summer of 2016.  OpenStreetsPGH is a family friendly event where residents and visitors alike get to experience Pittsburgh at the ground level and participate in activities and support and experience local businesses without the obstruction of vehicular traffic. The route for this particular Open Streets stretched from The Point in downtown Pittsburgh through the Northside, and across the West End Bridge to the West End Valley.

Part of what makes YPA membership so great is the opportunity for civic engagement and connection to the Pittsburgh community. YPA joined dozens of other organizations to volunteer to host tables and activities and direct bike and pedestrian traffic at major intersections. YPA was represented near the corner of Western Avenue and Brighton Road by the Allegheny Commons Pedestrian Bridge, one of our 2014 Top Ten Preservation Opportunities.

Here we engaged the public with our “Painting for Preservation” activity where participants painted, drew, and celebrated the pedestrian bridge in other creative ways, while learning about the importance of the bridge and YPA and our partner’s efforts to support its restoration.

Volunteers had a great time painting and engaging with the public. We took lots of pictures, and many of us got to participate in other activities. There was a yoga class, giant bubble making, music, food, and even activities for dogs. To learn more about Painting for Preservation and YPA’s volunteering efforts during Open Streets, check out this article which appeared in the Northside Chronicle.

From more information about OpenStreetsPGH, click here.  Below, check out some of these pictures of YPA volunteers and some of our visitors at our Painting for Preservation table.

This blog was written by Amanda Neatrour, YPA Board Member.



rick sebak

Rick Sebak stopped by and took in some bubble fun

cory with painting

Corey Bonnet,  YPA board advisor creating a masterpiece in honor of the Pedestrian Bridge as part of YPA’s Painting for Preservation activity during Open Streets Pittsburgh on July 31st, 2016.

kids painting
Children enjoying cookies while drawing pictures of the Pedestrian Bridge at the YPA Painting for Preservation table.


The Allegheny Commons Bridge was a 2014 YPA Top Ten Preservation Opportunity site, and nominations for 2016 are now open through September 1, 2016.  Nominate your site here.

Guest Blog: Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area

We’ve invited Corinne Betchel, Director of Tourism of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, to contribute to the YPA blog as our first guest blogger.  Check out what’s happening with Rivers of Steel this summer!


Happy Hour with Carrie (Corinne's Photo) (1)Coming up on August 3rd, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and the Young Preservationists Association will be co-hosting Happy Hour with Carrie – a one hour tour of the Carrie Furnaces followed by beer and socializing at Voodoo Brewery Homestead. YPA members receive a discount on tour tickets with the code YPA2016. This is a great opportunity to network with others who share a passion for preservation while checking out the incredible Carrie Furnaces site (and the awesome craft beer at Voodoo).


Happy Hour with Carrie, now in its second year, is just one of several new and expanded programs that Rivers of Steel has added in the last several years to reach new audiences, Voodoofurther interpret local industrial history, and build the connection between people and place. The happy hour tours were designed to appeal to young professionals and provide a gateway into Pittsburgh’s industrial history and Rivers of Steel’s programming. In 2016, Rivers of Steel decided to aim even younger to instill pride of place into the next generation. Our Kids at Carrie program, held once monthly in the summer, is designed for families with young children and includes an introduction to Pittsburgh’s iron and steel heritage, an adventure walk through the Carrie Furnaces site, an art project based on the Carrie Deer, and cookie table treats.


One of our largest new endeavors is Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA), the creative wing of Rivers of Steel. RoSA offers exhibitions, performances, and educational experiences to enhance the lives of community members, build local pride and renew public interest in Pittsburgh’s Monongahela River Valley. While creative projects are offered throughout the entire eight-county heritage area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, RoSA is based at the Carrie Furnaces. Programming at Carrie includes ironcast workshops, photo safaris, tintypes and Cyanotype workshops, and urban art tours.


On September 3rd, RoSA will present the second annual Festival of Combustion, a family-friendly event highlighting all hot art making processes. The festival features booths dedicated to glass flame-working, ceramics, molten lava, bronze casting and cast iron. There will be a variety of hands-on activities available along with live music and local eats. Leading up to the Festival of Iron Pour (Chris's Photo)Combustion, RoSA will be offering more in-depth hands-on opportunities including a Weeklong Iron Intensive and Foundry 1 which provide participants the unique opportunity of casting their work during the Festival of Combustion as part of the casting team.


Rivers of Steel is looking for additional volunteers, especially for the Festival of Combustion on September 3rd. If you are interested in learning about volunteer opportunities please email Corinne at We hope to see you at the Carrie Furnaces for a happy hour tour, workshop, or one of many other great events this year. More information can be found at and by following our Facebook page.



Photographs courtesy of Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area