Survey of city’s historic districts shows some loss
A survey of the two historic districts in the city of Fernandina Beach undertaken earlier this year shows a loss of resources and of some historic integrity. The survey area focused on the downtown Historic District, the Old Town Historic District, and the properties located adjacent to their boundaries.
The survey performed by Brockington and Associates compared Florida Master Site File forms, photographs and GPS information with the current conditions observed, and changes were made to the inventory.
The Fernandina Beach Historic Resources Update of both districts revisited 507 previously recorded resources, 77 of which were confirmed as no longer existing. The 430 remaining had their forms updated, and were photographed, mapped with GIS software and assessed for continuing eligibility as official historic resources.
“Of the 430 historic resources, 271 are currently listed as contributing to a NRHP historic district or individually listed,” the report said. “Of those 271, we recommend that 22 of the historical resources are no longer contributing to a NRHP district due to loss of historic integrity. This leaves 249 historical resources … that we recommend have retained contributing status.”
There are four federal criteria for determining the significance of a resource and its eligibility for the NRHP. Any resource, building, structure, site, object or district could be eligible for the NRHP if it is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to history, if it is associated with the lives of people significant in the past, if it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or if it represents the work of a master or possesses high artistic value.
Brockington and Associates also made recommendations regarding certain places, or resources, that the firm believes should be added. Seven more historical resources that were originally excluded from the list of contributing resources “possess the historic integrity to qualify as contributing elements of the historic district. Individual historic resources retaining architectural integrity are important elements to the overall integrity of a historic district,” according to the report. The seven were recommended as contributing properties.
In 1990, Old Town Fernandina was placed on the National Register of Historic Places due to its significance in the areas of archaeology, community planning and development and exploration and settlement. The contributing elements include various archaeological sites and the Spanish-designed layout of the streets, lots, and plaza, the survey said.
A 1985 survey recorded 16 historic resources in Old Town. Eight of those were determined to no longer exist, according to the 2018 survey. Information about the remaining eight was updated, and five additional resources were recorded.
“There are also approximately 33 buildings within the district that were assessed as not eligible for survey due to being recent construction or exhibiting extreme loss of historic integrity,” the survey says. “However, the Captain’s House (Resource NA00688) exhibits a high level of historic integrity and we recommend it (is) eligible for individual listing on the NRHP.”
While the report said, “Overall, the Downtown District has retained an above average level of historic integrity since it was expanded in 1987,” the positive assessment came with a caveat: “some of its historic resources have experienced a loss of integrity that change their contributing status.” Twenty-two resources previously listed as being contributing properties in the downtown Historic District were recommended for delisting as non-contributing structures due to a loss of historic integrity.
“Changing the size and shape of a front porch may not seem harmful on its own but coupled with vinyl siding and a side elevation garage addition, and a house looks distinctly different than when it gained significance,” according to the report.
The city’s historic preservation planner, Sal Cumella, agreed.
“What may seem like small insignificant changes in materials and design can actually have a large cumulative effect on a structure’s overall historic integrity over time,” Cumella said.
“There are 15 previously recorded resources within the Downtown District confirmed demolished or otherwise non-extant,” according to the survey.
But there were also some additions to consider: “There are 7 historic resources that were not originally considered contributing to the NRHP district that we recommend now be added to the list. ... Many alterations to a historic resource that have obscured or damaged its integrity can be reversed.”
The survey also said the 256 contributing buildings remaining make up almost 71 percent of the total building stock within the downtown Historic District.
Three resources outside of the downtown district that were revisited require further research to determine NRHP eligibility, the survey showed. Those properties are the Peck Center, Macedonia A.M.E. Church and the Cook & Cook Seafood fish house.
Brockington praised the city’s efforts to protect its historic resources.
“(The) City’s steps to preserve its built environment has benefited the tourism economy, and at the same time maintained a local sense of heritage identity,” the survey said. “Newly constructed infill and different businesses moving into historic buildings are not necessarily detrimental to the historic districts. In fact, it is the economic and social advancements that help prove the value of the community’s historic fabric.”
“The report shows that our historic districts are stable, which is definitely a good thing,” Cumella said. “This can be attributed to the fact that the preservation of our historic resources was identified as a goal as early as the 1970s.
“Many other cities that did not take action until just recently lost many of their historic resources in the last few decades.”
Brockington made some recommendations to ensure the future of the city’s historic preservation, including educating residents about tax incentives for rehabilitation of historic resources, promoting the rehabilitation of historic properties and promoting heritage tourism through programs such as the National Register’s Online Travel Itinerary.
The survey also recommended public education of the city’s history by making historic resources available electronically, displaying markers and plaques at historic locations and publishing a book that chronicles the city’s architectural history with historic and contemporary photographs of its historic resources.
“The City of Fernandina Beach’s historic architecture conveys the story of the City’s development and contributes to its aesthetic value and unique sense of place. The ongoing public and private efforts to preserve Fernandina Beach’s historic built environment could be enhanced by a public history book,” the survey said.
“The City will continue to promote historic preservation and the rehabilitation of historic structures, as well as promote education about historic preservation in Fernandina Beach,” Cumella said.
To read the survey in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2Ad9WhE.