by Ken Lambert
You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate the immense historical value that Massachusetts has in the context of this country. Just ask the various restoration contractors in the region, or the over 150,000 residents whose jobs are connected to traveler spending.
Though tourism and even essential work like construction have suffered a blow due to COVID-19, Massachusetts’ historic buildings will always be an important part of our cultural fabric. Per capita, our state may be the most historically significant in the country. Take a glance at the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmarks Program and you’ll find an impressive 4,339 landmarks and structures listed. It’s no surprise people travel from around the world to see the site of “the shot heard round the world” in Concord, where the American Revolutionary War began, or to retrace the events leading up to the Boston Tea Party. There’s no doubt Massachusetts’ historical sites and structures have long been formative to the American spirit.
Take Quincy Market, completed in 1826, and designed by the prominent architect and skilled engineer, Alexander Parris. The building marked a transitional phase between Neoclassism and mature Greek Revival and is recognized on a national level as an early large-scale civic planning project. That’s because it transformed the former public market into a space that could accommodate Boston’s growing population, which rose 74% in the period between 1820-1825, ultimately serving as the area’s food distribution hub for nearly 150 years. After falling into disrepair, the market was revitalized in the 1970s as a festival marketplace, serving as a shining example of adaptive reuse, and today, attracting over 18 million visitors a year.
For the construction industry, these historic buildings must be regularly maintained and restored – properly. The structures of key tourist value along the Freedom Trail and the like are a near-constant source of work for a niche group of tradespeople in the area. Masonry buildings like the Old State House (built in 1713), the Old South Meeting House (1729), and Quincy Market must continue to function to serve our community. You may remember the interior brick at Quincy Market being restored in 2016 – an important step in preserving the landmark.
Restoring old masonry buildings mandates a set of skills and thought processes that requires experienced contractors and skilled, trained craftworkers. To ensure these cultural gems are properly restored, IMI recommends that designers and specifiers include its Historic Masonry Preservation Certificate Program as a pre-qualification in project specification language. As our communities recover from COVID-19, the interiors of these buildings will require proper cleaning and disinfecting, which, like any restoration efforts, should always be conducted by qualified professionals to avoid irreparable damage.
Working together, the AEC community can preserve Massachusetts’ historic structures, which are not only vital to our state’s heritage, but boost the local economy by encouraging tourism and job creation in the AEC industry.
Ken Lambert is director of industry development & technical services for the International Masonry Institute.