ORLEANS — They're on a mission to celebrate the historic heritage of the town and encourage its preservation. They are the Orleans Historical Commission, and they'd appreciate an invitation to speak to your group about their mission.
“Preservation really isn't about laws and regulations,” said commission chairman Ron Petersen. “It's about winning hearts and minds and establishing community norms that support preservation.”
Although the commission's members put a lot of faith in the importance of history, their campaign is evidence-based. A town consultant has just completed a Community-Wide Historic Properties Survey and identified 34 properties and six areas as worthy of listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
“As I understand it,” Petersen said at the commission's Aug. 28 meeting, “there are no negative consequences to the owner if a house is listed. If the owner ends up making modifications that don't comply with the (U.S.) Secretary of the Interior's guidelines, the only consequence is that they yank the listing.”
“That's correct,” said Virginia Adams, senior architectural historian with the Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, R.I. “There's no regulatory power for design review for what the private property owner does, as long as they obey local regulations for design and building. There's also no National Register monitoring or follow-up review.” In short, Petersen said, “there's no preservation police.”
Adams, who headed the team of consultants that prepared the report, suggested the effort to create an historical district in one of the recommended areas might start “with a smaller area that's more manageable and where the property owners are favorable, as opposed to going for the biggest one first. That might build support and understanding about what the National Register is.”
The recommended areas are Bridge-Dyer Prince Roads, Nauset Beach Camps, Nauset Heights, Orleans Village (“focused on the civic, institutional, and ecclesiastical center of Orleans within East Orleans”), Pochet Island, and Rock Harbor.
“We're thinking about Pochet Island,” said Petersen. “It's a great spot to recognize with that designation, calling attention to the beauty of the place. I doubt very much that the owners would have any objection. Actually, the owner is the National Park Service; people lease from the Cape Cod National Seashore.”
The report found Pochet “an important representation of agricultural and recreational use of the coastal land and marshland areas of Orleans through the 19th and 20th centuries by local residents and summer residents for activities ranging from bird hunting and fishing to leisurely beach-going activities.” There's significant architecture also, including “an eighteenth-century house, an intact shingle-style summer house, and rustic summer cottages from the mid-20th century.”
Among the other recommended areas, in part, Bridge-Dyer Prince Roads is noted for “a small cluster of well-preserved residential buildings, constructed primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries;” Nauset Beach Camps for its “dune shacks, which represent a regional, waterfront expression of the rare and fragile architectural type of basic wood-framed shelters in a pristine beach and sand dune setting along the Atlantic Ocean;” and Nauset Heights as “an important early 20th-century summer community subdivision...that incorporates multiple architectural styles...including Craftsman- and Colonial Revival-style houses.”
Also Orleans Village, “historically the institutional, ecclesiastical, and civic center of town...(that) retains multiple high-style and large-scale buildings from these use types...(and) a well-preserved and cohesive collection of residences;” and Rock Harbor, especially “a cluster of well-preserved residential building, constructed primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries and (including) Rock Harbor Landing.”
As for the 34 individual properties recommended for National Register listing, the commission, which is still seeking two new members to complete its roster, looked to Adams for guidance in setting priorities. She suggested four criteria: Is the property town-owned? Might it be threatened in some ways? Can the 34 be ranked in terms of historic significance? Is the owner interested?
The consultant's comments were timely. One of the 34 properties is the Kenrick-Sparrow House on South Orleans Road, upon which a demolition delay was imposed by the commission last year. That stay expires this month.
“We made an extraordinary effort,” Petersen said. “We brought in a builder, a real estate broker” and the Cape Cod Commission's historical preservation specialist. “We made a huge effort to convince” the owner. Years ago, we talked about laying down in front of the bulldozer.”