Nautical Heritage Sites on Most Endangered Historic Places List

The National Trust for Historic Places just released its 26th annual Most Endangered Historic Places List, a yearly collection of America’s heritage sites at risk. Some are in coastal areas with ties to America’s nautical heritage, from a Massachusetts lighthouse to a salmon cannery in Alaska, all with fascinating historical import. To wit:

Gay Head Lighthouse (Photo: Chris Costello)
Gay Head Lighthouse (Photo: Chris Costello)

Gay Head Lighthouse, Aquinnah, Massachusetts
The picturesque lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard was built in 1799 during the Adams administration (!). More importantly, one of the Native American harpooneers in Moby-Dick hailed from Gay Head. In Chapter 27, Melville introduced “Tashtego, an unmixed Indian from Gay Head, the most westerly promontory of Martha’s Vineyard, where there still exists the last remnant of a village of red men, which has long supplied the neighboring island of Nantucket with many of her most daring harpooneers. In the fishery, they usually go by the generic name of Gay-Headers.” The lighthouse is in danger of toppling over the Gay Head cliffs due to erosion.

James River (Photo: Thea Ganoe)
James River (Photo: Thea Ganoe)

James River, James City County, Virginia
The 348-mile river snakes from the Appalachian Mountains east to the Chesapeake Bay, and is at risk from inappropriate development on its banks. The wide and sheltered delta was the site of the Jamestown settlement in 1607, the first permanent British colony in the New World. While the 500 colonists started out with undoubtedly high hopes, starvation reduced them to cannibalism just two years after landing, according to recent research. But “first they ate their horses, then dogs, cats, rats, mice and snakes. Some, to satisfy their cruel hunger, ate the leather of their shoes,” the BBC reported last May, proving that John Franklin was not the first British explorer to eat his boots.

Kake Cannery (Photo: Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development)
Kake Cannery (Photo: Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development)

Kake Cannery, Kake, Alaska
What’s so special about a dilapidated salmon cannery, built between 1912 and 1940, in Alaska’s Inside Passage? “The [18 buildings] respond architecturally to the catching, processing and canning of North Pacific salmon and to the housing of Alaska Native, Euro-American, Oriental, Filipino, Black and other foreign labor employed at the Kake Cannery …Steady use maintained the sprawling warehouse-type buildings in good condition until 1977, when the cannery closed indefinitely for economic reasons after several years of poor salmon runs,” says the 1997 NRHP registration form. “Developed and modified over the years to accommodate new machinery, labor practices and mandates, and fishing technology, the cannery complex reflects the labyrinth of social and technical changes occurring in the first half of the 20th century.”

And here are the non-nautical sites in desperate need of restoration:

Abyssinian Meeting House, Portland, Maine
Established in 1828 as the first house of worship for African-Americans in Maine

Astrodome, Houston, Texas
Opened in 1965 as the world’s first multi-use, air-conditioned, domed sports stadium

Chinatown House, Rancho Cucamonga, California
The vernacular-style building provided services for the local community of Chinese laborers, beginning in 1919

Historic Rural Schoolhouses of Montana, statewide
A collection of 19th and early 20th century one- and two-room schoolhouses used by frontier families

Mountain View Black Officers’ Club, Fort Huachuca, Arizona
Built in 1942 specifically for African-American military officers

San Jose Church, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
The oldest site on this year’s list, the church dates from 1532 (!) and is a rare example of Spanish Gothic architecture

Village of Mariemont, Cincinnati, Ohio
Designed between 1921 and 1925, it’s one of America’s most significant examples of town planning

Worldport Terminal at JFK Airport, Queens, New York
The space-age terminal debuted in 1960 as the launching pad for Pan Am’s fleet of Boeing 707s

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