Richmond on the James: Stories of Landscape Transformation, in Review

by Rebecca Flemer, Affiliate ASLA

Virginia War Memorial / image: R. Flemer

Richmond on the James: Stories of Landscape Transformation
Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation Annual Meeting
Richmond, Virginia  |  May 24-27, 2023

This year’s Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP) conference explored the rich history of a place which is home to one of the organization’s founders, Hugh Miller, Hon. ASLA. Along with Hugh, Tim Keller, Barbara Wyatt, FASLA, and Genevieve Keller, Hon. ASLA, organized the conference. From the homeland of the Powhattan and other tribes, to capital of the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War, to its industrial past, themes for presentations and tours during the conference strove to gain a deeper knowledge of Richmond’s history as seen through its changing landscape.

The conference kicked off Wednesday evening with a welcome reception hosted by Preservation Virginia at their headquarters, the Cole Digges House. Thursday’s presentations started with an overview of the conference and a conversion with Hugh Miller. Two sessions followed with themes of Equity and Social Justice in Urban and Rural Landscapes and Racialized and Culturally Distinct Contexts of the Historic Landscape. These discussions featured professional and academic projects including scholarship papers supported by the Alliance.

On Friday, Bill Martin, director of the Valentine Museum, led an all-day bus tour of Richmond neighborhoods and landscapes. We began at Shockoe Bottom—between the 1830s and the Civil War, the largest American slave-trading hub outside of New Orleans. Largely erased during urban renewal, the site is overshadowed by Route 95. It has recently been recognized as a threatened site important to the story of enslavement in Richmond.

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Natchitoches in the Red River Valley: A Confluence of Cultures

by Rebecca Flemer, Affiliate ASLA

Alliance group at the Natchitoches Train Depot / image: Martin Holland

A Recap of the 2022 Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation Annual Conference

The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation (AHLP) held its annual meeting in Natchitoches, Louisiana, from May 18-21 this year. Twice postponed because of COVID, the conference was entitled Natchitoches in the Red River Valley: A Confluence of Cultures. Over the three days we heard presentations and visited sites in Natchitoches and the surrounding area. From tenant cabins, to “juke-joints,” to churches and cemeteries, we learned about the unique culture of the Red River Valley and the Cane River.

The Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation is an interdisciplinary professional organization which provides a forum for communication and exchange of information among its members. It is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of historic landscapes in all their variety, from formal gardens and public parks to rural expanses. The conference, usually held every year, are a great way to learn about historic landscapes and experience in-depth exploration of the locations where they take place.

Our meetings were held at the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT), on the campus of Northwestern State University of Louisiana. NCPTT offices and some laboratories are located in historic Lee H. Nelson Hall, a former gymnasium. We learned about the history of the gymnasium and the long road to its preservation. Jason Church and Vrinda Jariwala, of NCPTT, conducted tours of the labs.

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A Healing Garden in a Therapeutic Landscape

by Rebecca W. Flemer, Affiliate ASLA

William Hamilton (1745-1813) was born in Philadelphia to a wealthy family of colonial lawyers and politicians. Hamilton was an eminent botanist and plant collector, and made The Woodlands a New World model of contemporary English landscape gardening techniques. / image: William Russell Birch (1755-1834). “Woodlands, the Seat of Mr. Wm. Hamilton, Pennsylvania,” from Country Seats of the United States, 1808.

Visit any hospital or healthcare facility in North America and you are likely to find a “healing garden.” This may be a revamped courtyard or a purposely composed landscape designed to benefit patients and their caregivers. Preliminary plans are underway in the Dell area of Woodlands Cemetery in West Philadelphia for a healing garden and green burial site. At first glance, a healing garden in a cemetery may appear to be counterintuitive. However, the institution’s founders and early patrons believed in the therapeutic influence of nature and current plans build on those ideals. Close to the city and multiple healthcare facilities, the garden will serve as a place to learn, heal, and reflect. Aaron Wunsch, Associate Professor in the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and Landscape Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, and Jessica Baumert, Executive Director, have been discussing this plan with Cherie Eichholz, PhD, a social worker at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center. Outlines for such a scheme also appear in the cemetery’s 2015 master plan.

The Woodlands, a 54-acre historic cemetery and estate, is located near the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Hospital (The Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center). The surrounding neighborhood is a mixture of students and professors, with a daily influx of patients and visitors to the nearby medical complexes.

At just under an acre, the ruggedly overgrown north-eastern corner of the Woodlands is known as “The Dell.” Steep sloping ground—20 feet in depth—discouraged burials here. A stream, Middle Run, ran through the area and held a water collection tank which fed an early irrigation line. The area is part of a buffer around the cemetery protecting the grounds from the surrounding commotion of city traffic and noise.

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