“We shape our buildings, and thereafter, our buildings shape us.” -Sir Winston Churchill
The long, bitter struggle to save the Katy Bridge has certainly shaped the civic life of Boonville and even Missouri preservation for the past decade. I think the success or failure of the Katy Bridge as the capstone of heritage tourism will shape Missouri preservation well into the future.
Preservation: A Bridge to the Future was an obvious yet appropriate title of the twenty-seventh annual Missouri Preservation conference held in the Missouri river town for three days in September at the Isle of Capri Casino conference center, which sat in the shadow of the celebrated Katy Bridge.
The time seemed right to confer a bit, and Boonville seemed the right place to do so.
To confer (from the Latin conferre) means to bring together, have discussions, and exchange opinions; the conference did exactly that.
More than three hundred preservationists came together from across Missouri to share information, experiences, and ideas; tour the historic buildings of Boonville and nearby Arrow Rock; view and hear presentations by preservation technologists and other expert practitioners; participate first-hand in downtown storefront preservation design; and even award their peers for the best examples of Missouri preservation.
The social and knowledge networks for historic preservation that were created or strengthened at the conference also represented fundamental building bridges to the future.
The knowledge, skill, and passion that Missouri preservationists displayed at the conference in these social and knowledge networks clearly illustrate Sir Winston Churchill’s famous dictum.
Although preservationists may feel the powerful presence of the past most keenly, Missourians want and need continuity in their built environment as well as constant change in their worlds. Historic preservation of special buildings and sites like the Hotel Frederick, Thespian Hall, Main Street buildings and, of course, the reborn Katy Trail offer valuable building blocks (including natural resources and investments) for creating good new places and so merit our attention and stewardship.
While there may be certain occasions in which we create special places literally from the ground up (the memorial at Ground Zero of the former World Trade Center), for practical and psychological purposes we need the essential shapes of our past to help us bridge the flow of current events and shape a meaningful future.
Future generations may also confer with their peers and their past (our present), and the circle will remain unbroken …