Published: May 9, 2023
Historic Deerfield has a new — well, new since late January — director of Historic Preservation with the appointment of Annie Rubel, who has most recently worked in Dearborn, Mich., at Fair Lane, the home of Clara and Henry Ford. We were curious to know more about why she wanted to make the move to New England, what was currently ongoing at Deerfield and what she hoped to do now that she has arrived.
Congratulations on the new position! Why were you particularly interested in joining the team at Historic Deerfield?
Thank you so much! Historic Deerfield has such an incredible collection of historic buildings and structures that made the opportunity impossible for me to resist. I was so taken by the spirit of place that is at the heart of the organization’s mission. The team is so passionate, committed to telling an important American story, and collaborative in their approaches. I admire their accomplishments as individuals and as a collective and am truly thrilled to join them in their meaningful work. It is also remarkable to see the archival resources and impressive collection of objects and decorative arts, which all come together to inform really effective preservation and interpretation of the historic buildings. After seeing the site and meeting the team, it was clear that this was the place for me.
What unique qualifications do you bring with you to Historic Deerfield?
I’ve had a wide range of experiences and roles in the preservation field, which gives me a deep knowledge of the various ways I can be of service to the mission of ensuring our historic landscapes and cultural heritage are protected for generations to come. In particular, I’ve had a lot of experience with historic site management in a broad sense. This necessitated not only preservation project management, but also fundraising and development, team leadership, educational programming, outreach and relationship-building, and larger organizational strategic planning. I have two Master of Arts degrees in the field, one from a public history perspective and the other from an archaeological vantage point, so my approach is interdisciplinary and dynamic. As a result, I am an effective preservationist, but also able to support the important work of the other departments.
Additionally, I am committed to building resilience in the field, both in how we conceptualize our projects for environmental and fiscal sustainability, but also how we develop longer term strategies for workforce development and job creation. I’m passionate about and experienced in leveraging preservation projects for educational opportunities to ensure we’re always doing our part to support greater diversity, equity, inclusion and access, and to work toward bridging the dire skills gap the field is facing. We must always be thinking about how to build resilience and broaden the relevance of our work.
What is currently new and/or ongoing with Historic Preservation at Historic Deerfield?
Historic preservation has long been at the heart of Historic Deerfield’s mission. I have been handed a torch that is well-lit. A great deal of the work is ongoing specialty maintenance and repair that is relatively invisible to the public. We often joke in the field that if we do our work well, no one will even know we’ve been there, but that is the joy of honoring historic places and letting them tell their own stories, rather than ours.
We do have exciting capital projects on deck that I will be thrilled to share as they develop.
One that I am particularly excited about is work to preserve and enhance the Deerfield Community Center, historically referred to as the White Church. This building is one of the more regularly utilized on Old Main Street, with a nursery school in the basement and loads of programming and activities that make the DCC a true community asset with both historic but also present significance. The building has been cared for lovingly for many years, but we now have the opportunity to restore the iconic belfry and conserve the historic bell so that it can ring again.
We are also excited to reopen Barnard Tavern after an extensive restoration that I can’t take credit for. The project has been a labor of love for so many of the staff and reopened on April 15 with lots of fanfare. I have been honored to join them in the home stretch to bring the building back to life, tell its important stories, and showcase the high-quality restoration that will make it a true gem on Old Main Street.
How about more long-term projects?
There are many ways we can expand the Historic Preservation department at Historic Deerfield, which is itself a long-term project. With so many historic structures and house museums, there is an opportunity to develop a broader, holistic approach to preservation that addresses the many needs in a strategic and streamlined way. My background in strategic and master planning will be critical in developing these programs and practices in collaboration with the other departments that carry out the mission and vision of the organization as a whole. Along these lines, I hope to develop more educational opportunities and a traditional building trades training program that will leverage our incredible site to address the long-term needs of the preservation field at large. This enhances Historic Deerfield’s mission, promotes the broader relevance of our work, and ensures Old Main Street itself gets the best preservation possible.
In terms of more tangible projects that we can share at this point, we are in the research and planning stage of a large-scale, multi-year restoration of one of the more significant houses on The Street. With the restoration of Barnard Tavern wrapped up, we are excited to turn our preservation focus to this new project that we will begin to showcase in the coming year. Exciting things on the horizon!
—Madelia Hickman Ring
May 30, 2023
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