|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XXII NUMBER 1 Fall 2006|
A Passion for Place
Near the center of South Acworth, in New Hampshire's Cold River Valley, stands an icon of small-town New England: the general store. Four years ago, the Acworth Village Store had fallen out of the hands of its owners and into serious disrepair.
"It could have been condemned," says Rachel Rouillard '96, executive director of New Hampshire's Land & Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP), a state initiative that helps fund restoration and preservation projects. An integral piece of South Acworth's history would have been lost if not for a concerned community ready to take action and a helping hand from LCHIP. The store received nearly $80,000 after the Acworth Historical Society nominated it for an LCHIP preservation grant. Coupled with community fund-raising, it was enough to breathe new life into the country store so essential to village life. Today, the 1865 cream-colored clapboard building is completely refurbished, from the foundation to the roof shingles. It also houses a sandwich shop and the Acworth post office.
"This was one of my favorite projects," Rachel says. "The store is a community co-op. People volunteer their time to make it function. It's a huge source of pride."
At LCHIP, Rachel has put her Keene State geography degree and her subsequent experience in urban and land-use planning to good use. "At Keene State," Rachel says, "I had some of the best teachers I've ever seen. I started out as an English major, but took an introductory course in geography that captured my imagination. Sometimes the smallest opportunity can put you on a track that you love for life, and that is what happened to me. I studied urban geography with a professor named Bill Parker, who is also the town planner of Milford, and I developed a passion for the concept of place."
After graduation, the Keene native became the town planner of Brockton, Massachusetts, and went on to work in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Boston in the field of land use and regional planning. "The land and how people interact with it fascinates me," Rachel explains. So when she was asked by a few preservation colleagues to apply for a position with a new state program designed to conserve New Hampshire's historic buildings and vital terrain, Rachel didn't hesitate. She signed on for a five-year term with LCHIP in 2000, and another in 2005.
During the first five years, Rachel helped raise more than $17 million for the program's purpose. From small tasks such as the rehabilitation of the Danville Town Hall's second floor to massive endeavors such as the rescue of the Ashland School, LCHIP's grants successfully backed the funding for 112 projects. For every dollar that LCHIP put in, communities and nonprofits raised an average of $5.80 to complete their preservation projects.
With all LCHIP projects, the community serves as the true backbone of each preservation effort, raising at least half the needed funds and often much more. This motivates citizens to pull together for a common cause, proving New Hampshire communities are more than willing to work for what they receive. In South Acworth, the community raised $2.34 for each dollar from LCHIP to help save their village store and preserve their community culture. Another LCHIP success story is the conservation of the Pond of Safety, a 10,000-acre parcel of forested land in Randolph that is the last remaining link of undeveloped land between two sections of the White Mountain National Forest. The land became the Randolph Town Forest, and the timber revenue it generated revitalized the town and the local lumber industry.
Over the six years that Rachel has directed LCHIP, she has seen nearly 600 proposals. The same criteria are applied to all applications. "In the first cut," she explains, "we ask, 'Is this project of true significance statewide?' In the second cut, we consider a mix of geography, capacity (the ability of partners to raise their share of the money), and possible outcomes. We try to get a deeper understanding of both the needs and the capacity."
In 2005, the state legislature sent LCHIP a crippling blow, slashing its budget 80 percent from the $10 million budget proposed by Governor John Lynch. The biennial budget gave LCHIP $750,000 for each year and added an extra $500,000 for the second year, for a total of $2 million.
"The ideal mix," Rachel says, "is having both the heart and the money. I know that the legislature supports the concept of LCHIP because they established it by a nearly unanimous vote. We believe LCHIP is essential to the future of the state. In the face of the budget cuts, we realized that we have to be flexible: we reassessed and retooled our approach, remaining true to our mandate, the preservation of historic structures and natural resources.
"We are able to provide seed money, which often really helps to jump-start community fund-raising or what we call 'capstone money,' the last piece needed after all local options have been exhausted. A great example of the capstone piece is the historic Folsom Tavern in Exeter. They raised $600,000 to restore it. LCHIP's $100,000 was the last piece in and completed the interior work."
Rachel is hopeful about the next round of funding, to be announced in January 2007. She and the LCHIP board hope to give the legislature a bigger picture of the preservation needs of the state, with a focus on economic development. "We are thinking more broadly," Rachel explains, "and developing a plan that goes beyond the two-year budget cycle. We see LCHIP funding as the public incentive for larger private investment."
It's clear the preservation of New Hampshire's history and land isn't just Rachel's passion, but a major concern for state citizens. And not even a dramatic budget cut is going to stop LCHIP or Rachel from protecting the state's greatest business advantage: quality of life and traditional values. Despite curtailed funding in 2005, LCHIP decided to back the preservation of the Daniel Webster Farm in Franklin, named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the "eleven most endangered historic sites in the United States." This project is one that Rachel is especially proud of. (National Trust article on New Hampshire)
Webster, an eminent 19th-century orator, senator, and secretary of state, wrote in a letter to his son that the farm was the most beautiful place on earth. "To let such an important and historic site be razed for a crop of condominiums would have been a crime," Rachel says. LCHIP's pledge of $750,000 toward the farm's preservation took a massive bite out of its budget but helped to secure the land and buildings.
As communities and nonprofits attempt to safeguard historic homes, landmarks, and open space in New Hampshire, the fastest growing state east of the Mississippi River, they turn increasingly to LCHIP. "I can't think of another thing I want to do," says Rachel. "It's so rewarding. I love that I get to be a part of something that will last."
Angela Robie Frazier writes from her home in Troy, N.H., where LCHIP funds are helping renovate an 1850s railroad depot.