Ask around in the historic preservation / architectural history field about folks’ favorite conferences, and invariably you’ll get the same reply: “VAF!!” There’s a reason attending the Vernacular Architecture Forum conference is a beloved ritual for many–the field trips. You get to access little-seen spaces and privately-owned historic properties, the equivalent of a back-stage V.I.P. pass for your favorite band. Seeing and discussing these incredible places in the friendly company of other architectural historians, preservationists, historic site directors, and academics (this year I met a historical geographer and a medievalist) makes for an invaluable learning experience.
One of several highlights of the conference’s Upper Western Shore (Potomac River) field trip, for me, was the tour of a house whose HABS photos I’ve gazed at longingly–the late 18th-century gambrel-roofed, center passage Wyoming, with a rare brick pent chimney. The pent-topped exterior brick masonry segment that connects the two exterior end chimneys, and provides a small storage space, is a bit obscured by ivy in my photo below, but more detailed views can be seen in the HABS photos from the 1930s and 1980s.
It’s always a joy to meet members of the community whose lives and family history are intimately connected with the historic buildings we study. In Galesville, Maryland–about fourteen miles south of Annapolis–we chatted with current and former residents who painted a vibrant picture of this early-twentieth-century African American community in its heyday. Later, as VAF 2018 drew to a close after a rousing day of paper sessions, I found myself thinking again about the wonderful residents we encountered along each stop of our tour. All were personally invested in their historic sites, embodying the spirit of “This Place Matters.”