Every year, PNJ publishes the annual 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in NJ list, which spotlights irreplaceable historic, architectural, cultural, and archaeological resources in New Jersey that are in imminent danger of being lost in the hopes of generating support for the site. My job while working on the 10 Most Project has been to create a comprehensive spreadsheet of all 260 sites and themes honored by PNJ since 1995. The spreadsheet contains the known contact information of PNJ’s last point of contact with the site, as well as any known information about the site itself. After amassing this initial information from PNJ files, I then sought to ascertain if the contact information was still relevant and, if not, to update. I then proceeded to research and update the status of the site – since being named a 10 Most site, has it been saved? Lost? Is it currently open to the public? A private residence? Etc.
This research will eventually help PNJ communicate more effectively about the number of sites that remain endangered across the state, but also allow us to readily access success stories that can be shared when promoting and communicating about the 10 Most program. This research can also allow PNJ to try and assess if there are any trends in the progression of different sites. Finally, ensuring that information in the listing is updated can help sites across NJ see the types of initiatives that have saved sites, the grants sites have received, as well as the challenges that continue to plague them. This could, hopefully, allow sites to learn from each other. Towards the end of the project, I will also be making updates to PNJ’s website with the information I have gathered, trends that I have observed, etc.
I started this project reaching out to people with personalized emails and phone calls but, in order to make the entire experience easier for the people I am reaching out to (and streamline my work), I also created a Google form, with all the questions I have written up on it. I hope that, going forward, PNJ can do an annual check-in with 10 Most sites to assess trends, ensure a sense of community and, just logistically, make sure the tracking is less onerous going forward more regularly. Perhaps PNJ hosted networking events with 10 Most sites could allow them to information share and learn from each other, as they all engage in the difficult work of saving of historic treasures.
The 10 Most Program undeniably shines a light on endangered sites in NJ in the near term, but the long-term benefits of participation in this program are less clear. We hope this study clarifies the value of the 10 Most Program, strengthens connections between PNJ and the sites, and, perhaps even the sites and each other if 10 Most site networking events become a reality in the future.
Gillian Demetriou is a history student at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, who recently completed this work for PNJ.