Preservation Trust busy after storm

BURLINGTON — Brandon’s historic downtown is more or less intact despite the massive Aug. 28 flood, but there are historic villages across Vermont that have been irreparably damaged, like those in Wilmington and Waterbury.

“Wilmington’s downtown was decimated,” said Paul Bruhn, executive director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont. “There are storefronts, one after another, that just aren’t there anymore.”

In Waterbury, Bruhn said there are at more than 150 historic buildings damaged by Tropical Storm Irene’s floodwaters.

The Preservation Trust is a nonprofit whose mission is the conservation, restoration and protection of Vermont’s historic buildings in the state down towns. In his travels across the state since the Aug. 28 flood, Bruhn said his group has facilitated more than 30 emergency assessments of damaged buildings, with hundreds more to go.

“We’re trying to do that around the state to avoid the problem of unnecessary demolition,” he said. “The problem is huge.”

Bruhn said the trust is working with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Affairs in a building-by-building, community-by-community survey of all the damaged historic structures in the state.

“It’s a little bit of a daunting task, but we have a lot of volunteers,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of work and it’s clearly devastating on a human level. We’re guessing we’ll get over 1,000 buildings in downtowns affected by the floods.”

The Preservation Trust of Vermont, which operates solely on memberships, donations and grant funding, got a huge boost from an ally outside the state to help building owners affected by the flood. Charity Clark, an attorney living in New York who previously worked for Gov. Howard Dean, wanted to do something to help Vermonters after hearing about the flood devastation.

“She put something about the trust on her Facebook page,” Bruhn said. “And we put a donation button on our web page.”

To date, more than $18,000 in donations have poured into the trust to help in the fight to save these historic buildings.

“One person from Kansas sent $7 in cash,” Bruhn said. “It’s been really amazing.”

In addition, the trust has also received an unsolicited $20,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation’s Walter Cerf Fund.

Bruhn said, so far, he believes that most of these towns’ historic structures, which have endured more than a few floods, will survive this one as well.

“The vast majority are going to be OK,” Bruhn said. “There may be some mold issues and such, but overall they did OK. There is a lot of water damage, lost furnaces and water heaters, that kind of thing. But if the owners can do the clean-up and the resources are there, the buildings will be OK.”

Vermonters feel tremendously connected to their historic buildings, a notion that Bruhn wholeheartedly grasps, saying the buildings are also a key part of Vermont’s image.

“These buildings define our sensibility and our sense of place and community,” he said. “They are a very important part of the essential character of Vermont. They’re immensely important to our brand.”

To make a donation to the Preservation Trust of Vermont, call 802-658-6647, mail a check made payable to The Preservation Trust of Vermont, 104 Church St., Burlington, VT 0540, or visit the website, www. Ptvermont.org.

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