Make Your Impact
Make Your Impact



Wheelock Schoolhouse in Hearne, Texas, got a new lease on life in 2017 when Texas A&M University’s Center for Heritage Conservation signed on to aid in restoration efforts.

Home to quilt shows, raffles, rummage sales and parades, Wheelock Schoolhouse in Hearne, Texas, got a new lease on life in 2017 when Texas A&M University’s Center for Heritage Conservation (CHC) began documentation efforts on the site. The schoolhouse was converted to a community center in 1948 and is the oldest continually used public building in Robertson County. Volunteers from the CHC are providing documentation work and expertise to the schoolhouse’s perennial caretakers to ensure the building’s legacy lives on.

While conservation work is often expensive and difficult, it remains the only option for sites like Wheelock Schoolhouse to adapt to a changing world. A sense of purpose and stewardship propels groups like the CHC to work on projects close to home like Wheelock as well as others far and wide. Their other projects have included documentation of the Alamo in San Antonio, Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, and the La Belle, a 17th-century ship belonging to French explorer Robert de La Salle whose wreckage was discovered in Matagorda Bay, Texas in 1995.

“Our mission is to explore the nature, maintenance, restoration and adaptive reuse of historic buildings and sites,” said Dr. Kevin Glowacki, the center’s current director. “We interpret the significance of historic sites and the importance of the people and events related to them.”

At the CHC, faculty and students work together to tackle preservation problems of technical, philosophical and practical natures for various clients. The center offers a minor and a certificate to undergraduate and graduate students, respectively, and conducts work on projects that range from local to international.

Glowacki notes that the center’s work is twofold. “People often have the perception that historic preservation translates to freezing a monument or site in time but, in many cases, we’re also managing change and how to best care for the site going forward.”

Ancient History

The seeds of the center were sown in 1977 when David Woodcock, who later became the center’s inaugural director, was working on an architectural documentation project with a team of students. He witnessed unmet needs that inspired the Historic Resources Imaging Lab, which opened in 1991 and evolved into the CHC in 2005. The primary purpose of the lab was documentation and technology, but when staff saw the need for a more comprehensive program that emphasized architecture’s place in the broader landscape of culture and history, the CHC was born.

Within the center, there is a heavy emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration. While the center is housed within the College of Architecture and most students involved are pursuing architecture degrees, the CHC encourages Aggies of all backgrounds to get involved. “The Center for Heritage Conservation brings together several disciplines to think about how we conserve history,” said Woodcock. Navigating the legal environment of a restoration project or analyzing chemical compounds in ancient paint are just two examples of diverse skillsets in action. “To me, this is one of the most fascinating parts of architectural practice because it requires vital, critical connections with all these other disciplines.”

 

  • Dabney Hill Missionary Baptist Church

    A current project that the Center for Heritage Conservation is working on includes Dabney Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Snook, Texas, which is supported by grants from the Texas Historic Commission and community fundraising.
  • Stringfellow Orchards Project

    Students get hands-on experience working on field drawings during the Center for Heritage Conservation documentation of historic Stringfellow Orchards in Hitchcock, Texas.
  • St. Paul Methodist Church

    This student is using an infrared thermography camera to document St. Paul's Methodist Church in Calvert, Texas.
  • Kevin Glowacki and students

    Current Center for Heritage Conservation Director, Kevin Glowacki (center), and students worked on a project to excavate the site of Gournia in the island of Crete.
  • Temple Freda Project

    Using tools like terrestrial laser scanners and drones, students working with the Center for Heritage Conservation developed detailed images and 3D models of Temple Freda, the oldest religious building in Bryan, Texas.

 

Woodcock is now retired, but he stays involved with the CHC and holds the title of professor emeritus. He looks back on his career with the center fondly, remembering the people he worked with and special fieldwork, such as his time working on Montezuma Castle in Arizona.

“Montezuma Castle is a six-level cliff dwelling, so you have to climb up a series of ladders to reach it,” he said. “It’s an amazing structure and had never been documented accurately before. I also documented a stone fireplace carving in Wales, and it intrigued me that people were carving stone in Wales at roughly the same time Native American people were carving stone in Arizona. It puts you in the mindset that these artifacts aren’t just objects. Somebody made them, and it was meaningful to them; therefore, you treat these relics with a great sense of reverence.”

THE RECENT PAST

Episcopal Church in Bryan, Texas, Pointe du Hoc in Normandy, France, and many more. Currently, the center’s projects include Dabney Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Snook, Texas, and the Wheelock Schoolhouse in Hearne, Texas; both are supported by grants from the Texas Historic Commission and community fundraising.

Center for Heritage Conservation students helped document Bizzell Hall on Texas A&M's campus prior to its demolition in 2017.

Smaller communities that are far away from major population centers such as Houston and Dallas often struggle to find preservationists and contractors willing and able to service their buildings. Texas A&M plays a special role in some of these cases since it can utilize its central Texas location and ability to work pro bono to give communities the preservation services they need. Wheelock Schoolhouse and Dabney Hill Church are two such examples of this partnership.

From the center’s earliest days as a documentation project, technology continues to be an integral part of its work. Priya Jain, an associate director of the center, works with infrared thermography to analyze a site’s architectural conditions, such as the presence of moisture and hidden structural details. She is extensively involved in the center’s current projects.

“I see the center as an interface between academia, practice and the community,” said Jain, who worked as an architect and preservationist before joining the Texas A&M faculty. “The feedback I receive from students when we work on projects like this has been amazing. They feel like they're not just learning theory, since they also visit buildings and make a tangible impact.”

LOOKING FORWARD

Named after the inaugural director and central figure in the center’s history, the David Woodcock Endowed Professorship in Historic Preservation provides financial support to the center’s director. “The David Woodcock Professorship is a resource I use to attend academic and professional conferences and to fund research,” said Glowacki, the current holder. “It also enables me to involve students in research and take them on projects, and sometimes it allows me to award scholarships to deserving students.”

Although historic conservation is often thought of as trying to suspend moments in time, the center’s goal is to help sites adapt to modern times, maintaining their complete histories and educating the public about the environments in which they live. “This is not an activity that looks backward; it is an activity that looks forward,” Woodcock said. “Conserving resources doesn’t mean not using them. It means using them wisely.”

To learn how you can support the David Woodcock Professorship in Historic Preservation or the Center for Heritage Conservation, contact Erik Baker at (979) 862-5765 or by submitting a message using the form below.

Contact:

Erik Baker

Senior Director of Development
College of Architecture
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