June 6, 2012 at 12:18 AM ET
A Revolutionary War battlefield, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier’s one-time gym and the bridges of Yosemite Valley. According to a new list released on Wednesday, these are among the most endangered places in the nation.
Produced by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP), the annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places spotlights examples of the nation’s architectural, cultural and natural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage.
The idea, says NTHP president Stephanie Meeks, is to bring a national voice to local issues in the hopes that a higher profile, combined with collaborative efforts, can stem, and hopefully, reverse the decline.
This year’s list is the group’s 25th annual effort, which points to both the persistence of the problem and the potential for positive outcomes. “Over that period of time, we’ve listed 242 places [excluding repeat listings], only 10 of which have been lost,” said Meeks.
“This year, we relisted a handful of places — Ellis Island, the Sweet Auburn Historic District, the Texas courthouses — where great preservation work happened after the previous listing but the job isn’t done yet,” she told msnbc.com. “We’d like to see if this year’s list can bring renewed attention and focus to these important places.”
See the situation for yourself at these five endangered places:
Ellis Island Hospital Complex
While many people know Ellis Island as the historic entry point to the U.S. for millions of immigrants — or at least remember it from that touching scene in the 2005 movie “Hitch” — few realize that it also supported what was once the largest U.S. Public Health Service institution in the country.
The 29-building complex is in severe decay and in need of funding if it is to be saved, an effort that’s being spearheaded by Save Ellis Island. As such, it remains closed to the public, although visitors to the island can learn more about it via “Future in the Balance: Immigration, Public Health and the Ellis Island Hospitals,” an exhibit in the nearby Ferry Building.
On Jan. 3, 1777, one of the key battles of the American Revolution took place in the fields and woodlands of central New Jersey. Known as the Battle of Princeton, the skirmish represented the first time the Continental Army defeated British soldiers.
Today, the site is the scene of another battle. On one side is the Institute for Advanced Study, an acclaimed research center, which owns the 22-acre parcel and recently won approval to build housing on it; on the other, preservationists who would like to see it afforded the same protection as nearby Princeton Battlefield State Park.
“The [original] battle saved the American Revolution,” said Kip Cherry, first vice president of the Princeton Battlefield Society. “The land should be preserved because it helps explain how we got where we are today.”
Sweet Auburn Historic District
Today, this Atlanta neighborhood is best-known as the birthplace and final resting spot of Martin Luther King Jr., but it was once considered a prominent African-American neighborhood in the country. And while sites dedicated to the late civil rights leader have been saved, other historic structures are in crisis.
“We’ve lost 13 historic structures through demolition or decay since the area was declared a National Historic District,” said Jesse Clark, executive director of the Historic District Development Corp. “There’s only so much left.”
The goal, says Clark, goes beyond saving historic structures. “We want to preserve the buildings, but in a way that encourages new businesses to come in and leverage the cultural significance of the district for the future.”
Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch
As America’s most conservation-oriented president, Theodore Roosevelt is credited with helping to preserve more than 230 million acres of the American landscape. Today, the spot that originally inspired him — his ranch in North Dakota — is part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and threatened by a proposed road and bridge project.
“The Elkhorn Ranch unit is the most historically significant portion of the park,” said Superintendent Valerie Naylor. “It’s much the way it was when Teddy Roosevelt found it in 1884 and we want to maintain it that way.”
At risk, says Naylor, is the park’s solitude and natural soundscape as at least two of the proposed routes for the road project would pass within 1.5 miles of the ranch. With the public comment period on the alternatives closing on June 22, “Alternatives B and C are completely unacceptable,” she told msnbc.com.
Village of Zoar
Founded in 1817 by religious dissenters fleeing intolerance in Germany, this historic village in northeast Ohio now faces a threat of almost Biblical proportion: A levee that keeps the nearby Tuscarawas River at bay is leaking, raising the prospect that the town may have to be moved, razed or left to be washed away.
“It’s not just old buildings,” said Jane Mason, spokeswoman for the Ohio Historical Society, which administers 10 historic buildings staffed by period re-enactors. “Religious freedom is part of the reason this country was founded.”
With no heavenly miracle on the horizon, the town is waiting on a study from the U.S. Corps of Engineers on the levee itself and hoping the NTHP designation will shine a spotlight on the situation.
“The designation will call more attention to Zoar and maybe more resources will become available,” Mason said. “By working with local communities, good things happen.”
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.
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