By Wendy E. Harris, HPC Volunteer Archivist
As noted in the Congressional Record (Volume 126, No. 84), Washington Grove, in its entirety, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 17, 1980. By this action of the federal government, the Town now joined other sites and communities on what the National Register’s website calls the official list of the nation’s places worthy of preservation. Recently, we in the Archives have been delving into the Town’s records to see how this came to pass and what, over the years, National Register designation has meant for the Town.
Although the National Register had been established in 1966, Washington Grove residents did not begin compiling historic data for a nomination until the late 1970s. So far, what we’ve learned about their efforts comes from a series of Planning Commission meeting minutes. In the earliest of these, dating to November 22, 1977, we find Planning Commission Chair, John Pentecost, handing out National Register literature and informing Commission members of nomination submission deadlines. The members responded by suggesting that a nomination be prepared and submitted as soon as possible. The explanation for the Planning Commission’s urgency can be found elsewhere in the Archives, where records from these same years indicate Washington Grove was experiencing the early waves of suburban development that would eventually transform the surrounding countryside. Indeed, according to the meeting minutes, the Planning Commission felt that that National Register designation was “likely to have important effects on preservation of the Town’s borders.”
Today, many former and active camp meeting grounds have been placed on the National Register. Only a handful of these (including Wesleyan Grove, a designated National Historic Landmark located on Martha’s Vineyard) share Washington Grove’s most unusual landscape element,its radial concentric street design. At Washington Grove, this layout is anchored by the Sacred Circle, with its plaque commemorating the first camp meeting held here in 1873.
In upcoming Town Bulletins we will write more about the effort it took (“It Takes a Village”) to list Washington Grove on the National Register of Historic Places and what the nomination has to say about the Town’s history, architecture and the unique design of its streets, walkways and open spaces.