Q & A

Meet Maine's Old-House Hero

Maine Preservation’s new executive director, Tara Kelly, on the future of the 50-year-old nonprofit.

Maine Preservation executive director Tara Kelly

From the February 2022 issue of Down East magazine

After a decade in New York’s historic-preservation world, why Maine?

I grew up spending a week every summer on Star Island, in New Hampshire, and returned to work in the hotel there in my late teens. A lot of the staff lived in Maine, so I became acquainted with the area. After a year-plus in quarantine in New York, the opportunity to be in a beautiful place with open space was compelling.

How does preservation differ here?

In Maine, there’s an inherent sense of stewardship and a value placed on historic architecture; often you have generation after generation living in the same home. So I don’t feel that my job is to convince people that something old is something good. There’s a very different dynamic that plays out in NYC.

Any new initiatives in mind?

Maine has a very effective historic-tax-credit program for commercial properties. Other states also have tax credits for historic homes, targeting economically distressed areas. I see that as a big opportunity to bring financial resources to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to do preservation work. I’m also interested in developing a children’s education program that engages kids in their towns by teaching the language of architecture. It’s really cute when little kids talk about lintels.

How do you see the field evolving?

Preservation as a field has a relatively short lifespan in this country. In the late 19th century, there was the first notion of, “George Washington slept here — we want to save that, right?” The focus was on what was incredibly precious, the highest style. As the field has evolved, we’re looking at the plain-old Saltbox or woodshed and saying, “What story is this telling about the people who were here?” I don’t see any way forward in which we wouldn’t be looking deeply into those underrepresented histories.