The Importance of Preserving Our Past

Towering over the English village of Tysoe are the remains of a windmill. A public footpath alongside a hedgerow trimmed with cow parsley takes me on a cardio-hike to the peak of Windmill Hill to enjoy stunning panoramic views. Just over the crest and tucked neatly into a secluded valley is the grand estate of the Marquess of Northampton, Compton Wynyates, to whom the mill belongs. An Internet search reveals little about the history of the tower mill. An old tapestry shows a windmill once existed on that same site; however, the first recorded note of the surviving structure was 1725. Struck by lightning in 1915, it apparently fell derelict by 1925. The mill was restored in 1935, 1951, and lastly, 1975. Restorers at some point added an aluminum roof that saved the amazing iron and wood workings inside. The badly rotted blades had to be removed in 2012 for safety. When I approach the mill, I don't see a quiet ruin in need of another restoration effort. I smell the sweaty horses delivering freshly cut crop, I hear the creaking of wooden gears and the grinding of the stone. I see people laughing and grumbling as they toil. This Hornton stone tower is, indeed, a snapshot of our past. I want to know more. How did the mill work? Who used it and for what? What did they do when the wind did not blow? How did this mill contribute to England's story? In TAKEN ABACK, many of the details I used to describe Port Royal were created from the artifacts discovered in an underwater excavation of the city. During the earthquake of 1692, part of the city slipped neatly beneath the sea. Protected by a cover of fine silt, old Port Royal remained undisturbed for centuries. In 1981, an underwater investigation of the submerged city was organized by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, in cooperation with the Nautical Archaeology Program at Texas A&M University and the Jamaica National Heritage Trust. Caught in a moment of extreme tragedy, the colonial city was frozen in time. Because it was spared the more damaging assaults typical of surface structures (rain, wind, and pilfering), the underwater site has given us an incredible glimpse at the way people lived in the seventeenth century. The underwater blanket of silt will not protect the artifacts forever. It is, therefore, important that more expeditions be organized to investigate and catalog what remains of this remarkable city. Some of the outdoor heritage sites that I visited and that helped me write TAKEN ABACK were: Virginia's living-history colonial town of Williamsburg and first settlement of Jamestown. Boston's historical walking trail. The plantation and sugar mill ruins on St. John. England's restored ships at Portsmouth's dockyard. We are all stewards of historical icons and like it or not, we are saddled with the responsibility of preserving these heritage sites for curious future generations. I hope that all nations see the advantage of saving the past - no matter how painful that past might have been and no matter how expensive the preservation process may be!
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