17 Historic American Sites That Could Soon Disappear

Sites across the U.S. dating back centuries risk falling into disrepair and demolition, and new developments are being built over them. From gas stations to churches and caves, efforts are underway to protect these historic sites and preserve their legacy. Here are 17 sites at risk of disappearing and the efforts being taken to save them.

Osterman Gas Station, Peach Springs, Arizona

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The Osterman Gas Station along Route 66 was built in 1929 and has been a focal point for the Hualapai community for generations. However, extreme weather has deteriorated the building over the past few decades, requiring stabilization and rehabilitation to serve its community. Reporting from the National Trust for Historic Preservation revealed that the Tribe is consulting with experts to develop a preservation and reuse plan and raise funds to save the gas station.

Little Santo Domingo, Miami, Florida

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Little Santo Domingo is the cultural heart of Allapattah and a key commercial corridor in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami. The growing interest in the famous commercial corridor has led to displacement, demolition, and increased rent prices. The Allapattah Collaborative encourages a more balanced approach to new developments and preservation while protecting Little Santo Domingo’s heritage and culture.

Century and Consumers Buildings, Chicago, Illinois

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The Century and Consumer Buildings, two iconic early skyscrapers across Chicago’s historic State Street, contribute to the architectural significance of “the Loop.” The 1996 Chicago Historic Resources Survey deemed they possessed “some architectural feature or historical association that made them potentially significant in the context of the surrounding community.” Despite this, they have sat vacant since being purchased by the General Services Administration in 2005. They’re being considered for demolition, with advocates urging reuse options.

West Bank of St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana

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St. John the Baptist Parish’s 11-mile stretch along the Mississippi River includes agricultural fields, historic villages, and two former plantations. However, Greenfield Louisiana LLC, a port facility, has applied for a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build one of the world’s largest grain elevators in the area. Local and national advocates are advocating for the Army Corps to deny the permit.

Holy Aid and Comfort Spiritual Church, New Orleans, Louisiana

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This church was built around 1880 in New Orleans’s 7th Ward. It was first home to the Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Society, with a central hall that doubled as a jazz venue. Repeated hurricanes damaged the building, and its remaining portions are at risk of collapse. The church will be preserved and renovated by Cushing Terrell and Marais Consultants, with lead designer Mia Kaplan saying, “We are honored to roll up our sleeves on this one to preserve a cultural treasure.”

Annapolis, Maryland

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Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, is home to the largest collection of 18th-century colonial-era buildings in the U.S. But major storms threaten the city as sea levels rise due to climate change. The former capital of the U.S. after the Revolutionary War is working on a Cultural Resource Hazard Mitigation Plan to deal with the impact of flooding, with Lisa Craig, chief of historic preservation for the city, telling Smithsonian Magazine: “Incrementally, piece-by-piece, we’re putting together the toolkit for owners to, on their own terms, put together a response strategy.”

L.V. Hull Home and Studio, Kosciusko, Mississippi

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Black artist L.V. Hull transformed her Kosciusko house into a creative wonderland, attracting worldwide visitors. After she died in 2008, the Kohler Foundation relocated and preserved her artwork, but her unoccupied house fell into neglect and disrepair. Hull’s friend Yaphet Smith, a filmmaker, has purchased the house and plans to transform it into an arts campus to celebrate Hull’s legacy.

Henry Ossawa Tanner House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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The Henry O. Tanner House, built in 1871, is a North Philadelphia rowhouse that was the childhood home of the internationally recognized African American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner. But gentrification is putting Black heritage landmarks in the neighborhood at risk of demolition. Emergency stabilization work began at the house in July 2023 after a campaign by the Friends of the Tanner House.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Pennsylvania

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Philadelphia’s Chinatown is one of the oldest remaining active in the U.S., with a vibrant community that has existed since 1871. However, a proposed basketball arena by the 76ers has concerned advocates, including the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation. There are fears that the development could displace residents and businesses, erasing Chinatown’s cultural heritage.

Brown Chapel AME Church, Selma, Alabama

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Brown Chapel AME Church played an essential role in the Selma to Montgomery marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Built in 1908 by former enslaved African American builder A.J. Farley, the chapel was the starting point of the marchers whom Alabama State Troopers beat on Bloody Sunday. Recently closed to its congregation and the public due to severe termite damage, efforts are underway to preserve the church. “Our goal is to try to receive over $3 million in grants to do the foundational work. After that, we hope to get in more private donations,” church member Juanda Maxwell said.

Minidoka National Historic Site, Jerome, Idaho

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Minidoka commemorates the over 13,000 Japanese Americans who were unconstitutionally imprisoned at a war relocation center in Jerome starting in 1942. The concentration camp closed in 1945 and was named a National Monument in 2001, and later a National Historic Site in 2008. A proposed wind farm threatens the site, potentially irrevocably changing Minidoka’s landscape. Friends of Minidoka are urging the Bureau of Land Management to protect the site as a place for healing and learning.

Picture Cave, Warren County, Missouri

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Picture Cave is one of the most sacred and important links to Osage ancestors in Missouri. The site contains hundreds of pictographs from periods in Osage history, making it one of the finest examples of pictograph rock art in the U.S. The cave has been vandalized and looted for over a century. The Osage Nation tried to buy the land in September 2021, but it was sold to an unknown buyer who has not responded to the Nation despite multiple attempts, raising fears the new owner may damage the site.

Pierce Chapel African Cemetery, Midland, Georgia

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Pierce Chapel African Cemetery was established around 1828 in Midland. It is one of the oldest burial sites for Africans enslaved at plantations across Harris County and their descendants. The cemetery is estimated to contain 500 burials on two acres of land. It has long been a landscape of tribute and memory, with archeological discoveries of cultural traditions that trace back to West Africa. The Hamilton Hood Foundation is leading efforts to preserve the burial grounds.

Harada House, Riverside, California

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Harada House symbolizes the struggle of a Japanese immigrant family to own property in the U.S. Jukichi Harada bought the house in 1915 under the names of his three American-born children and was challenged in court, accused of violating an act restricting Japanese land ownership. The Harada family was granted the right to own the house after a two-year trial, making it a powerful civil rights landmark. After being interned during WW2, the family returned to the house, but with the last family member dying in 2000, the house fell into disrepair. Local advocates are now raising funds to preserve Harada House as a museum.

National Negro Opera Company House, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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The National Negro Opera Company was the first U.S. African American opera company. It has been vacant since 1962, after being established by Mary Cardwell Dawson in 1941 as a training ground for Black musicians and temporary housing quarters for singers and athletes. Today, the house has boarded windows and a failing roof. Local advocates are working with the community to revitalize the building and give it new uses to honor its legacy.

Ponce Historic Zone, Ponce, Puerto Rico

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Located in southern Puerto Rico, the “Pearl of the South” is the territory’s second-largest city and a major political, economic, and cultural contributor. Founded in 1692, the city has a rich architectural history with styles ranging from Art Nouveau, Spanish Colonial, neoclassical, and Art Deco. Ponce’s downtown has been damaged in recent years by Hurricane Maria and ongoing earthquakes, resulting in a need for significant funding for the Recovery Plan for the Ponce Historic Zone.

Union Pier, Charleston, South Carolina

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With a history and culture that intertwine in this quaint southern city, every place you go in Charleston seems to breathe with memories of a not-so-distant past. One of those is Union Pier; once a bustling port and now a center for water entry into the town, the city’s historic downtown is now threatened by looming construction. Many worry the plan for buildings and commercialism on a 16-foot elevation poses a danger to Charleston’s climate resilience and deep history, which they don’t want to lose.

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