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Carol Carey Retires from Historic St. Paul 

After leading Historic St. Paul (HSP) for over two decades, Carol Carey, the organization’s Executive Director, recently retired from her position. As reporter James Walsh noted in the Star Tribune, although historic preservation often focuses on “grand, stately properties of the long-ago elite,” to Carol Carey, “preserving history also meant infusing new life into scores of St. Paul’s working-class houses and storefronts, one humble address at a time.”

Recent successful HSP projects in the West End neighborhood include the John and Ann Lewis House at 412 Goodrich Ave, the Hope Engine Company fire station at 1 Leech St. and the façade of Joe and Stan’s Pub and Grill at 949 West 7th.  

Here is the text of the letter that Carey distributed to supporters of Historic St. Paul, announcing her retirement: 

After 25 years of work with Historic Saint Paul (HSP), first as a volunteer board member, then as Executive Director, I want to share the news with you that I am retiring to take on my next chapter. As I have been preparing this transition I have reflected on many things – the beginnings of HSP, the work we have been engaged in, the relationships we have established, the generous support we have received, the challenges facing the field, and the exciting opportunities for the work of heritage preservation in the future.

I came to the organization as an advocate who recognized the importance of harnessing the power of preservation for the benefit of underserved neighborhoods and celebrating the history of its working people. Initially this ran counter to the perception many had about heritage preservation, but with your help and support I believe we have started to change that perception. I have been honored to work with so many committed people on this journey and cannot tell you how much I have appreciated your support, partnership, and friendship. Without that, we simply would not have achieved the accomplishments we proudly celebrate.

Historic Saint Paul was established to encourage the use of heritage resources in community and economic development efforts and has worked predominantly in some of Saint Paul’s oldest communities. Our mission is to preserve and promote the cultural heritage, character, and vitality of Saint Paul neighborhoods. We have not focused on high style architecture or on neighborhoods that represent the history of Saint Paul’s elite, but on the neighborhoods that contain the stories and structures of the people and communities who labored to build the city and serve its growing populace. 

Our bricks and mortar projects have been primarily focused on modest structures that reflect the working roots of the communities we serve, and we strive to preserve and improve residential and commercial buildings that serve people and neighborhoods. We have worked with homeowners seeking to invest in their properties in ways that preserve their character for the future, rehabilitated properties scheduled for demolition for use as affordable housing and assisted small businesses serving diverse communities. We have seen over and over again how these investments have enriched their environments.

We have sought to tell a more complete history of Saint Paul. Despite our efforts to highlight the history of working communities, there is much work to be done in this critical area. We are at a moment in time where it is abundantly clear how important it is to tell the stories and celebrate the places that reflect the true diversity of Saint Paul and the contributions of the full complement of its cultural communities. History is complicated, and there will be uncomfortable subjects to take on, but our city and its stakeholders will be better off for it.” 

We have advocated for threatened properties and sought to reinforce the value of preservation in public policy. This has been a frustrating aspect of the work as we have watched battle lines being drawn over a false choice between heritage preservation and progress. 

Historic resources are vital to city building and the civic life of communities. They provide a continuity that bridges generations, creating connectivity and adding to a community’s resilience. Unfortunately, preservation is currently not a priority for city leadership and the systems in place to identify, protect, and educate others about our heritage resources are being tested. At times it seems as though attitudes toward preservation have gone backward. 

The mission and work of HSP has never been more important. The continued involvement of each and every one of you will make a difference. You can help by talking to city leaders about why heritage preservation is important to you, and why it should be for them. You can help by engaging your neighbors in discussions about its role in community building and development, and by continuing to offer your financial support to Historic Saint Paul. 

Stepping away from this role is both challenging and exciting. It’s difficult to say goodbye to an organization and a community that have become such an integral part of my life. But as the work passes on to a new generation of leadership, I am excited and inspired about where they will lead us and will definitely continue to be there to support them – I sincerely hope you will join me.

My heartfelt thanks,

Carol Carey

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