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Interivew with Dan Elswick, Senior Historic Architecture Consultant
Recipient of the Secretary of the Interior’s
2012 Historic Preservation Award

Dan Elswick, Senior Historic Architecture Consultant, has been a member of the South Carolina SHPO staff since 1986. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Tennessee and a Master of Architecture from the University of Texas. Although historic buildings have always intrigued him, his first job after college - conducting historic surveys for the City of Miami - reaffirmed his career choice. Before coming to South Carolina, he worked for the Texas Historical Commission for 4 ½ years. 

In his twenty-seven years at the SC Department of Archives and History, Dan has coordinated a variety of programs, including the federal tax credit program. He has served as the architectural reviewer for federal, state, and local tax credit programs, Section 106, grants and covenants, and state-owned historic properties (including the 1990s restoration of the State House). He also helped create a state grant program and developed regulations and applications for state tax credits and local property tax special assessments.

Although some programs, such as “The Building Doctor” workshops, have since been retired, Dan has continued to provide technical advice to thousands of historic property owners across the state. He enjoys explaining how building materials act differently and the highlight of his job is helping people understand historic buildings. When he is not hard at work making site visits, telephone calls, speaking appearances, or looking at blueprints, Dan enjoys maintaining his garden and photography.

In recognition of his many contributions to the historic resources of South Carolina, Dan received the Secretary of the Interior’s 2012 Historic Preservation Award at a ceremony in Washington, DC on March 1, 2013.  The awards recognize the outstanding contributions and special achievements of employees of Federal Preservation Offices, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, State Historic Preservation Offices, and Certified Local Governments.  One award is given per category each year.

Get to know Dan and read more about his reflections on an award-winning career in historic preservation:

Why is historic preservation important?
“It’s part of that John Ruskin idea of old buildings aren’t ours, they belong partly to the people who built them and also partly to the people in the future who will use them. And we’re really sort of handing them on to someone else. It’s really more about stewardship than ownership or development. The really significant buildings are going to be around for a long time. Also, that sense of place that we pass on to the next generation.”

How has your job changed since you started?
“This job has just continued to develop over time. When I first came to the Archives, I was helping set up a new state grant program. It was brand new and we had had one in Texas, so I was able to bring some of the experience we had from the Texas program. At the same time the tax projects had really reached their peak. We had over a hundred each year. As the grants and the number of tax projects have gone down, the size of the rehabilitation projects has gone up. We have fewer projects now, but we’ve gotten a lot of bigger ones. We’ve had a number of downtown high-rises, and we’ve had all of the textile mills that are coming in, and still continue to come in. It’s been interesting watching it change over time and not so much planning on making it change. Just kind of moving with the flow of the change rather than thinking, okay we’re going to go do that. I’ve been enjoying seeing how things change, what the economy brings, and new things that come up. “

What did you used to do that you don’t anymore?
“Doing the grant projects was interesting, because I used to go out and review all of the grants on site with people. We used to consult with the Main Street program more.  There are interesting new things too. Working with the State Energy Office has been really interesting as the new things are coming up. Working with the Energy Office folks has been very informative to me regarding energy-efficiency in historic buildings. People that know about textile mills teach me about the textile mills and how they used to work and what was significant about them. Even though things are going away, there are new things to support and find interesting.”

What has been your favorite project?
“In terms of historic significance and unique history, the South Carolina State House. It’s hard to top. It had so many architects involved in the original construction, and then the major project that they recently did was really pretty dramatic. It was very comprehensive and a very complete redo of the building. That was a fascinating project.”

What’s your typical day like?
“It’s always different. One day I’ll be reading hundreds of pages of specifications and looking at plans, and the next day you’re in the field looking at significant historic buildings, and another day you’re helping to write regulations for a tax program. A typical day is there isn’t one. It’s always something different.”

Any final comments?
“One of the things that the award nomination noted was being a mentor to people and I realized that I had been mentored as well. When I worked in Texas, I worked with the first SHPO in Texas, Truett Latimer, and when I moved to SC, I worked for the first SHPO from SC too, Charles Lee, and so many other people, too many to name. That’s to me what’s so fascinating about the way this program works, is that once you get into one of these offices, you learn from your peers. And that, to me, is probably some of the most successful sharing, that collegial atmosphere is really an important part of learning about preservation. I think that that mentoring aspect of this, it just happens naturally, it’s not that you’re assigned a mentor, or assigned to be a mentor, it’s just working together. And the other thing is it takes the whole office to accomplish things. So even though this award is to me, you have to come from a good office to get this award.”