After a busy first year in Cornell’s Historic Preservation Planning program, Olivia Heckendorf has dived into an equally hectic summer of preservation work. Olivia was placed at Historic Ithaca through Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning’s Cooperative Summer Internship program. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, Olivia majored in history with an emphasis on public history, where she rekindled her interest in historic buildings. “I’ve always loved old buildings. It was instilled in me by my parents,” she explained. She appreciates the field of preservation because it “is a practical way to apply public history. It’s hands-on history. It’s not sitting at a computer all the time.”
This summer Olivia is tackling house research for the East Hill Historic District expansion proposal. She’s researching properties on East Court Street, Linn Street, and North Aurora Street to determine their historic significance. Much of her time is spent researching the properties through deeds and directories, but she also gets a chance to get out in the field to write up architectural descriptions and take photos. Of the properties that she’s researched, Olivia has noted that there are several women owners who ran boarding houses, and Olivia is intrigued to delve more into this aspect of women’s history in Ithaca. She’s also noticed that many domestic workers lived in the properties, revealing aspects of working class history. Olivia is working alongside City of Ithaca Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken and City of Ithaca Historian Mary Tomlan on the project and under the supervision of HI’s Preservation Services Coordinator Christine O’Malley. Olivia splits her time between HI and Environmental Design and Research (EDR), a private consulting firm in Syracuse, where she works in the Cultural Resources division.
In the fall, Olivia embarks on her master’s thesis, focusing on the preservation and public interpretation of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts. A surprising connection inspired her choice. Recent genealogical research revealed that Rebecca Nurse, who was accused of and executed for witchcraft in 1692, is Olivia’s 12th-great grandmother.
Such personal connections seem to inspire Olivia’s enthusiasm for her work, and she recently cemented her link to Ithaca by leading a tour of downtown Ithaca’s historic architecture. By sharing Historic Ithaca’s past successes at preserving the Clinton House, the State Theatre, and other historic downtown structures, she was also able to convey her appreciation for Historic Ithaca’s unique role in the community. “I know that Historic Ithaca is very good at advocacy work and being out in the community and getting people excited about preservation,” Olivia says. Her summer experience at a preservation organization like Historic Ithaca should serve Olivia well when she embarks on a career focused on old buildings and their preservation.