Zachary Russell ’23, cultural historic preservation major, registers childhood home as historic
Zachary Russell ’23 is a cultural historic preservation (CHP) major with minors in sociology, anthropology and film at Salve Regina. Through the skills he has learned over his time at Salve Regina, Russell was able to have his childhood home labeled as historic in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
Finding Salve Regina and a love for preservation
Russell grew up in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in a house unlike many others. He lives in a 1928 bungalow with very little changes made to the house since it was built. Russell has lived there since he was born, and as he grew older started working on the house, fixing things and becoming more aware of preservation.
“Living in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, made me think more about preservation,” explained Russell. “You always hear how it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Rhode Island, but its beauty has been declining.”
Russell always wanted to bring back this beauty to his hometown.
When choosing a college, Russell wasn’t sure what he wanted to major in. He looked into history programs and learned about Salve Regina after visiting Newport, Rhode Island. While looking at Salve Regina’s programs, he saw cultural and historic preservation listed and had a tour with Dr. Jeroen van den Hurk, assistant professor of the Department of Cultural and Historic Preservation, as well as Art and Art History. He decided Salve Regina was where he wanted to go.
While beginning his studies, Russell learned more about Newport and what historic preservation really is. Russell credits Dr. van den Hurk and Dr. Heather Rockwell, assistant professor of CHP, for his success in the program.
“Every single class I took was influential,” he said. “It’s a perfect town to have a program like this. We are able to go downtown and see architecture and physical examples in the field.”
One of the experiences that Russell got to participate in while at Salve Regina was a hands-on summer program in 2022 where he was able to stay on an island in Narragansett Bay called Rose Island. During this months-long program, he helped with a variety of projects like documenting bird behavior, researching the history of the Rose Island Lighthouse and Fort Hamilton, and learning more about what it means to preserve historic sites. He and the other students involved were able to present their findings to donors, alumni and Dr. Kelli J. Armstrong, president of Salve Regina, during a tour of the island.
“I really loved learning the history about Rose Island,” said Russell. “I’m from Rhode Island, I love local history, and it was just cool — especially the lighthouse itself — seeing something that no one would want to save and then being able to have the community come together and bring something back to how it used to be to preserve it for future generations.”
Russell is also involved on campus with the Cultural Historic Preservation Society and plays in the Newport Community Symphonic Band and jazz ensemble.
Labeling a childhood home as historic
Russell always wanted to restore his childhood home, which was built in 1928. So Russell decided that for his senior thesis project, he’d research historic tax credits to see if there is any help for homeowners who own old houses. He also wanted to see if he could restore the home and mark it as an officially historic building in Pawtucket.
“I’ve always said something marked as historic must be of importance,” explained Russell. “But then I asked myself, ‘Well, who figures out what is important or not?’ Everything is important to someone.”
Russell didn’t know about historic registers, so he first looked up preservation in Pawtucket to see who to contact. The Pawtucket Historic District Commission had an online application, and Russell filled out the application.
“I explained how my family has always tried to keep my house as original as it can be,” said Russell. “It shows the expansion of Pawtucket, because the house was built by Italian immigrants who came to America.”
Once the application was approved, the next stage in the process was meetings at the city hall. Russell sat down with the Pawtucket Historic District Commission and proposed labeling his house as historic, and then he went through three more public hearings where he stood in front of the Pawtucket City Council and explained his proposal. After the three public meetings, the process ended in March 2023 with an approval.
“I was ecstatic,” said Russell. “I didn’t really think they would go for it.”
Russell explained that what really made him happy was the people who helped him out along the way — like Dr. Rockwell and Dr. van den Hurk, the Pawtucket Historic District Commission and the Pawtucket City Council.
“They were all so welcoming throughout the entire process,” reflected Russell.
As a graduating senior, Russell plans to stay in Newport and get preservation jobs with different hands-on or research focuses. With his house deemed historic, Russell also has dreams to restore the home within the next five years — a fitting timeline, as the house will be 100 years in 2028.
“My house is in a neighborhood where people don’t think a lot about preservation,” explained Russell. “If I can be the first person in my neighborhood to do this, I hope I can be an influence to others to do the same.”
Article written by student writer Morgan Rizzo ’23
Salve Spotlights is a series of people-centered stories periodically featured on SALVEtoday. Check out the tag Salve Spotlights for more stories.