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She was driving south on Highway 53, fresh from a job interview in another state that didn’t really captivate her. Then Huntsville began to reveal itself in front of the backdrop of Monte Sano.

“I had an immediate connection to the place,” Jessica White says. “It felt like coming home.”

Alas, she is now leaving the city she has called home since January 2014. White, the City of Huntsville’s first full-time preservationist, has been hired as Senior Planner with Denver Landmark Preservation, part of the Denver Community Planning and Development Department. Her successor has not yet been named.

Huntsville has a long tradition of preservation, with the Huntsville Historic Foundation leading the way for decades. As White says, “Huntsville wears history on its sleeve.”

Establishing White’s position signaled the City’s interest in the process and its awareness of the importance. There’s an appreciation for what she accomplished.

“Jessica is a person with lots of passion for historic preservation,” says Mayor Tommy Battle. “She put a lot of energy into our preservation program.”

White has worked with many organizations, neighborhoods and residents in her tenure, with projects as large as continuing to assure Alabama A&M’s historic site designation to advising new tenants of old homes how to maintain historic integrity.

For the past 30 months, Jessica White has been helping uncover the history of Huntsville and reminding residents of its importance. The legacy she leaves behind is that the legacy of others will remain vibrant.

“The relationships I’ve been able to build while I’ve been here, getting to work with districts and Historic Huntsville Foundation and being able to work one-on-one with committee members is what I’ll remember,” she says.

“For a long time, it was hard to put my finger on what makes Huntsville special when it comes to preservation. But it’s place. Place matters,” she says. “It’s having a connection to a place so intertwined with our history. It’s who we are.”

Appropriately, then, one of her most recent major projects was #ThisPlaceMattersHsv, a campaign that recognized the best in what preservationists call “adaptive reuse” – maintaining the integrity of an old building while finding a new purpose. Four locations were presented special awards by Mayor Battle and others have been recognized for their efforts.

“Preservation is no longer about putting a glass dome over something and putting it in a curio cabinet,” she says. “It’s about making it relevant to a community to sustain for a long time. There are multiple ways to preserve and it’s silly not to. There’s so much inherited value and economic value.”

White grew up in tiny Culleoka, Tenn., between Columbia and Lewisburg, and attended Middle Tennessee State, where she earned a Master’s in Public History. She knew “since I was a teeny-tiny baby” that she’d be a preservationist, inspired by a grandmother who was a school teacher and who encouraged visits to historic sites.

That’s also where an attachment to certain tangible objects of priceless sentimentality blossomed. Among Huntsville memorabilia, she’ll be taking some tiles from the First Baptist Church “Egg-Beater Jesus” mosaic.

She gained an appreciation not so much for the high-profile sites – birthplaces of famous people, sites of major accomplishments – but for the unnoticed places that enabled her “to look at everyday people and the impact they had on our world.”

She often jokes that “I have better relationships with dead people than I do with living people, because you get in the archives and you start uncovering neat history and uncovering the people who have built this place.”

For the past 30 months, Jessica White has been helping uncover the history of Huntsville and reminding residents of its importance. The legacy she leaves behind is that the legacy of others will remain vibrant.