She set out to teach history. Then she learned she’d rather be surrounded by it.
Katie Stamps, the City of Huntsville’s new Historic Preservationist, grew up with family trips that included museum visits and historic sites. She was infatuated with old houses.
After graduating from Bob Jones High, she went to Auburn University knowing she wanted history to be part of her future.
“But I wanted to move into something where I was active,” Stamps says. “I didn’t want to become an academic or sit in a dark room writing papers.”
She earned a degree in secondary social studies education in 2007 and taught school the following year. However, that didn’t scratch the itch. Stamps began doing some research, “looking for options for other history-related fields.”
Up popped the phrase “historic preservation.”
A course was charted.
She discovered a Master’s in Historic Preservation program at Clemson, in partnership with the College of Charleston. With the Esso Club passing for a historic building in Clemson, the program was wisely centered in Charleston, where Stamps studied for two years and further ignited her passion.
Volunteering led to new role
She returned to Huntsville in 2010 as the Architectural Historian at Redstone Arsenal, and also began to immerse herself in volunteer preservation work.
“A shoutout to Donna Castellano (executive director of the Huntsville Historic Foundation). She asked me to serve on her board and that was my intro into the preservation world here,” Stamps says. “I got my ‘old-building fix’ volunteering first, and that opened a lot of doors.”
Including the door to the City of Huntsville’s Historic Preservation Commission in 2014. Her experience there, and at Redstone, made her an easy choice to succeed Jessica White, the previous preservationist who left to become Senior Planner for Denver Landmark Preservation.
Stamps says she’ll be carrying on the programs already in place through the work of the Commission and White.
She met last week with officials from Alabama A&M to discuss the heritage development plans at the university and she’s carrying the ball to the goal line in earning McThornmor Acres – a neighborhood near UAH – its position on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood would become the first Mid-Century neighborhood in Alabama to earn such designation, an appropriate one since it was home to many of the scientists and workers in Huntsville’s early days in the “space race.”
Beyond that, “I’m trying to get to know all the different organizations in other neighborhoods, meeting with people in Five Points and Old Town, all the designated districts,” Stamps says.
Huntsville history’s future, it seems, remains in good hands.
Katie’s Top 5
Katie Stamps, Huntsville’s new Historic Preservation Consultant, lists some of her favorite historic sites in Huntsville.
- 501 Franklin Street, Van Valkenburgh-Johnston House: This Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style house was built in 1902 and has always been one of my favorite historic structures in Huntsville. I’m partial to Victorian architecture, and the craftsmanship of this grand house is stunning. I never walk or drive by this property without looking at the stained glass window facing Williams Avenue that depicts a scene from Homer’s Iliad.
- Church of the Nativity, Episcopal: The main sanctuary of this church was constructed in 1859, and is known as the finest example of Gothic Revival architecture in the South. I’ve been to recitals and services in this sanctuary, and it is truly a divine space. Its prominent steeple is one of the most recognizable features in the Huntsville skyline. Sunset is a great time to view the church while walking through the Greene Street Market.
- Harrison Brothers Hardware Store, 124 South Side Square: I spent a lot of time here when I first moved back to Huntsville and began volunteering with the Huntsville Historic Foundation. It has operated on the courthouse square since 1897, and still retains its original counters, display shelves, wood floors and fixtures. Not only is it a great place to shop local, the store also offers historic tours.
- Maple Hill Cemetery: It’s one of the most beautiful sites in all of Huntsville. Maple Hill is the oldest and largest cemetery in the city, with graves dating back to 1820. Fall is the perfect season to take an afternoon stroll and see all of the amazing restoration work being done by the Huntsville Pilgrimage Association surrounded by the changing autumn leaves.
- Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment: Lowe Mill is one of the most creative and successful examples of historic structure adaptive reuse in Huntsville. Built in 1901 as Huntsville’s fifth cotton textile mill by the Lowe Manufacturing Company, Lowe Mill was redeveloped into 148 working studios for over 200 artists and makers, six fine-art galleries, a multi-use theater, and performance venues beginning in 2001.