In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, UF Historic Preservation Program Director Morris Hylton III, working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, led a group of historic preservation students in assessing damage in St Augustine to help flood victims apply for relief. We talked with him to learn more about the process and experience.
Name: Morris “Marty” Hylton III
Title: Director of DCP’s Historic Preservation Program
- What was your initial reaction when you were asked to assess the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in St. Augustine?
I was honored to be asked to assess the City of St. Augustine to assist with the assessment of historic properties impacted by the storm and flooding. I was also pleased to be able to work with University of Florida alumni Jenny Wolfe and Erinn Minigan who are planners for the City focusing on historic preservation.
- How did your FEMA training qualifications help with the assessment?
I received FEMA training following 9/11 in New York City and again after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Because of the prior training, I am knowledgeable of the disaster cycle and better understood the activities and priorities of FEMA and the City of St. Augustine during the earliest stages of recovery. The students and I were able to begin assessment with minimal instruction and training.
- What was the value of bringing UF historic preservation students out to the site with you? What preparation steps were taken before going out there?
The Historic Preservation students at UF study threats to heritage and learn about recovery strategies for damaged historic and cultural sites. The St. Augustine work allowed the students to apply this knowledge, develop assessment skills, engage with a range of experts and community members, and understand firsthand how city governments prepare for disasters and implement plans.
- Describe the scene once you were there. What were some of the thoughts running through your mind when you and your students were there?
The City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County were still under a state of emergency when we arrived. However, with the exception of piles of interior materials, furniture, and other belongings that were flooded, the City seemed quite normal. This is a testament to the level of preparedness. However, the situation was much worse than was immediately evident. The interiors of many of the buildings were flooded. More than 50% of the historic properties, many private residences, had been impacted and were unable to be occupied. Property owners were just beginning to make decisions about how to recover their homes. We encouraged them to retain as much of the historic fabric as possible. Traditional materials like lime plaster and cypress wood doors, floors, and details are resilient – mold does not grow on lime and cypress is naturally rot and insect resistant. In addition, the historic materials add to the architectural, historical, and even economic value of a building.
- What was the most memorable part of this experience?
The conversations with residents and other stakeholders. Preservation is about people, not buildings. Buildings are not anything without the people that care for them and the memories and feelings attached to them.
- How did this assessment impact the St. Augustine community?
The data from the assessment was provided to FEMA and played a role in President Obama signing a declaration for individual assistance that allows home owners to receive federal funding to help with repairs not covered by insurance.
- Describe any other projects that you are currently working on.
Another active project that addresses a different kind of threat to heritage is the Nantucket Historic Interiors project. The Historic Preservation Program and Preservation Institute Nantucket are working with the Nantucket Preservation Trust to survey and document the historic residential interiors of Nantucket Town. Some 900 interiors are being assessed and ranked according to their level of intactness. This data will be used by Nantucket Preservation Trust and the Town of Nantucket to advocate for the preservation of residential interiors and to protect as many as possible through easements.