Colonial Williamsburg® The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

Architectural Restoration


People use buildings for a wide range of activities related to family life, work, shopping, religion, recreation, entertainment, and so on. Structures reflect the needs, style preferences, and sensibilities of the people who designed and used them. Over time, some structures may be neglected and fall into disrepair, while others are torn down to make way for new construction. Buildings may also be preserved or restored for continued use—often for a completely different purpose.

This lesson enables a teacher to help students begin viewing buildings as primary sources which, just like documents, can yield information about how people in the past lived and what they valued. Students will begin to think in terms of preserving and restoring the architectural history around them.



1. Conduct a class discussion about primary sources and whether buildings and other structures are primary sources. What information can such structures reveal about the people who built and used them? What information can structures reveal about the time period in which they were constructed?

2. On the board or an overhead, write the word "restoration." As a class, discuss and then create a working definition for the term. [Note: Restoration—Treatment procedures intended to accurately restore a structure to its form and appearance during a particular period of time, usually by removing later work or additions and replacing missing earlier work.]

3. Using information gleaned from the Feature Article: "The Restoration of James Madison’s Montpelier," explain to students why and how James Madison’s home, Montpelier, was restored. Show students the "Restoration of Madison’s Montpelier" slideshow. Following the slideshow, facilitate a class discussion in which students respond to the following questions:

  • Why is this house important?
  • What evidence did the architectural historians use to restore the building's missing features?
  • What skills do architectural historians need to do their work?

4. Display an overhead of the Historic Preservation of Architecture Worksheet and a picture of a historic building or structure from your local community. As a class, discuss the structure then complete the worksheet. (Note: For a sample completed worksheet, see Historic Preservation of Architecture Worksheet—Completed Sample.)

When you get to the section about what could be done with the structure, discuss ways to preserve or restore it if it is currently unprotected. Could students write to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and their state Historic Preservation Office to work to get it listed on the National Register? Could they make their own sign for the structure explaining its significance? Could some other business or group of people come in to use the original structure, but change its interior to suit a new purpose?

5. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a picture of a historic structure from your community. Have them examine the image and complete a Historic Preservation of Architecture Worksheet for the structure. Provide time for each group to share their findings with the class.

Conclude the lesson by discussing how historic buildings serve as windows on the past and why preserving such structures is important.

Lesson Extensions

1. As a project activity or for extra credit, have students complete a Historic Preservation of Architecture Worksheet for a local structure of their choice.

2. Take students to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Web site and your state's Historic Preservation Office Web site. Discuss the preservation efforts of these agencies. Are there endangered structures in your own backyard? What can you do to help preserve your community?

This lesson was written by Heather Wenger, elementary school teacher, Denver, Colorado.