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A Passion for Preservation

Rachel Phelps
June 16, 2015

Rachel Phelps: a major in history, a minor in German, and a certificate in museum studies. 

Rachel Phelps, will graduate in December of 2015 with a major in history, a minor in German, and a certificate in museum studies. She began studying at UMD in 2006 but couldn't find a path that was right for her. That's when she took a break from college. It was the break that gave her direction.

She worked at a few different jobs, got a real estate license, and traveled. While she was visiting Savannah College of Art and Design, she discovered there were degrees offered in historic preservation. "I liked architecture and history, but I didn’t really want to become an architect or a historian," she said. 

World-class Competitors

"As a historic preservationist, there are so many areas I can go into: historic art and architecture, cultural heritage and preservation, urban planning, and even public history," she said. 

When she returned to UMD in 2012, she took on a number of major projects in addition to her course work. She was invited into the prestigious McNair scholar and research program and she completed two Undergraduate Research Projects (UROP).

Through one of her UROPs, she worked with the City of Duluth planning department to identify buildings with historical value. She then focused on the research for several buildings: the Lakewood pump station, Duluth firehouses, a multi-family dwelling, and the Work Peoples’ College.

For her final project, Phelps created nominations for the local and/or national register of historic places for the four sites by writing the background and historical context. “To list a building on the local historic preservation register means expenses down the road," said Phelps. "As soon as a site has the designation, every improvement or repair needs to conform to preservation standards. Windows and other features have to be historic, not modern. They may have to be custom made, and may have to be made with period-specific materials.”

This summer (2015) Phelps is working on two additional projects. The first is to take on a Saami and Ojibwe indigenous cultural heritage project and the second is a survey of architecture along the Vermillion Trail in Hunter’s Park. She has a third research project, a survey of Lincoln Park commercial district, but that may have to wait for fall. 

For past and current projects, Phelps works with renowned Duluth Planning Office staff member Chuck Froseth, UMD Archivist and Curator of Special Collections Patricia Maus, local preservationist Mary Ann Norton, and the Duluth collection in the downtown library. 

Phelps is on her way to a masters program in historic preservation. "It was really rewarding to work on these projects at UMD," she said. "I want to continue to bring awareness about historic sites to every community I work in, in my hometown Duluth, and around the world.

Visit UMD's museum studies certificate website for more information about this program.