Hundreds flock to Warren for preservation conference

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Times might be tough in Warren, but all that is good about the town was on display Saturday.

Hundreds of visitors came to town for the 29th annual Statewide Preservation Conference, flooding Warren’s soggy streets, filling its historic homes and churches and shops, and spilling over well past the conference’s 6 p.m. close, leading to one of the busiest Saturday nights here in some time.

Warren may be the “smallest town in the smallest county in the smallest state,” Warren Town Council member Chris Stanley told a capacity crowd during opening remarks Saturday morning at the Baptist Church. But “it’s got the largest heart.”

The conference is held annually by the State Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission, and came to Warren after lobbying efforts by former town council member Davison Bolster, the preservation society’s Eileen Collins, and others. The conference was broken into dozens of tours, walks and lectures, and those who signed up got  a taste of everything from gardening and the benefits of walking in town to local success stories, including the Hope & Main kitchen incubator and the old Jefferson Street armory. Businesses and artists’ studios opened their door, and even in the late afternoon, Warren was crawling with visitors with cameras, many of whom stopped here and there to talk to homeowners about their old properties.

“This year’s conference theme is ‘pride and preservation,’ commission chairman Ted Sanderson said to open the conference. “Today we’ll see a lot of excellence and pride here in Warren. Modern Warren can be proud of the historic buildings that have been preserved, specifically along the waterfront district where everything is within walking distance.”

Further afield, that pride extends to Main Street, with its community-based shops and bright storefronts, he said.

“I’m proud that more than 500 of you have gathered here,” he said.

For Mr. Stanley, the pride wasn’t just for the buildings, but for the heart and soul of Warren — its people.

Here, he said, regular folks help out and volunteer with the fire department. In the face of budget cuts, they roll up their sleeves and help raise money for the Burr’s Hill summer program. There are many other examples, he said.

“We certainly have a great deal of heart, and it makes a great deal of difference. This is an extraordinary town, and it is bursting with life because of some of the people who are sitting in this audience.”

As he finished his speech, the crowd erupted into applause and the many hundreds streamed out into Warren’s streets, cameras in hand.

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