In November, George W. McDaniel was honored at the National Preservation Conference for his 25 years of service at Drayton Hall as executive director by being invited to deliver the keynote speech for the National Trust’s annual historic sites luncheon. Entitled “Making a Difference: Historic Sites and their Communities,” his speech was dedicated to his longtime friend and National Trust trustee, Dr. Clement Price, who had recently passed away. Tom Mayes, deputy general counsel for the National Trust, introduced McDaniel. “Through his leadership, George McDaniel has made Drayton Hall matter more and more,” Mayes said. “He has revealed why Drayton Hall matters. Not just as an architectural monument, although that it certainly is, but as a place for the identification, acknowledgement, and recognition of the difficult histories that people share, as a place for people to connect over that shared history, and as a place where people can feel their deeper humanity.”
McDaniel’s speech addressed the basic question: Why are historic sites important? What difference do they make? In response, he explained how he came to work at historic sites and to understand them to be not just staid, pretty places to visit, but instead places where history and historic preservation could engage people’s interests in ways that a book or classroom alone cannot. Citing specific examples from the work of other National Trust sites including Cliveden, President Lincoln’s Cottage, and Montpelier, he showed how sites are actively making a difference at local and international levels, and are being used to build cross-racial bridges.
Thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Drayton Hall, staff members have been providing exceptional tours and programs, continuing our groundbreaking research in oral history, and striving to conserve the Ashley River region through our philosophy of whole place preservation. All of this work shows that “buildings don’t preserve buildings, people do.” And for that to happen McDaniel declared, “individuals must step up.” He concluded his speech by showing a segment from Drayton Hall’s DVD tour, in which Charles Drayton and his daughter Anne reflect on the family’s decision to preserve Drayton Hall.
McDaniel urged leaders of historic sites to reach out and become engaged in their communities in order to make a positive difference. “George McDaniel spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the annual historic sites luncheon, and his remarks highlighted the work of Drayton Hall and sites across the National Trust’s portfolio to serve their communities and remain both relevant and impactful,” said Katherine Malone-France, vice president for historic sites for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “His remarks were touching, funny, insightful, and unifying—all the things that make him such a wonderful colleague and a leader across the field of preservation.”