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September 23. 2013 4:29PM

Mary Pickford & NH: A star is barn?

In 1910, Mary Pickford was in the second year of a Hollywood career that would earn her the nickname "America's Sweetheart" and make her one of the most famous actresses of all time. That year she received her first film credit, for a short titled "Their First Misunderstanding." In 2006, a copy of that film was discovered in a decaying New Hampshire barn. It is the only known copy.

The story made national news for obvious reasons — it involved the discovery of a lost, 103-year-old film featuring a great movie star. The barn, though, came down, of course. The buildings usually come down — even when they are historical treasures far older than any motion picture (which this was not).

New Hampshire loses pieces of its architectural history every year either to fire, decay or the bulldozer. The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance tries to maintain the public's interest in preserving these vanishing structures, but it is difficult. No building has the sex appeal of Mary Pickford.

Every year the alliance identifies a list of seven buildings to save. Among the recent nominees: New Durham's meetinghouse, built in 1772, one of only five pre-Revolutionary meetinghouses remaining in New Hampshire; Exeter's Ioka Theater, built in 1915; East Derry's First Parish Church, which dates to 1769; and the Langdon Town Hall, built in 1803.

Why preserve these old buildings? Because they are to New Hampshire what old films are to Hollywood. They are windows into our past. But unlike silent movies, they also continue to produce revenue — by bringing tourists who long to experience what is left of the New England they read about in the history books. Lose them, and we lose an important part of New Hampshire's identity.

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