Hometown Heroes: Althea Barton works to keep city’s history intact

  • Althea Barton stands outside the former Concord Stables near Concord High School on Wednesday. Geoff Forester / Monitor staff

  • Althea Barton stands outside the former Concord Stables near Concord High School on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. Geoff Forester—Monitor staff

  • Althea Barton stands outside the former Concord Stables near Concord High School on Wednesday, February 23, 2022. Geoff Forester—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/27/2022 5:18:54 PM

For decades, Althea Barton has been trying to ensure that Concord residents can enjoy and learn from the city’s storied infrastructure surrounding them.

Her work, spanning from historical preservation advocacy to fundraising and videography, has benefited the community’s architecture in a multitude of ways.

“She’s one of these people who I call ‘leaders from the rear,’ ” said Bill Smith, who has served on various Concord committees that have had overlapping work with Barton. “You know, she doesn’t seek the limelight. That’s not her thing. But he gets an amazing amount of stuff done.”

Since Barton’s teenage years, she’s had an appreciation for the historical significance of society’s framework. Her journey to New Hampshire’s capital was a unique one. The native New Yorker gained her footing in life internationally, as she moved to Barcelona with her family at age 14. There, her appreciation for architecture and the history behind edifices grew. She was able to garner relationships throughout her time overseas and went to Massachusetts where she studied Spanish and Japanese at Mount Holyoke College.

Her first experience in the workforce was with Sumitomo Trust and Banking Company, a Japanese Bank located in Hoboken, N.J. Over her 15 years at the company, Barton was able to move her way up to become the first female vice president in company history.

In those years back in her home state, she was able to meet her husband, Brent Todd, and get her first taste of architectural advocacy, an experience that would spur her future career. The newlyweds lived in a Manhattan 400-square-foot, high rise apartment with a view overlooking brownstones and a 19th century church.

“We just always had an appreciation for the historic buildings and the history that was behind them,” Barton said. “And what always fascinated me was the history of the people who lived or worked in those buildings.”

A developer had plans to tear down the historic buildings and replace them with a more modern infrastructure. Barton and her husband took exception to that and turned their frustration into action. They worked with the New York Preservation Society to issue a statement illustrating the historical significance of the area, then helped organize a rally and handed out flyers. Eventually a stay order was signed by a judge, saving most of the infrastructure from demolition. This experience opened up Barton’s eyes to her stored passion for historical preservation.

Years later, Barton and her husband decided to start a family and wanted to settle town in a more rural area. New England roots and extensive research led them to Concord.

From the first days she set foot in the Granite State, she started attending town meetings and started to network with influential members of the community.

“The city was doing charettes for the redesign of Main Street,” she said. “We started going to those meetings that the city was running and met a lot of people and learned a lot about how the city operated. We saw the priorities that the city was placing on preserving the historic fabric of the city … that was the first thing I got involved in.”

She used this groundwork to get involved with the Penacook Historical Society and is currently the development chair on its board. Barton has done extensive video work for them after learning from some mentors at Concord TV. She has produced films on local historians, landmarks and artists, and has branched out to start her own videography company, Penacook Films.

After raising nearly $15,000, Barton was able to bring a Pennsylvania Civil War music reenactment band, the Wildcat Regiment Band, to Concord for a concert series in 2015 for the city’s 250th anniversary. They performed at multiple venues and attracted more than 1,000 attendees.

In 2017, she assumed the role of director of philanthropy at the Kimball Jenkins Estate and helped lead major renovation efforts. She led much of the effort to get funding for the project and was able to apply for and obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars through various grants.

“Kimball Jenkins is really the historic gateway to the city on the on the north,” she said. “And the Gasholder is the gateway on the south. And between those there’s just a ton of really fascinating history.”

Barton believes the educational aspect of her preservation and video work is one of the most important parts, as the stories behind the buildings are what truly peaks her interest.

“With COVID, it’s been harder to let large groups in, but every time I’ve been involved with getting school kids and people of all ages into and up close with these places, they really respond in a positive way,” Barton said.

Barton has also served on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Committee for a number of years, which advise the Concord City Council on parks and recreation issues. In the past she has worked with the Friends of White Park and helped with plan of the proposed overhaul of the Monkey Around Playground, as well as being instrumental in the Friends of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail implementation.

Her extensive community involvement has helped Barton gain a perspective on the city of Concord, and the people working to make the city a better place.

“I think that’s a lot of the lesson that Concord has taught me,” she said. “It’s a big enough city that there are many opportunities to find things that interest you. But it’s a small enough city that once you start volunteering, you get to know everybody. So, it’s a close-knit community. I just take energy from others, and I put in whatever I can, and together we’re moving the place forward.”

Barton’s passion for preserving Concord’s historical sites is ongoing, as she believes that the landmarks are essential for the local community’s identity.

“A friend of mine once said that if you if you didn’t preserve the old buildings, and old landscapes … then how would you know where you are, and that you’re in these historic places,” Barton said. “You could be anywhere but no, you’re in Concord and you know it because of the natural environment and the built environment that’s around you. This, to me brings a lot of meaning to people’s lives.”

Barton has recently started a new position as a consultant for the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, where she’ll be continuing her historical preservation efforts at Concord’s Gasholder building, where work to stabilize the building has just begun.

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