James S. (Jim) Askins

James S. (Jim) Askins

1998 Askins Achievement Award Recipient

"Jim Askins completed formal apprenticeship programs in both carpentry and cabinetmaking, and is considered by many preservationists to be a leading expert on the technical aspects of construction, restoration and maintenance required for historic preservation."

Jim Askins completed formal apprenticeship programs in both carpentry and cabinetmaking, and is considered by many preservationists to be a leading expert on the technical aspects of construction, restoration and maintenance required for historic preservation. He began working for the National Park Service in the early1960's at Harpers Ferry, Pea Ridge and Vicksburg doing historic preservation projects. The passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, brought attention to the shortage of skilled tradespeople to work on National Park Service cultural resources projects. Jim began training a team of preservation craftsmen at Harpers Ferry in 1967. Following severe damage in 1968, the preservation team worked as the C&O Canal restoration team, which formed the nucleus for the creation of the Williamsport Preservation Training Center in 1977. Jim Askins directed the WPTC Program from 1977 until his retirement in 1989. During that period WPTC grew from 8 to 35 employees and completed more than 200 National Park Service preservation projects throughout the United States. In a 1997 interview with Doug Hicks, HPTC Deputy Superintendent, Jim described the training philsophy of the Williamport Preservation Training Center by saying, "In order for someone to work independently in the federal sector and not screw up a resource they had to have a tremendous array of skills. You had to have craft skills, administrative skills, people skills, and you had to have academic skills - it was the marriage of these things that I had in mind. It was why I selected a cross section of people as trainees knowing that I would not have the fiscal resources to hire instructors. The participants would help expose the other participants to their strong suits. I mixed craftspeople with professional people with people who had administrative skills and people skills." Reflecting on his Park Service career, Jim said, "My greatest contribution was to show that what we were doing was destroying cultural resources under the guise of maintaining them. We made people understand that they needed to do business a different way. If I contributed anything to the NPS, it was that idea. That idea may not have been original to me, but through my visibility and the amount of noise and people I beat over the head, I raised the awareness level of the special needs of cultural resources." (The complete interview is available in the online archive of the CRM Journal, Vol. 20, No. 12, 1997.)

Jim passed away on September 7, 2011.