Hall making his mark in Delaware preservation

Cultural preservation specialist and historian Carlton Hall stands outside the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office on The Green. Mr. Hall recently earned a place as the only Delawarean named to the inaugural “40 Under 40: People Saving Places” list unveiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
(Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery)

DOVER — Looking out of the window from the top floor of the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office on The Green, Carlton Hall has as good a view on history as anyone in the city.

It’s a perfect fit for Mr. Hall, who recently earned a place as the only Delawarean named to the inaugural “40 Under 40: People Saving Places” list unveiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“It’s great working in the historical district,” said Mr. Hall, a cultural preservation specialist and historian with the State Historic Preservation Office. “It’s a nice view. It’s a great place to kind of walk around on The Green, especially at lunchtime.”

“The 40 Under 40” list honors individuals under the age of 40 across the United States who are working to support the mission of historic preservation through fields such as architecture, community activism and business.

Mr. Hall was honored on the national list for his research and presentations about Delaware listings in the Negro Motorist Green Book, a segregation-era travel guide for African Americans created by Victor Green that was published annually from 1936 through 1966.

The paperback book listed hotels, restaurants, service stations, night clubs, barber shops and other establishments across the country where African Americans would be safely welcomed during the days of Jim Crow.

“First of all, I’m honored. I felt fortunate,” Mr. Hall said of his recognition. “It was unexpected. When I looked at everybody else on the list they’ve got a lot of folks with doctor’s degrees and a lot of folks who have been working in the field for 10 to 15 years and I’ve only been in the field for three years.

“I was truly honored, especially at being recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.”

Sarah Zimmerman, superintendent of the First State Heritage Park in Dover, nominated Mr. Hall for the National Trust honor for his 2015 research into the historical Green Book.

Mr. Hall, who was nominated at age 39 but is now 40, said he thought his presentations regarding the Green Book went over well, though he wondered how difficult it would be for him personally to have to live in his grandparents’ world.

“I think the presentations were well-received and people came to me with different information about other African-American businesses that were not on the Green Book that were in operation around that time,” said Mr. Hall. “So, I was surprised to hear there were more. All in all, I think it was well-received, which was good.”

Mr. Hall is a native of New Castle and a graduate of William Penn High School. He now lives in Bear with his wife and three children but is hoping to move to southern New Castle or Kent County, perhaps by this fall.

He earned a master’s degree in historic preservation from Delaware State University in 2013 and began his tenure with the State Historic Preservation Office in 2015.

Mr. Hall said he enjoys his job with the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs because of the wide variety of tasks he gets to take on.

“I can get a phone call and each phone call can be different,” he said. “Somebody can be asking me if their house is eligible to be listed on the National Register or they could ask me for information about an African-American church.

“I do what I need to do … go online, go to the research center and try my best to answer those questions.”

Mr. Hall added, “I would say multi-tasking and doing different types of tasks for the division and being able to adapt and kind of match my time and being able to do more than one thing at one time are my greatest strengths.”

Tim Slavin, state historic preservation officer and director of the Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, said Mr. Hall has been a huge asset since joining the division three years ago.

“We couldn’t be prouder of Carlton and the recognition he has received,” Mr. Slavin said. “Carlton has a long career ahead of him and we know he will continue to distinguish himself as he works to preserve our state’s history for future generations.”

Mr. Hall said he remembers feeling like an outcast at times during his youth due to his interest in learning history.

“When I was younger, my interest in history really started around the fifth or sixth grade in junior high,” he said. “Most kids weren’t really interested in history, but I was, and I felt kind of like an oddball because none of my other friends really cared too much about it.

“So, it kind of stayed under wraps until I got to my junior year of college getting my bachelor’s (degree) and (my passion for history) just kind of came out and I was ready to do it and it’s taken several steps to get to this point.”

Mr. Hall said he has been inspired by many people, but none more so than his parents, grandparents and other relatives.

“They’re all hard-working people and working-class folks,” he said. “My brother and I were first-generation college graduates and I think we take their lead in being hard workers in everything we do.”

Mr. Hall said he continues to enjoy his work because the world of history is so much bigger than himself.

All he needs to do is look out of his office window to get another taste of it. His office sits adjacent to the Old State House.

He said people should take history seriously because learning about the past should help prevent them from making the same mistake over and over.

As for his view on The Green, he said, “The world would be a very boring place if we only had modern buildings. Dover’s historic districts just add to the beauty and character of the city.

“I also like Delaware for its diversity and tax-free shopping, of course. I like the beaches and everybody kind of knows everybody where I’m from (in Bear), so that’s nice.”

After being recognized nationally, even more people are going to know Mr. Hall.

“This honor means a great deal to me as a practitioner in my field and I’m privileged to represent our state as the only individual from Delaware on the list,” he said.

“I’ve learned and continue to learn from an outstanding group of professionals in the SHPO office and to benefit from their decades of experience in the field of historic preservation.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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