When I visited England with my family a few years ago, I thought, No wonder European students know history so much better than Americans—they're surrounded by it every day! I might learn about the Norman Conquest in a world history survey, but British schoolchildren could see physical evidence of it on field trips or in their own backyards. And while I always thought it was cool that C.S. Lewis's wardrobe stood in the Wheaton College library, but I got a better sense of the man when I stood in his favorite pub in Oxford. Places educate.

Though no buildings in the United States pack in as many centuries' worth of history as even non-landmarks across the Atlantic, lots of American structures have valuable stories to tell. But many of these buildings might soon be muted by neglect or destruction. That's why the National Trust for Historic Preservation this week issued its thirteenth annual listing of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.

The first thing I noticed on the list was a 150-year-old barn near—get this—Upland, my tiny hometown in Indiana. Of course, I've never even seen the now-famous barn, let alone marveled at its historic significance. But I guess that's kind of the point—if people knew how close they were to valuable pieces of the past, they might actually pay attention to preservation.

Besides that brief nod to beautiful Grant Country, Indiana (where, I'll have you know, "Cool was born," according to the brochures at the James Dean Museum in Fairmount), the Christian history connection to all of this concerns another item on the list: prairie churches in North Dakota.

Prairie churches were often among the first permanent structures in a frontier town—sometimes built by people who hadn't even finished their ...

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