Monday, August 28, 2017

Preservation Pitch Spotlight: Jobie Hill’s Slave House Database Project

(Left to right) Leighton Powell, Scenic Virginia; Jobie Hill and Preservation Virginia CEO Elizabeth Kostelny
Slave dwellings exist throughout Virginia that tell stories of a difficult time in history that should never be forgotten. Our 2015 Preservation Pitch winner, Jobie Hill, has been doing great work with her Slave House Database Project to document and interpret these spaces.

Hill, a historic preservation architect, started her independent project in 2012 to, “ensure that slave houses, irreplaceable pieces of history, are not lost forever.”

The database serves as a repository for information and data pertinent to all the known slave houses in the United States. At the time of her Preservation Pitch win, she had gathered more than 26,000 images and ex-slave narratives related to slave houses. In describing the Slave House Database, Hill says:

The documentation [of slave houses] is the visual representation of the spaces; and the interpretations are descriptions of the spaces from the actual inhabitants who lived and worked there during slavery. The narratives recorded from former slaves breathe life into the two-dimensional drawings and photographs of slave houses.

After having surveyed slave dwellings in various other states, Hill set her focus on documenting slave dwellings in Virginia for her Preservation Pitch project. She aimed to locate and resurvey at least 30 slave houses documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey program. Her goal was to identify which houses still exist, document the current conditions of the structures and record architectural information missing from the original survey.

Hill ended up surveying 37 slave houses in Virginia with the help of the $2,000 grant she received from her Preservation Pitch win. In total, she has surveyed 117 dwellings in Virginia over the past four years, with some located in Campbell and Pittsylvania Counties.

Overall, she believes that the relationship between the historical record of slave houses and stories of the inhabitants are crucial to the understanding and interpretation of the lives and settings of enslaved people. She states that through this relationship, “the plantation landscape is revealed not through the eyes of the master but through the perspective of those who were in his charge.”

The deadline for entering this year’s Preservation Pitch competition has been extended to Friday, September 8. If you have a historic preservation project that you would like to pitch, visit Eventbrite for submission details and to register. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Louisa County Historical Society Intersecting Historic Preservation with Technology

Each year, we provide an opportunity for community members statewide to compete for $2,000 in seed money for a historic preservation project through our Preservation Pitch program. Three finalists are chosen to present their pitches during a reception at our annual Virginia Preservation Conference. The winners are selected by the audience. Last year, we welcomed Louisa County Historical Society into the winner’s circle for their project to document African American and slave-related burial grounds throughout the state.

Inspired by the inclusion of African American cemeteries on our 2016 Most Endangered Historic Places list, Louisa County Historical Society stated that they, “wanted to be a part of the effort to record and help preserve these sacred sites.”

Their project is two-fold, consisting of technology and community components. For the technology component, they have developed an easy-to-use application with ArcGIS – a platform that enables developers to build custom web and mobile applications that incorporate maps and data. The app utilizes a GeoForm template that allows the locations of burials to be automatically captured while recording data about individual sites and uploading photos.

The advantage of using the GeoForm template is that is can be shared and replicated across the state. After users record data collected in Louisa County about African American burial sites, it is immediately made available online. This data can then be joined, layered and analyzed with any other GIS data (such as the data maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources) thanks to the ArcGIS Open Data solution.

The community component involves cultivating local support through four training events in Louisa County that will help people learn how to use the app. These events will also serve the purpose of educating the public about the importance of identifying and preserving African American burial sites as well as the applicable sections of the Code of Virginia that help protect them.

Ultimately, Louisa County Historical Society hopes that their project will provide a platform for older generations to share their knowledge with younger generations and that both can record burial sites that honor the past together.

“We believe engaging people across the Commonwealth in this effort will stir curiosity to learn about all members of our historic communities. Curiosity leads to investigation, which can change our understanding of history,” said Elaine Taylor, Executive Director, Louisa County Historical Society, during her presentation.

Louisa County Historical Society’s Preservation Pitch submission is an excellent blueprint for the types of historic preservation projects that should be receiving support on local and state levels.

Is there a historic preservation project that could use $2,000 in seed money in your community? If so, submissions for the 2017 Preservation Pitch program are due no later than August 25. Visit Eventbrite to register and learn how you can submit your pitch. Good luck!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Quoits, Anyone? The History of an American Pastime  

Next week, the country will commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. 241 years ago, the original thirteen American colonies declared themselves a new nation – the United States of America. Whether it be political ceremonies or barbecues and parades, there are many ways we honor the history and traditions of our nation.

As many of us pull out cornhole, horseshoes or the croquette set this weekend, let’s dive into the history of the game of quoits, an extremely popular game during the founding of our nation. In our opinion, we’d like to see it overtake cornhole to once again be a favorite BBQ pastime!

Quoits has origins in ancient Greece and was picked up by the Roman conquerors and spread throughout Europe. According to the United States Quoiting Association, quoits originally came to America in the 1700s with the early settlers from England. The game consists of throwing a metal ring towards a spike to either land on or near it. It was considered a more sophisticated lawn game in comparison to horseshoes, which was played by commoners.

John Marshall, fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, was a renowned quoits player in Richmond. Playing quoits during Court Days was a popular pastime in Virginia, which may be how he became such an excellent player1. The John Marshall House has a set of quoits that are a reproduction of the original set Marshall would have possessed. 

Marshall was a member of the Buchanan Spring Quoits Club (also known as the Richmond or Fairfield Sociable Club), which consisted of 30 elected members, including the city’s leading merchants, politicians and professional men2. The group met every Saturday afternoon from May to November at Reverend John Buchanan’s farm and the men were no strangers to having a good time. They feasted on barbecued pig and drank punch and juleps. Talking about politics was strictly prohibited at these gatherings. Rule breakers were punished by Marshall with a hefty fine – alcohol.

Historic Richmond Foundation has revived this historic pastime, with the Quoit Club. Membership includes social gatherings and an all-access pass to Richmond’s history through members-only tours inside of the city’s most interesting buildings and locations. 

At the John Marshall House, you can play a game of quoits in the garden when you come for a visit! There is a pit set up outside and the house has a modern quoits set for you to throw. The John Marshall House is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March through December.

Preservation Virginia wishes you a happy and healthy Independence Day weekend!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Richmond Justice Exhibit Opens in Newly Restored John Marshall House Justice Gallery

The Richmond Justice exhibit is officially open for public viewing in the newly restored John Marshall House Justice Gallery. The exhibit will run through the month of September.

Richmond Justice started in 2016 as a year-long project produced by Field Studio to share portraits and stories of Richmonders whose lives have been shaped in some way by the justice system.

The project grew from years of co-directors, Hannah Ayers and Lance Warren making media about incarceration. The duo’s experience led them to discover that the number of people touched by the justice system is greater than what people tend to imagine and the stories of those affected by the justice system are profound and must be told.

Check out our Q&A with Hannah and Lance:  

Can you discuss the importance of providing a platform for those affected by the justice system to tell their stories?

Lance: The justice system is hard to see. If you're not inside of it—and often, even if you are—the reasons why people are jailed or freed, prosecuted or merely warned, tend to be shrouded in legal jargon and bureaucracy. Not only that, the very nature of arrest and incarceration separates those charged, and those doing the charging, from the rest of the community. And yet, this hard-to-see system makes decisions that transform our community, one life at a time, and often not for the better. 

We believe that a sensible, fair justice system could serve Richmond as it should. But first, we need to understand the people in our justice system in their own words. We couldn't find a platform that enabled Richmonders whose lives are shaped by the justice system to share their wildly varying experiences and perspectives, and so, we decided to create one.

What were some common experiences that you all discovered that Richmonders face when it comes to interacting with the justice system?

Hannah: One thing that’s easy to forget is that in many cases, families interacting with the justice system are doing so for the first time. And unless you’re a lawyer or an advocate, you’re thrust into a system that’s immensely complicated and requires a steep learning curve. So it’s not uncommon for Richmonders to feel completely lost, or worse, neglected as they navigate hearings and trials.

We also discovered that a lot of community members are interacting with the justice system because they struggle with a substance use disorder. They need treatment, but due to the way that our laws and institutions are set up, many of them end up in jail. Some get treatment there, but treatment through jail is a counterintuitive way to address treatment for a disease.

Which organizations are spearheading reform efforts within Richmond’s justice system and where has progress been made?

: This was the most heartening thing we found as part of this project: Richmond is fortunate to have progressive people who are deeply committed to broadening access to justice and seeking reform. The Legal Aid Justice Center has done tremendous work on a number of fronts, especially when it comes to juvenile justice and the school-to-prison pipeline.

There is good work being done as part of the REAL Program at the Richmond City Justice Center. The REAL Program works to address addictive behavior through classes and workshops, and we’ve met graduates whose lives were transformed because they finally learned about their addiction and what to do about it. Some of the change is coming from the state policy level; Governor McAuliffe signed a bill last month to reform the Virginia Board of Corrections, strengthening their oversight of jails and tasking them with investigating the deaths that occur with frightening frequency.

There are also promising partnerships among foundations, nonprofits, arts groups, and legal organizations working to address problems from multiple angles. All of these changes are positive, but it’s hard to feel hopeful when some of the problems are so vast: the poverty that drives people to desperate situations and desperate decisions; the opioids and guns that are too readily available; the laws that criminalize drug use, homelessness, and mental illness; the corrections facilities that do little to rehabilitate.  There’s an overwhelming amount to do, but we’re grateful for the folks who are committing their time and expertise to move Richmond in a positive direction.

Can you all describe the significance of featuring the exhibit at the John Marshall House?

: John Marshall was a child of the American Revolution, schooled and shaped by the struggle's many strategies to secure self-government rooted in the will of a united people. This very unity, this common sense pursuit of common purpose—this is one key force we found often missing in the way justice is measured in Richmond. "We're arresting the wrong people," the Sheriff told us. "You could do 12 months in jail on a littering charge," noted a public defender, explaining that homelessness itself has been criminalized and locks those without shelter into a destructive cycle of incarceration and vulnerability.

The Commonwealth's Attorney for Richmond told us that he wouldn't want his post in "any other jurisdiction in the state," because voters here "are at least willing to entertain non-traditional approaches to criminal justice." But too often, he told us, his office and other reformers haven't been enabled to bring good ideas to scale. The result is injustice done to those convicted as well as to the welfare and public safety of the city: "Most of the people we’ve convicted for felonies, we will see again—not because they’re inherently bad, as we've told ourselves, but because of the consequences of the felony in terms of difficulties in securing stable housing, employment, and recovery. Forgotten felons come back again and again."

John Marshall understood the need for fairness and logic in the prosecution of law. It's impossible to know what he would've thought of today's challenges to justice in Richmond. But his example makes clear to us that the place where we can begin to study his legacy today is exactly the place to consider how to do justice to those in Richmond in a way that treats them as they are—our neighbors, our fellow Americans, sometimes our family members, and hopefully our friends.

What’s next for the Richmond Justice project?

: Through exhibits like the one we're fortunate for the chance to launch at the John Marshall House, we hope to give more Richmonders the chance to hear the voices that so captured us over the last year.  We started with a family-and-friends mailing list of 129 people and grew the project to an audience of more than 20,000 by the end of 2016. We were active in-person, too, hosting in October the only mayoral debate focused squarely on the justice system, and then convening hundreds more at UR Downtown during the inaugural First Fridays gallery opening this year. We pledge to keep the site accessible indefinitely, so that an unlimited number of people may read and learn from these stories. And we look forward to welcoming attorneys, visitors, and supporters of all sorts to the John Marshall House in the coming months.

Visit to learn more about the project and like the Richmond Justice Facebook page to keep up with their latest updates.

Friday, August 21, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Gibson Cottage

Roof damage, Gibson Cottage, March 2015. Photo courtesy of Preservation Bath.

Gibson Cottage - Warm Springs, Virginia

Significance: Built around 1840 and used as the Warm Springs Hotel manager’s residence, the Gibson Cottage is one of the last remaining original buildings from the hotel’s important mid‐19th century expansion that transformed the county seat of Bath Court House into a welcoming stop on the Virginia springs summer circuit. The cottage survived the razing of the hotel in 1925 and served as a residence for the next sixty‐seven years.

Threat: The current owner, Natural Retreats, purchased it in 2013 and has expressed interest in renovating it. The structure is currently open to the elements and deteriorating and is now listed for possible demolition by the County in 2015. Bath County residents have expressed concern about its possible loss.

Solution: Natural Retreats has stated its intent to save the Cottage. We urge that the owner take action now to protect the site from further deterioration or transfer ownership to another entity that will utilize the building. The cottage, if saved and restored, could play an integral role in telling the history of the Warm Springs Pools.

Elizabeth Kostelny, Preservation Virginia, announcing the listing in May 2015 with an overgrown Gibson Cottage in the background. 

UpdateFollowing the May 2015 Most Endangered Historic Sites listing on-site announcement, in mid-June, two volunteers spent four days removing invasive vegetation, cutting down the dead tree that was leaning against the cottage, cutting the grass, and generally clearing the overgrown landscape around the cottage.  Following up on their restatement to take steps to stabilize the structure, Natural Retreats just recently engaged John Airgood, of Alexander Nicholson, to begin step one of stabilizing the Gibson Cottage. This will involve removal of the front porch and the entire rear addition and the installation of a temporary roof.  Prior to removal, there are plans to measure and salvage the architectural features that are deemed significant, like the front porch posts.  Work is scheduled to begin the last week in August.

Gibson Cottage, March 2015. Photo courtesy of Preservation Bath.
Gibson Cottage, June 2015, following clearing of vegetation by volunteers. Photo courtesy of Preservation Bath. 


Philip Deemer with Preservation Bath at:

Thursday, August 13, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Town of Port Royal

Peyton-Brockenbrough House

The Town of Port Royal - Port Royal, Virginia

Significance: Port Royal, chartered in 1744, is a small town on the Rappahannock River in Caroline County. First inhabited by the Algonquian, it was established primarily as a port for the exportation of tobacco. Port Royal retains over thirty‐five 18th and early 19th century structures, which reflect the critical role it played in the American Revolution and the Civil War. After assassinating President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth visited the Brockenbrough‐Peyton House and was later shot and killed south of town at the Garrett Farm.

Threat: As another example of one of Virginia’s “bypassed towns,” Port Royal has become increasingly isolated as a result of changing transportation patterns. Several of the oldest structures are currently unoccupied and in need of stabilization, especially the 1854 Lyceum and Town Hall building. Deterioration will continue if a solution is not found.

Solution: Port Royal is creating a strong foundation for heritage tourism. Historic Port Royal, Inc. is actively involved in repair projects including the Colonial Doctor’s Office. Port Royal is committed to revitalizing their town and currently enjoys three museums (with a fourth on the way), self‐guided walking tours with established historical markers, a restored Rosenwald School and the rebuilt historic pier. We encourage the Town and Caroline County to provide greater visibility with additional directional signage and other incentives that could help promote Port Royal as an enticing place to visit and live.

Friends of the Rappahannock installed a new 100-foot-long pier and a soft launch for kayaks and canoes in Caroline.
Photo: Dawnthea Price for The Free Lance Star

Update (8/13/15): Just a couple weeks before the listing debuted, the Town of Port Royal and Historic Port Royal, Inc. held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the new Port Royal Museum of Medicine. The museum boasts artifacts that tell the history of the town, and the former consultation room showcases the historic tools of the trade. Additionally, the historic Port Royal Landing recently received a new pier, a soft launch for canoes and kayaks, and a living shoreline. The pier, launch, and shoreline were all installed by Friends of the Rappahannock. The pier and its revived wetlands setting offer new recreational activities that should help draw more visitors to the town and increase interest in its revitalization.

Port Royal Museum of Medicine
Photo: Historic Port Royal

Selected Links:

ContactCarolyn Davis at

Thursday, July 30, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Jamestown Road Houses, Williamsburg

Student Assembly Building, 404 Jamestown Road

Jamestown Road Houses - Williamsburg, Virginia

Significance: Jamestown Road is a historic and scenic route into Williamsburg, linking Duke of Gloucester Street with both Jamestown and historic Route 5. It and Richmond Road divide at the west end of Duke of Gloucester Street, as planned by Francis Nicholson in 1699 and delineated on the Frenchman’s Map of 1782. The Jamestown Road houses were built in the early 20th century, before the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. The neighborhood is illustrative of Williamsburg’s continued life between the Revolution and the world‐famous restoration of the 18th‐century town. It provides a sense of scale and character between the large institutional buildings on campus and the smaller‐scaled neighborhoods it adjoins. 

Threat: Owned by the Commonwealth (the College of William and Mary), the houses are not subject to City of Williamsburg zoning or architectural review regulations. The threat is imminent; of the twelve houses, two have already been demolished. Another nine or ten are proposed for demolition in the College Master Plan, as approved by the College’s Board of Visitors in February 2015.

Solution: The College is encouraged to continue its long history of working with the City. Though not legally obligated to do so, we urge the College to consider local guidelines and to utilize the existing structures in any number of ways, including maintaining them as offices or as residences. State and national historic register designations would also help underscore the significance of the individual buildings and streetscape.

The Corner House, 402 Jamestown Road

Update (7/30/15): In April 2015, a month before the listing debuted, local residents representing both the Pollard Park and Chandler Court neighborhoods met with officials from the College of William and Mary to discuss the future of the Jamestown Road houses with regard to the Campus Master Plan.  Since the listing, the neighborhoods have continued to meet and have corresponded back and forth by letter with representatives from the College.  To date, the historic neighborhoods’ concerns with the College Master Plan have been acknowledged but not decisively acted upon.  The neighborhoods have asked the College to consider a moratorium on any future demolition of the wood-frame houses along Jamestown Road but no commitments have been made.  In the near term, the College faces the challenge of finding suitable tenants for other properties it owns in the area, like the Blank House located on Chandler Court.   

The Hoke House, 218 Jamestown Road

Selected Links:

Contact: For more information about local efforts, please contact Susan L. Buck at