Friday, March 29, 2013

What Happened to Previous Most Endangered Sites? Wilderness Battlefield

After the Orange County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial special use permit to allow construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield in 2009, many individuals and organizations including the Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, National Coalition for History and the Civil War Trust; began fighting to protect this site where one of the most significant battles of the CivilWar occurred and some 30,000 people died. 

Map by Civil War Trust

In 2011, after over two years of strategy and legal challenges, Wal-Mart announced that it had abandoned plans to pursue construction of the supercenter at the battlefield. The store was later relocated farther west along Route 3 near Germanna Community College’s Locust Grove campus.
Members of Wilderness Battlefield Coalition

After Wal-Mart made the decision to relocate the store, preservationists and local leaders came together to forge a new vision for the region and began the Wilderness Battlefield Gateway Study which recommended low-impact, historically and environmentally sensitive development to create a pleasant place for tourists to stay and shop when they visited the Wilderness Battlefield and nearby Chancellorsville Battlefield, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park as well as Native American sites and the 18th-century Germanna Ford settlement.  The study reached a consensus last November.

In the eyes of many in the preservation community, this victory was one of the most important to ever occur in Virginia. The final outcome not only protected the site, it also brought opposing sides together to create the Wilderness Gateway Study to further protect this historically important area. Preservation Virginia’s endangered sites listing hopefully played an important part in this positive conclusion.

Painting of the Battle of the Wilderness

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

What Happened? Updates on Past Endangered Sites Listings

The Ladies Pool at Warm Springs, Virginia
Posting Bill Lohmann’s great Sunday article on Belmead inspired us at Preservation Virginia.  Why not use the upcoming weeks to revisit some of the sites listed on previous Virginia’s Most Endangered Lists?  It is an opportunity for a progress report or sometimes the lack of progress.  It might also be a way to reengage and renew awareness of the sites and issues that threaten historic places.  Spotlighting some of the strategies and efforts that are making a difference across Virginia may inspire others.  

The blogs will lead up to our May  13th announcement of 2013 Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites.  With each post, we will provide contact info so you are able to get in touch with the people leading the efforts to save these places.   We plan on posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  Be on the lookout and let’s get started—

Recently several members of the staff attended the Virginia Association of Museums Conference in Hot Spring—yes someone had to make the sacrifice!  All of us were frustrated to see the condition of the Warm Springs Pools. (Frustrated is a nice word for being really disappointed and distressed.)

Listed in 2010, the group organized to save the Pools has come a long way.  Taking the long view that there are other historic resources in Bath County, Preservation Bath formed with the priority of gaining ownership of the Pools and the associated structures from the Homestead and to be positioned to support the preservation of other Bath County sites.  The group successfully advocated for the Homestead to undertake an engineering study of the structures.  Preservation Bath now is positioned to begin fundraising to undertake a Historic Structures Report to guide the restoration and maintenance of the two structures. 

Sounds good, right?  There are still two major hurdles—1)  obtaining the 501 c 3 status so that Preservation Bath can undertake the major fundraising effort needed and 2)  working out a deal to transfer the ownership of the Warm Spring Pools from the Homestead and its parent company KSL.  Want to learn more and keep up with the latest?  Visit

By the way, Preservation Bath has nominated the Warm Springs Pools to the National Trust’s Endangered List due out in June.  Keep listening for updates.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tobacco Farm Remembered

Preservation Virginia began the Tobacco Barns Protection Project in 2012. From the beginning, the project has received a lot of great support. Currently Preservation Virginia staff, with the assistance of volunteers, have been surveying tobacco barns in Pittsylvania County. One of the volunteers, Hal Cauthen, wrote the below article about his memories of his uncle's tobacco farm. For more information on the project, contact Sonja Ingram at


       My uncle had a tobacco allotment, as was done in those days. If you didn't have an allotment, you weren't allowed to grow tobacco to sell. Tobacco was the cash crop, though he grew corn, and vegetables, and raised hogs and cattle. But tobacco was how they made their money.
When it came time to pick and string and hang up the sticks, I used to love to go out there and stay for a few days. I was probably 10 years old or so, and there are several things I remember vividly. One was driving the sled!
A mule was hitched to what was literally a sled; it slid on runners -- 2 X 4's, as I recall. And had a frame which was lined with burlap, and came up a little more than waist high on a man. It looked more or less like this:

The job was to drive the sled up and down the rows, so the cropers (more on them later) could put the leaves they'd picked into the sled. That way, they'd empty their arms, and could keep on cropping. Away I'd go -- actually sort of just holding on to the reins, because - truth be known - the mules knew better than I did where to go and what to do.
When I'd collected a load, I'd tug the rein, turn the mules, and go back to the barn, where the stringers and hanger were working.
The stringers were women, mostly African-Americans. They almost all wore what I thought of as an odd costume. Overall's usually, sometimes jeans or other work pants, but over them they wore a dress or a skirt. Their hair was usually braided into tight cornrows, but hidden under a bandana, over which they often wore a big brimmed straw hat.
"Why the skirt?", I asked.
"So you can tells we are women" was the answer. Which when you thought about it made sense.

 When the sticks were full they'd be handed into the barn, then up into the rafters where the men aloft took them and placed them, just so, such that they were not too close and not too far apart --

... just enough distance so that night, when the fires were lit, the hot dry air from the smoking fires could waft up and thru them, and dry them to a rich golden patina.

Early on the curing process was done by hand stoken fires, one on each corner of the barn. And another fond memory was being allowed to stay up with the men, who sat around telling stories all through the night, occasionally go into the barn to check the temperture, and feel the leaves to judge the degree of dryness.
So my visit to the barns in southern Virginia was, in a sense, a visit to my childhood.

by Hal Cauthen