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 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Historic Courthouses and Courthouse Squares

N Augusta Street in Staunton, with the Augusta County Courthouse
visible at right, in front of Barristers Row.

Historic Courthouses and Courthouse Squares - Statewide

Significance:  An integral part of many historic downtowns, Virginia’s historic courthouses and courthouse squares have served as community centers for centuries. Not only do these structures represent the judicial system and the important cases along with the individuals throughout our nation’s history, courthouses were often the place for important announcements, auctions, marketplaces, weddings and even duels.

Threat: As courts continue to require increased space and security, preservation debates surrounding Virginia’s historic courthouses will continue. Approaches to preserve these structures have varied across the Commonwealth. Some communities have found innovative ways to preserve historical integrity while also integrating necessary upgrades. Others have built additions that overwhelm the historic complexes. Others still have completely relocated courthouse functions, jeopardizing the sustainability of the original complex and downtown location.

For example, the Augusta County Courthouse (1901) is threatened with abandonment by the County government. Augusta County wishes to build a new court system away from the traditional city center of downtown Staunton, which will remove employees and potentially other related businesses, weakening Staunton’s successful downtown economy. In Northampton County, a lack of funding and the threat of demolition by neglect of the two historic jails (1899 and 1914) may undermine the value of the historic courthouse square.

Rebecca Larys and Nan Bennett announce the thematic listing in Eastville on
May 18, 2015 at the Northampton County courthouse precinct.  

Solution: Preserving historic courthouses and accommodating modern court needs requires a strategic balancing act. The integrity of historic courthouses and courthouse squares can be maintained to help support downtown economies. We recommend a comprehensive survey of historic courthouses. This will help identify model approaches that are transparent and include public input to ensure that the community’s values and economic impact are reflected.

In the case of the Augusta County Courthouse, City and County governments have been negotiating an agreement of mutual support. One potential solution is for the County and City to pursue consolidation of the courts now serving the two jurisdictions.  This solution, which may require legislative approval, has potential to save funding and increase efficiency while continuing court functions in downtown Staunton.  Building upon the feasibility study that recommended the re-use of the structure, with incentives and utilization of the historic tax credit process, a universally-accessible court system can be developed that will serve the county well.  If needed, additional room for court offices, court rooms and other functions is readily available in adjacent historic and modern buildings.
In Northampton County, the earlier re-use of the 1731 courthouse is a model for how the retention of courthouse-related structures maintains the thread of history in a community. We encourage both approaches.

Frank Strassler, Executive Director of the Historic Staunton Foundation,
announces the thematic listing on May 18, 2015 at the R. R. Smith Center for History and Art.  

Update (7/15/15):  Approximately 70 courthouses are listed individually or as contributing resources in historic districts on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.  Although these distinguished resources serve as the center of government, they are threatened by time and the elements, as well as modernization and the challenge to meet the needs of the public in the 21st century.  In addition to the examples mentioned in the listing itself, Dickinson Courthouse, Halifax Courthouse, and Charlotte Courthouse all face similar challenges.  Since 2012, discussions have been underway between community members, local government, and historians to determine the best way to adapt the Thomas Jefferson-influenced Charlotte County Courthouse. 

As the thematic, statewide Most Endangered listing and these additional examples suggest, this is a timely and important preservation initiative faced by communities across the Commonwealth.  It is essential that groups come together to identify ways to meet the needs of the public while maintaining the historical, cultural, and architectural integrity of these prominent structures.  Since the listing and ongoing work on this topic by both organizations, it has been decided that Preservation Virginia will co-host with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources a symposium to be held in 2016 that addresses these very issues.  This symposium will be designed to accommodate a statewide audience of citizens, local elected officials and staff, and organizations interested in finding agreeable solutions for Virginia’s historic courthouses and courthouse precincts.  Stay tuned for more information.

Selected Links:

Contact:  For more information, please contact:
Lauren Gwaley, Associate Director of Public Relations and Marketing, Preservation Virginia, (804) 648-1889 x304;
(Augusta County) Frank Strassler, Historic Staunton Foundation, (540) 885-7676,
(Northampton County) Joan Wehner, Northampton Historic Preservation Society, (757) 678-5864; and Nan Bennett, Northampton Historic Preservation Society, (757)-999-1299;   

Monday, June 29, 2015

2015 Most Endangered Historic Places: Sweet Briar College's Campus

Sweet Briar College’s Campus - Amherst, Virginia

Significance: Sweet Briar College was founded near Lynchburg in 1901 as a women’s college by Indiana Fletcher Williams in memory of her only daughter, Daisy. The original 3,300-acre campus, including buildings designed by Ralph Adams Cram, is still intact. The Sweet Briar College Historic District is comprised of twenty‐one of the campus’ oldest buildings listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. The Italianate Sweet Briar House, transformed by Elijah Fletcher in 1851‐52, is also listed. Other resources include a slave cemetery and dwellings, scenic viewsheds, conservation areas and old growth forests.

Threat: In March 2015, the Board of Sweet Briar College announced that it would close at the end of August 2015. The sale of the campus is rumored. Currently, none of the historic and natural resources are covered by easements that would protect them from inappropriate future development. While the college has cared for these resources over the course of the 20th century, the possibility of a sale presents them with an uncertain future.

Solution: In order to demonstrate leadership and active stewardship of the outstanding built and natural environments that comprise the campus and landholdings of Sweet Briar College, historic preservation and conservation easements should be put in place prior to any potential sale or change of use.

Photo courtesy of The Historical Marker Database

Update (6/29/15): Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., the non-profit group formed to save Sweet Briar College, recently celebrated the announcement of a settlement agreement that will save Sweet Briar College.  The settlement provides the opportunity for a new leadership team to develop a plan to shore up the college’s finances and develop a long-term plan for sustained success.  As part of the June 20 settlement agreement, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. has agreed to deliver $12 million in donations for the ongoing operation of the College within the next 60 days, with $2.5 million to be made available by July 2. The Attorney General will consent to the release of restrictions on $16 million from the College’s endowment to augment alumnae funds for the ongoing operation of the College.  Moving forward, we continue to urge current and future leadership of Sweet Briar College to take the steps necessary to maintain and protect its unique and significant built and natural resources. 

Selected Links:

Image courtesy of Sweet Briar College

Contact: For more information or to learn how to get involved with the effort, please contact nominator Charlotte Bonini, Sweet Briar College Alumnae Association / Saving Sweet Briar Inc., at:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Selma Mansion, Still Endangered

Selma is a 113 year-old mansion located five miles north of Leesburg in Loudoun County. The property is near U.S. Route 15/James Monroe Highway, formerly known as the Carolina Road, an important Colonial trading path that extended from Maryland to North Carolina.

Selma Plantation stands in the background as a new housing development goes up.

The original estate at Selma was established in 1815 by Armistead Thomson Mason, nephew of George Mason. A 19th century house stood at Selma until it burned in the 1890s. The present Colonial Revival mansion was built in 1902 by Elijah White. The 1902 house is Loudoun’s earliest example of Colonial Revival architecture. Over the years, Selma has changed hands multiple times and is currently owned by Historic Selma Estates. It does not appear that Selma is currently for sale. 

Selma is part of the Catoctin Rural Historic District, a 25,000-acre area in northern Loudoun County that contains a mixture of historic churches, schoolhouses, bridges, small farms, and large estates.

Since 1999, no obvious maintenance or improvements have been made to the property. A 300-unit development was built near Selma which disrupted the viewshed from the mansion.  For these reasons, Selma was listed on Preservation Virginia’s Endangered Sites list in 2009.

Preservation Virginia‘s Endangered sites program helps raise awareness of Virginia's historic sites at risk from neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.
Preservation Virginia does not own or control the buildings we list. We encourage preservation-minded individuals or organizations to invest in endangered sites that are for sale or in need of financial assistance. If you are interested in visiting, researching, or purchasing any Endangered Sites listing like Selma Plantation, please contact owners, local real estate agents, or local city or county government officials in which the endangered site exists. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


Historic preservation has many local economic benefits, such as the hiring of craftsmen and skilled workers.  Since Preservation Virginia’s Tobacco Barns Project’s inception in 2012, over ten local jobs have been supported in the Pittsylvania, Halifax and Caswell County region.

These ten jobs represent five local building companies from Pittsylvania, Halifax and Caswell Counties who were hired in 2014 to repair barns as well as a local photographer; moreover, these companies will continue working with the barns project in 2015 and beyond.

William and Miles McNichols repairing a tobacco barn in Pittsylvania County

Not only are jobs being created, but these jobs go beyond the benefits of typical job creation by giving back to the entire community. For example, the barns that were repaired are all visible from the public right-of-way and could easily be incorporated into a regional tobacco heritage tourism initiative, such as a smartphone application-led driving trail.

By celebrating and supporting the deeply-ingrained agricultural history of the region, the barns project has had other positive outcomes such as strengthening local identity and reinforcing what people already know — that promoting local heritage is vital to the current and future well-being of their communities. These benefits are something that local jurisdictions and economic development departments should recognize.

Job creation aside, there are yet more examples of how historic preservation helps improve local economies:
  • Investing in a historic house is a sound investment. The lifespan of new buildings is between 40-50 years but most historic structures were built to last over 100 years. Houses in historic districts have proven to have higher property values than houses not in historic districts. Historic home owners are also eligible for historic rehabilitation tax credits.
  • Historic buildings attract people who want to improve and be active participants in their communities. For example, many people have moved to Danville in recent years for one reason — affordable historic houses. When these tax-paying citizens add so much to the local economy, Danville’s historic districts should be considered prime economic assets. 
  • Historic buildings, sites and main streets attract visitors. Tourism is Virginia’s second largest industry. The city, town, or county that does not take advantage of its tourism potential is making a huge economic blunder.

Von Wellington of Wellington Film Group recording the repair of a tobacco barn

The reach of the Tobacco Barns Project serves as an example of the kind of inclusive program that localities should take to heart and it helps demonstrate that historic preservation in the 21st century is not just about saving elaborate houses owned by a town’s former leaders, but rather the recognition of a wider, more inclusive and shared history that also comes with many economic benefits.

Monday, January 19, 2015

10+ Years of Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites Program: A Report Card

The Town of Pamplin City, listed in 2014.

Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites list has helped focus the advocacy and field work of its staff each year for the past decade.  The list includes buildings, archaeological sites, cultural landscapes, and viewsheds across the Commonwealth that face imminent or sustained threats to their integrity or their very survival. The list is issued to help raise awareness of Virginia's historic resources at risk from neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.  The intent is not to shame or punish those responsible for the stewardship of these places, but to bring attention to the threats described and to encourage citizens, localities, and organizations to continue to advocate for their protection and preservation.

Early on, the first several years of the program were administered bi-annually (in 2000 and 2002) by the Preservation Alliance of Virginia.  Following the merging of that organization’s mission with that of   Preservation Virginia in 2004, annual lists became the norm from 2005 to the present.  Selected by a committee comprised of staff, board and committee members, and experts in the field from around the state, the aim of the list is to raise awareness of a diverse range of historic resources from communities around the Commonwealth.  Once selected, each year’s list helps guide staff for how best to engage with and advocate for sites.  With limited staff resources, focusing efforts on resources previously identified through the listing process helps us to better leverage our work in localities statewide.  Of course, preservation emergencies or new issues brought to the attention of staff are always addressed, too.  Finally, it should be noted that once listed, a Most Endangered Historic Site never truly gets removed from the list or our consideration.  Unless definitively “saved,” listings are monitored and lines of communication with the site’s nominator or contact are kept open.

Current Status

As of the current writing, updates and status reports for each listing from the beginning of the program in the year 2000 through 2014 have been added to Preservation Virginia’s website.  Where available, pertinent links to news stories and reports are included with the listings to help contextualize them but are in no way exhaustive.  For the purpose of exploring the success of the program and the nature of threats that Virginia’s historic resources face, as well as providing a quick way to reference their current status, each listing has also been “graded” into four categories.  While the particulars of each site are unique and nuanced, the following four categorizations can be used to characterize each listing:
SAVED:  The immediate threat to a resource has been overcome and is not likely to reappear in the foreseeable future

LOST:  The resource has been demolished or its integrity altered enough to jeopardize its register eligibility

STILL ENDANGERED:  The threat present at the time of listing is still active, unresolved, and/or could likely reappear in the foreseeable future
WATCH LIST:  The resource is not currently, actively endangered but may still face threats and should continue to be monitored

In order to create a type of “report card” for assessing the success of the Most Endangered Historic Sites program, we’ve categorized the current status of listings up through 2013, as above, and have identified the types of threats as well as the leading factor or reason that a site is now considered to be “saved.”  Some very clear patterns develop from this way of looking at the reasons for a site’s current status and how it came to be saved.  For this exercise, each “saved” listing was only counted once, for the most prevalent reason it was saved, though it should be noted that many sites have successfully avoided harm due to multiple factors enumerated below. 

Since the beginning of the Most Endangered program (through the 2013 list), approximately:

·         51% of listings are SAVED
·         25% are on the WATCH LIST
·         13% are LOST
·         11% are STILL ENDANGERED

Types of Threats

Overwhelmingly, if one were to assign a singular reason for a site being threatened, the biggest danger for historic resources in Virginia comes in the form of encroaching development.  Whether an old building threatened with wholesale replacement or a site facing a fate of being swallowed up by new development, 43% of listings cited development and expansion as the main reason for inclusion on the list.  Demolition by neglect or abandonment was the next most popular threat, at 33%.  Roughly 10% of listings can be seen as threatened because of transportation expansion or infrastructure-related projects.  Approximately 6% of listed sites cited unavoidable external threats like damage caused by weather, while the remaining 5% cited a lack of funding for the reason the site was in jeopardy.  Most Endangered listings often face multiple threats, some of which unfold over time.  For the sake characterizing the general trends in Virginia over the past nearly 14 years, each site’s main threat was counted once.

Encroaching development: 43%
Demo by Neglect: 33%
Transportation/Infrastructure expansion: 10%
External threats/weather: 6%
Lack of funding: 5%
Other: 3%

How Sites Were Saved

Much like the multiple and varied threats that have and still face historic sites in the Commonwealth, the reasons or factors behind the more than 50% of listings that we consider to be saved are numerous and often intertwined with one another.  That is, any combination of grassroots efforts, funding sources, governmental intervention, or other factors could be responsible for a site being saved.  In order to characterize the overarching reason that a listing was successful, we have attributed to each listing one predominant factor, with the understanding that others apply as well. 

Almost 50% of the successful listings since 2000 can be attributed primarily to the grassroots efforts of local supporters, whether individuals or groups, however formally organized.  From concerned citizens to friends groups to fully-incorporated 501©3 private non-profits, it becomes clear that work at the local level is the most effective way to save a site.  Whether influencing elected officials at the locality level, private interests, or others, the power of a coalition of people with a shared interest in a resource is not to be underestimated and forms the approach for how Preservation Virginia works with Most Endangered listings.  By helping local groups to organize, strategize, and raise awareness of an issue, Preservation Virginia can help save sites across the Commonwealth.  In 24% of listings, securing funding from non-governmental, private, or corporate sources has been enough to turn an endangered site around.  Also at 24%, some kind of governmental action, whether funding or more often a zoning change, has helped save an endangered listing.  In only a couple instances, less than 5%, larger or more global external factors, like the economic downturn in 2008, can be credited with effectively stalling or tabling development or expansion plans.

Grassroots/local efforts: 48%
Funding (private or corporate): 24%
Governmental intervention/action including funding: 24%
External factors (economic recession): 4%

Why lost?

On the other hand, the main contributing factor for more than 50% of the sites on the list that are considered LOST was the realized threat of development.  In almost all cases, the listed resource was demolished to make way for a new structure (whether it was ultimately built or not).  Finally, approximately 30% of those properties or sites LOST are attributable to external factors like severe weather events or fire.  In a few cases, a resource was lost because of governmental action (8%) or a dire funding situation (8%).   

Development: 54%
External factors (weather, fire): 30%
Governmental action: 8%
Lack of Funding: 8%

Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered program has proven to be an effective tool for helping to save sites across the Commonwealth.  It focuses Preservation Virginia’s work in the field and has yielded multiple thematic projects across the state, like the Tobacco Barns Preservation Project and the forthcoming Saving Virginia’s Rosenwald Schools initiative.  Most Endangered listings help to strengthen existing and create new partnerships and collaborations, from the most local level to the national.  For example, two high-profile Most Endangered listings- Richmond’s Shockoe Bottom and the James River viewshed- have also been included on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s national 11 Most Endangered list; Preservation Virginia has been working with the Trust to coordinate advocacy efforts in Virginia, much like local non-profits or groups of citizens do at the local level with our statewide listings.  Taken on the whole, it is clear that the success of historic preservation is the result of the people involved in the effort, from the nominators and supporters of listings at the most local and intimate level, to leveraging the input and sway of organizations and other entities at the statewide scale and beyond.

The complete graphic representation of the program that accompanies this narrative can be found at the following link:

For more detailed information on past and current Most Endangered listings and for information on how to nominate a resource for the 2015 list, see: