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.

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