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  • Mar 24

    Authentic Port Royal, Virginia

    By: Carolyn Davis, Historic Port Royal, Inc. and
    Sonja Ingram, Field Representative, Preservation Virginia

    Catlett House  1760

    Powers-Holloway House  1775

    Town Hall Lyceum and Masonic Lodge

    Port Royal, in Carolina County, Virginia has more authentic 18th century homes than Williamsburg, yet not many people know about it.  This small, historic town on the Rappahannock River is a dream for history and architecture buffs, but it is also in need of help because several of its most historic buildings are unoccupied and falling into disrepair. 
    Port Royal Residence  1745

    In February 2014, staff members of Preservation Virginia and the Virginia Department of Historic Resources visited Port Royal and were welcomed by Cleo Coleman, Phyllis Carpenter and Carolyn Davis, members of Historic Port Royal; Kathy Beard, the Caroline County TourismDirector and two other Port Royal residents.

    Cleo Coleman, President of Historic Port Royal, gave the group a brief talk about the history and significance of Port Royal. Some of the interesting facts Cleo discussed included:

    • Port Royal was established in the 1650s along the Rappahannock River as a port for shipping goods to Scotland, England and Jamaica;
    • Dorothy Roy, the first woman to own and operate a tobacco warehouse in the colonies, lived at Port Royal.  Today, all that remains of her home are two tall chimneys on Route 201; however the chimneys have been stabilized and interpreted and can be seen by all who drive on Route 301;
    • Port Royal has the 2nd oldest Masonic Charter in Virginia;
    • John Wilkes Booth fled to Port Royal from Maryland on April 24, 1865 seeking shelter at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House after he assassinated President Lincoln.
    Brockenbrough-Peyton House 1765

    Our group was given a tour of the town as well as inside two of Port Royal’s houses-- the Powers-Holloway House (tour lead by Billy Booker, grandson of the current owner) and the Brockenbrough-Peyton House .  In 1865, after killing President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth fled Washington D.C. to Maryland and then to Virginia where he crossed the Rappahannock River at Port Royal and sought refuge at the Brockenbrough-Peyton House. 

    As the story goes, three confederate soldiers rode up to the house seeking overnight lodging for their friends Booth and Davy Herold; but Sarah Jane Peyton (1830-1907) wary of the strangers, denied their request. They then continued west of town to the Garrett Farm where Booth was later killed. 

    Historic Port Royal, Inc. has done an enormous amount of work to protect and interpret Port Royal including installing interpretive kiosks around town and operating the local museum which has collections ranging from local Native American artifacts to White House China. The museum also has a fabulous Tolewarecollection. If that wasn’t enough, a fully restored Rosenwald School sits beside the museum on Route 301 which is used by students today for living history programs.

    If you are driving on Route 301 make sure to turn at Dorothy Roy’s chimneys and visit this place full of authentic Virginia history.
    Chimneys of Dorothy Roy's House
  • Dec 27

    Tusculum Available for Purchase (some assembly required)

    Today the bones of Tusculum, an outstanding example of mid-18th century domestic architecture originally built in Amherst County, lie in storage at Sweet Briar College. Tomorrow, it could begin a new life as someone's home.

    In 2006, the college purchased the deconstructed house from our Revolving Fund with the intention of reconstructing the building on the campus of Sweet Briar. The structure, with some additional retrofitting, would have housed the Tusculum Institute, an historic preservation resource center providing education and outreach to the campus and the wider region. Plans were developed, a site selected and fundraising began shortly after the purchase. The parts of the house which had been carefully dismantled and preserved were moved into safe storage on campus. However, despite ambitious fundraising efforts, it became clear to Sweet Briar that the necessary funds could not be raised within the time frame agreed upon when the project was first planned.

    Sweet Briar is now seeking an alternate steward to take on the reconstruction of Tusculum. They are soliciting proposals through March 1, 2014. Full details of the RFP are available on the Tusculum Institute Website, or RFP for Rebuilding Tusculum Website.

    The framing is well preserved; much information of the deconstruction is available and even compatible materials for replacing missing elements are included. This project is one to challenge and satisfy even the most ardent and ambitious preservationist (and might even make the most unique Christmas gift ever).
  • Sep 4

    Resurrecting an Episcopal Church in Southwest Virginia

    In Eagle Rock, in northern Botetourt County, a little church is coming back to life.  Parishioners from St. Mark's Episcopal, in Fincastle, are taking an interest in this rural community (about ten miles away) and have decided to try to restore this beautiful white frame church.  Built in 1885, a classic example of the style known as Carpenter Gothic, Emmanuel was the first church in Eagle Rock, and served as the heart of the community for many years. By the 1960s, however, the population of this rural town had dropped off, and the decision was made to curtail the services to just twice a year. Then, about two years ago, Fr. Stephen Stanley, Priest Missioner for St. Mark's, pledged to find a way to begin holding services there again and to explore possibilities for his Fincastle congregation to participate in the life of Eagle Rock. 

    Two parishioners, Sidney and Tommy Hunter, who live in Eagle Rock, are delighted with this initiative. They have cheered us on, despite the daunting problems.  For one thing, there were thousands of honey bees happily ensconced in the walls, so various "bee removal" experts had to be consulted.  The interior walls were covered with mold and mildew, so work crews had to be recruited to wash and scrub.  The doors have now been painted bright red, and a beautiful new sign announces the name - Emmanuel Episcopal Chapel.

    The diocesan youth coordinator scheduled a "Mass on the Mountain" service in May, and then brought the youth back again in July to help paint the interior. Members of the local Ruritan Club also joined in on the fun, offering us the use of the Fire House, and other forms of hospitality.  A new organization has formed, called Friends of Eagle Rock, giving us a chance to better coordinate all the projects as they unfold.  The Ruritans, by the way, are working to renovate and reopen a community center that had been scheduled for demolition.  Their enthusiasm is contagious!

    We are now hoping to find grants to support the next phase of work, involving major repairs to the sacristy and roof, and repainting the exterior.  Perhaps you can help. We are looking for historians and architects who know something about the history of Carpenter Gothic Churches.  In 1883, church trustees borrowed $250 from the American Church Building Fund, in New York, and paid it back within two years.  It would be nice to know if the Church Fund provided plans and materials, and perhaps shipped them to Virginia by train. 

    We discovered that another church in our diocese, Stras Memorial, in Tazewell, was constructed about the same time, in just two months!  It would have been hard to build a church in such a short time unless there were ready-made plans, and even, perhaps, a shipment of materials…just like the Sears mail-order homes of the early 20th century.  After doing some research online, I discovered that these churches, with pointed windows and steep roofs, were popular in rural communities throughout the United States from about 1870 to 1900. A word of caution, though - before you know it, you'll have found a Carpenter Gothic church in your hometown and launched a renovation project of your own!

    Ellen Apperson Brown
    Friends of Eagle Rock
  • Jul 26

    Previous Endangered Sites- Talbot Hall

    The unsuspecting traveler through a suburban Norfolk neighborhood might be surprised to find Solomon Talbot’s 1803, two-and-half-storied Federal style house sitting on the banks of the Lafayette River.  But Norfolk residents and members of the Diocese of Episcopal Southern Virginia have long treasured the quiet setting for contemplation and reflection.
    The Talbot Hall Foundation nominated the house and grounds when the Diocese of Southern Virginia announced plans to consider the sale of the property.  While Preservation Virginia took no position on where the Diocesan offices or bishop’s residence should be, we did encourage stewardship of the historic property.

    Once part of a 2000 acre farm, the house and its lush grounds have provided a retreat from the bustle of Norfolk.  As the Talbot family home, the house survived the events of the War of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as the end of racial discrimination and the transition from farmland to suburbia.    A bas-relief of the Federal Seal adorns the parlor wall over the fireplace, and a large porch with Doric columns catch the afternoon breezes along the Lafayette River.  The riverside lawn is shaded by a group of specimen trees—each selected and planted to frame the river view from the house.    The Talbot family gave Talbot Hall in 1954 to be the official residence of the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and the Diocesan offices.
    So what has happened since May 2012?  After the Church’s governing board commissioned a study in December and engaged Harvey Lindsey Corporate Real Estate Services to sell the property. Listed at $4.25 million, the Talbot Hall Foundation continues in their efforts to persuade the Diocese to protect the property.  Our advice remains the same to the Diocese:

    ·        List the house on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register and
    ·        Donate historic and land conservation easements to protect the house and the viewshed. 

    If those steps are taken, then Talbot Hall will survive for another 210 years and the historic landscape will be preserved.
  • Jul 16

    Previous Endangered Sites- Zirkle Mill

    The town of Forestville, located in the lower portion of Shenandoah County, is distinguished by its sense of community and its sense of history.  In 2005 that continuity was threatened when the Frontier Culture Museum had its eye on Zirkle Mill.  The plan was to move Zirkle Mill to Staunton where it would be the centerpiece of their 1850s industrial exhibit. 

    Rob Andrews and Sherryl Andrews Belinsky formed the Save the Zirkle Mill Foundation and nominated Zirkle Mill to the 2005 Virginia’s Most Endangered List. With perseverance, resourcefulness and a “can do” attitude, these descendants of the original Mill owners brought their fight to Governor Warner and succeeded in acquiring the Mill.  Now they are balancing the competing needs of restoring the Mill and providing educational programming. 

    As Preservation Virginia continues to re-visit past endangered sites listings, seeking status updates and checking in with those preservationists familiar with past listed sites and the work required to save them, we hope to share words of advice and support for others.  Rob’s advice to endangered site supporters is similar to his approach to saving and preserving the Mill, that is, straightforward:  Educate yourself, have a plan, and stick to it.  Rob said, “This is important in overcoming almost every objection to a preservation project, especially questions like “where does the money come from?”  The major concern [the previous owner] had about sale of the Mill was where the money was to come from to protect it.”  He went on to say, “The Endangered Sites List should be used as a reinforcement of the preservation effort and as a trump card in difficult situations.  Use it only as needed.”

    Rob and his sister continue to pursue the preservation of Zirkle Mill and they took their own advice about educate themselves in restoration methods, techniques, and processes.  Rob acknowledges the hard work involved and the tendency to want to find short cuts.  He cautions to “avoid the easy way out” and stay the course.  Today, Zirkle Mill is saved and has a preservation plan.  The Mill is open for group tours and special events.  To learn more about Zirkle Mill visit:
  • Jun 6

    Some Very Old Tobacco Barns

    As the tobacco barns survey winds down we were able to survey what we believe are two of the oldest tobacco barns in Pittsylvania County.  Both barns are owned by Jay Nuckols, who lives in a nearby house built in 1828.

    Most of the approximately 260  tobacco barns surveyed have been of log construction, but one of Mr. Nuckols’ barns is a wood-framed barn joined together with mortise and tenon joints− the only tobacco barn we have seen during the survey of this type of construction.

    Mr. Nuckols's frame tobacco barn with mortise and tenon joints
    This frame barn is also much larger than typical tobacco barns and has six “rooms” while most tobacco barns have either 4 or 5 rooms.

    “Rooms” are the spaces between the tier poles where tobacco was hung on sticks to be cured. Mr. Nuckols recalled that his Grandfather referred to this barn as the “prize barn.” Prizingis a term used to describe packing cured tobacco into hogsheads or other containers for transport.  A prize was a huge wooden screw used to tightly compress the tobacco.

    Interior of log tobacco barn showing rooms
    Mr. Nuckols is uncertain if the barn served as a curing barn first and later as a prizery; or if another, now gone, adjacent structure existed where the prizing took place.

    Mr. Nuckols’ second barn was constructed of hand-hewn logs and appears to have been built slightly later than the wood-framed barn.  It is very large and also has six rooms.  The logs are massive with most measuring over a foot in width.

    Interior of log barn showing the massive logs used to construct it
    This barn was originally a curing barn but was later converted into a pack house.  A pack house was a barn where tobacco was stored after it was cured and while it was waiting to be graded, prized and sent to the market. 
    Pack houses typically have a pit beneath them where tobacco could be transferred to make it more pliable before it was graded. A pit was at some point excavated under this barn for this purpose.
    Nuckols’ and his family’s residence, known as Stonewold, was built by Edmund Fitzgerald, Jr. in 1828. The house is a one and a half story frame house sitting on a full English basement. Much of the interior woodwork is marbleized.
    Stonewold, the Nuckols' residence

    While the exact dates of construction of the tobacco barns are unknown; given their unusual characteristics and the nearby 1830s house, they most likely date to the early 19th century.
    Two of the family pets playing near an antique kettle

  • Apr 19

    "Tired-Looking" Previous Endangered Sites- the Carver School in Alexandria

    In 2009, Preservation Virginia listed the Carver School in Alexandria’s Uptown/Parker-GrayHistoric District to our Most Endangered Sites List.  The building, which sits in one of Alexandria’s historic African-American neighborhoods,  was once a nursery school for African-American children and later served as home to the William Thomas American Legion Post- named after the first African-American soldier from Alexandria to die in World War I. The building also served as a center of community and cultural activity for African-American Alexandrians during segregation.
    Local residents discuss the Carver School
    The structure was approved for demolition in 2010 by the local Board of Architectural Review and city council in 2010 but the decision for demolition was delayed when the  Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance appealed to the Circuit Court of Alexandria to stop the demolition.

    The owner of the school, William Cromley, agreed to put the schoolhouse on the market for two years in hopes that someone would purchase, repair and reuse it; but in those two years, no one has come forward and the agreement has now expired.

    Local residents and members of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance have now formed the Carver School-American Legion Post 129 Committee to formulate a new plan based on private donations and grants  in attempt to save the building. Earlier this year, the Alexandria City Council, passed a resolution supporting a plan to acquire the building; however, most council members have said repeatedly that the city will not buy the building.

    Just recently, Cromley again agreed to put off the demolition to allow the  Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance and the new committee more time to raise the money needed to save it; however, time is quickly running out for this unassuming, but important, piece of Alexandria’s history.  

  • Apr 17

    Lights! Camera! Action??

    In 2012, Preservation Virginia included the Ashland Theater on its list of Endangered Sites in the Commonwealth.  The Ashland Theater has been a landmark of the main drag through town since being built in 1940.  With its playful art deco detailing and dominant marquee, no one visiting Ashland could miss it! 

    As with many small town movie houses, it closed its doors in the mid 1990’s; a victim of a changing technological environment and a changing economic landscape for how most people view the movies.  This purpose built theatre building has searched for its proper role in this bustling college town ever since. 

    Fearing for its long term survival, the Ashland Main Street Association asked that this theater be added to our 2012 List.  Within weeks of the listing, some cosmetic and safety repairs were made to the exterior, raising all our hopes. 

    In the months since, little has happened.  The owner, who was sympathetic to the building being listed as endangered, continues to seek a viable end use that would justify the much needed rehabilitation.  The Town of Ashland is working alongside othr community groups seeking new life for the building

    Some more prominent theaters have found new life; most notably the National Theatre in Richmond and the Commodore in Portsmouth (I expect there are others that I am not aware of).  Some are still underway such as the Academy of Music in Lynchburg, which received a very significant pledge of support earlier this month and the Taylor Hotel in Winchester (which had a significant theater component and was included on our 2010 Endangered List!).

    Let’s hope that a success is in the cards for the Ashland Theater as well!  Once again, this building could be the center of The Center of the Universe!!
  • Apr 15

    Mr. Peanut Shines in Suffolk!

    Few things are more iconic of Suffolk than Mr. Peanut! 

    The Planters Peanut Company first located in Suffolk in the early 20th century to be close to the fields of Southside Virginia that grew (arguably!), the world’s finest peanuts.  In 1924, the founder of the company, Amadeo Obici and his wife expanded an 1870’s farmhouse into an Italian Renaissance style home on the banks of the Nansemond River.  Easily recognizable due to its prominent and colorful hipped, terra cotta tile roof, the house was the Obici home until Amadeo’s death in 1947. 

    The property was eventually re-developed into Sleepy Hole Golf Course with the Obici House serving as the clubhouse and a reception center for the community.  By the early 21st century however, the house was abandoned and rapidly deteriorating.  An ad hoc group formed as Citizens for the Preservation of the Obici House and refused to allow the house to be demolished.  Through persistent advocacy, they urged the City of Suffolk, by then the owner of the property, to preserve the house and its ties to the history of Suffolk. 

    In 2009, Preservation Virginia added The Obici House to its list of Endangered Sites. Because of the strength and determination of the local group, we chose The Obici House as one of the sites for our public announcement of the list. Using the publicity our designation helped generate along with their own efforts, the Citizens group was successful in having the City send out a request for rehabilitation proposals.  Ultimately, the operator of the golf course undertook the work.

    We are pleased to see, and as this prototroph taken last week demonstrates, that the Obici House is once again a centerpiece property.  While some early if not original elements were lost or replaced, the house is saved and the legacy of Amadeo Obici and Mr. Peanut are preserved in Suffolk.  Now everyone attending a function, or simply enjoying an afternoon of golf, can see the splendor that was, and is again, this fine house. 

    The Citizens can take great satisfaction in the success of their efforts. Suffolk proudly proclaims on a welcoming plaque the City's role in the saving of the house.  A good preservation success can reward many efforts.  Preservation Virginia congratulates all who had a role in the saving of this important place. 

    And, Hey! – next time you are in the Suffolk area come by and enjoy some peanuts, a nice round of golf and a beautifully preserved Obici House!
  • Apr 11

    Previous Endangered Sites- Booker T. Washington National Memorial

    Preservation Virginia is grateful to Carla Whitfield, Superintendent of the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Franklin County, for writing the following blog post. The Booker T. Washington National Monument was listed on Preservation Virginia’s Most Endangered Sites List in 2006 due to a proposed residential and commercial development that would occur on land adjacent to the park.  For more information about the Booker T. Washington National Monument please see this link.
    Booker T. Washington National Monument/ Preservation VA Endangered Sites List

    The nationally significant Booker T. Washington National Monument (BTWNM) was established on April 2, 1956 on the occasion of the 100th birthday of the renowned educator.  The Monument was administratively added to the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. The Monument comprises 239 acres located in the Westlake vicinity (Gills Creek District) of Franklin County and is administered by the National Park Service (NPS). 

    The Monument contains a visitor center, administrative offices and maintenance support and storage headquartered within the former Booker T. Washington Elementary School building, (a segregated school for African American children from 1954 – 1966). Cultural resources include a 1890s tobacco barn, marked archeological sites and historic features, cemeteries, the Plantation Trail which allows visitor access to the park’s Historic Area, and the Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail which loops through old field meadows and forests and introduces visitors to the rich diversity of natural resources located within the park. Twentieth-century replicas include the kitchen cabin, smoke house, horse barn, corn crib, blacksmith shop, hog pen, split rail fences, duck lot, and chicken house. While most farmscape structures are conjectural, the kitchen cabin location is accurately based on a 1959 archeology study.
    The plantation house, known as the “big house” during Washington’s tenure on the farm, burned in 1950. Its location is currently identified by an outline of stones that illustrate the dimension and size of the house. A second slave cabin structure believed to be the location of Washington’s birth, once existed to the east and behind the plantation house and is marked with a similar outline of stones. Both former structures have been located and identified through a 1999 Archeology Assessment. Heritage breed farm animals are kept at the park. Heirloom vegetables, dark-fired tobacco, corn, flax, and other 19th-century era demonstration crops are cultivated and harvested for interpretive setting and visitor education.

    Booker T. Washington National Monument preserves and protects the birth, childhood home, and emancipation site of Booker T. Washington while interpreting his life experiences and significance in American history as the most influential African American between 1895 and 1915. The park provides a resource for public education and a focal point for continuing discussions about the legacy of Booker T. Washington, slavery, and the evolving context of race in American society.

    Booker T. Washington National Monument is managed as an engaging educational center where Washington’s life and work and the complexity of American civil rights and race relations from the antebellum period to the present can be examined. This concept expands the mission of the site beyond its original legislative purpose as a memorial to Mr. Washington, noted “educator and apostle of good will.”  The goal is to create a dynamic, challenging environment in which visitors contribute their views on the issues presented through on-site interpretation of life on a small, slave-holding Virginia tobacco plantation. Living history presentations of life during Washington’s developmental years as an enslaved child, supplemented by ranger programs, special events, an orientation film, and interactive exhibits, provide visitors with a sensory immersion experience that lends understanding of the meaning and significance of Washington’s life and the Monument. 

    Resources are managed in a way to visually tell a compelling story. Existing historic and reconstructed structures, including buildings and fences, remain in situ to be preserved through regular maintenance. Some reconstruction of cultural landscape features may be undertaken from time to time if sufficient documentation is found. Natural resources have been baseline inventoried and are continuously monitored by park staff with assistance from the NPS Mid - Atlantic Inventory & Monitoring Program. The park is supported by a large and enthusiastic Volunteers-In-Parks Program and advocated for by the Friends of Booker T. Washington National Monument.

     Benefits of National Monument Designation
       A source of pride and identity and a benefit to the Franklin County community. The uniqueness of having a site that has been designated as being significant by the people of the United States of America, to be preserved and protected because of its importance and relevance to the American Experience.

       Raises profile of the site and brings new visitors.  Hotels, restaurants, tour guide agencies and local businesses all reap the economic advantages of national monument designation.

       Provides a unique opportunity to stimulate rural economies.  According to the NPS, every dollar invested in national parks generates $10 in return to local communities.   

       National monuments protect America’s most treasured lands, helping to guarantee they remain intact and unadulterated, while ensuring a lasting legacy for future generations.

    Planning Concerns

       In order to achieve its mission, the BTWNM must ensure that stream flows, both quantity and quality, are sustained in healthy condition.  Therefore, the success of the Monument is dependent on all actions within the watershed that affect flows in Gills Creek and Jack-O-Lantern Branch streams.

       Visitors to BTWNM bring with them the expectation of an experience that portrays the mid-nineteenth century environment into which Mr. Washington was born and spent his early childhood years in slavery. An integral component of that experience is the visual experience.  In order to deliver the opportunity for such visitor experience, it is important that uses outside the Monument but visible from within the historical core be designed with sensitivity to the Monument mission. The viewshed from within the park must be considered to protect the historical integrity of the site and quality of the visitor experience.

    Planning and Development Context
    For most of the Monument’s existence, the land surrounding the park has remained rural and in agricultural use with very little development. The park was able to purchase an adjoining 15 acres along VA Route 122 road frontage and along the park’s east border in 2003 to serve as a buffer for town center development that was beginning approximately 1/8 mile from the park border.

    During the summer of 2005, Franklin County rezoned the land immediately east of the monument from Agriculture to Planned Commercial Development. A 57 acre parcel abutting the east boundary of the monument is proposed for high density development. Although the downturn in the economy has slowed development, a sewage pumping station has been installed along with line that runs the entire length of the park’s eastern boundary to a developed leach field just north of park property for future development needs. A new beer brewery is also near completion on the adjacent property and electric transmission infrastructure has been installed. Development of the entire parcel will schedule as the economy and development stabilizes in the Westlake town center area.

    The original development of Westlake that started in early 2000 has expanded to include many independent-living community homes, a medical center, and an emergency response helipad which maintains an emergency evacuation helicopter that flies response flights over the perimeter of the park several times a day.

    At the northwest corner of the park boundary, in 2010, a two acre parcel was clear cut of trees and since has been established as a two-trailer rental property. The park currently shares an entrance to its headquarters with residents who rent the trailers and the property owner who maintains the property. The trailers have impacted the viewshed from within the park and the formality of the park’s main entrance. The trailers are in clear view of visitors as they approach and enter the park main entrance from either direction on VA Route 122.

    A large tract of farmland along the park’s south border that has been in agricultural and forest use for generations was surveyed in 2012 and the current landowner is in negotiation with developers. The outcome of the future use of the property is unknown by the park at this time but changes to its current land use could dramatically impact viewshed and visitor experience since the park’s scenic Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail is located along the length of the same boundary. The Jack-O-Lantern Branch stream is the dividing boundary between the park and property and any future development that would take place if the land is sold and developed would impact the ecosystem health of the stream and its aesthetic contribution to the visitor experience.

    Booker T. Washington National Monument is working with community members, its Friends Group, and County planners to create awareness and hopefully mitigate impacts to park resources as a result of changes in surrounding land use. This cooperation will encourage developers and land users within the viewshed of the BTWNM to consider, at the design stage, how their potential development and uses might affect the Monument mission.

    Purchase of adjoining land by the National Park Service or implementing landowner conservation easements to preserve the surrounding agricultural setting is still a park-preferred alternative.  
    --Carla Whitfield