May is Preservation Month and we’re recapping previous Most Endangered Historic Places listings in the nominator’s own words. You can read updates on the Warm Springs Bath Houses and Gibson Cottage and the Carr-Greer House. Check back to hear updates on the Ashland Theatre and James River.
The following update is on the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum from their founder, Farron Smith.
What prompted you to submit a nomination for the Most Endangered Historic Places list?
The word “endangered” resonated with The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum. The principles of Preservation Virginia’s work to save historic sites that are vulnerable to deterioration was the catalyst for our museum’s submission. As a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization, the EBW Birthplace Foundation searched for opportunities to procure resources, publicity, and funds to protect the birthplace and childhood home of First Lady Edith Bolling Wilson – assistance that the Most Endangered Historic Places provides for worthy historic based endeavors.
What condition is the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum in today?
The Bolling Building, dating to the 1840s, is the oldest commercial brick building in the Town of Wytheville. While the Bolling Home is in poor condition, the Bolling Building as a whole is in generally sound condition with relatively minor deterioration.
How did being included on the Most Endangered Historic Places list help amplify your preservation efforts?
By being designated on the list of Most Endangered Historic Places, the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum has benefited from increased visitation, increased publicity, increased support, and increased awareness of the needs of this historic site. As a result, the Foundation has moved closer to its mission to restore the Bolling Home and promote the life and legacy of First Lady Mrs. Wilson.
How has the local community supported preservation efforts for your listing?
Community support is growing as we move into the second decade of the museum’s existence. The award of the Preservation Pitch grant of $2,000 in 2013, provided the needed seed money to begin renovation on the sidewalk to create an attractive, accessible entrance for visitors to this national historic site. The new sidewalk not only resulted in compliance under the American’s with Disabilities Act, but the new brick entryway spurred a successful fundraising “Buy-A-Brick” campaign bringing new visibility to the museum.
The funds from this campaign provided the means to construct the sidewalk and the engraved brick promotion continues to bring in funds to the museum. The sidewalk project gave the community a tangible way to support the museum and it has brought a sense of pride to the community. In addition, the Town of Wytheville was impressed with the appearance of the museum’s new entryway and recently completed bricking all sidewalks in Downtown Wytheville. The museum’s sidewalk initiative led the way in this revitalization effort by the Town.
How can the public further support your listing today?
The sidewalk entryway project was just one of the many improvements needed for public access to the museum and Bolling Home. Without an elevator, many people with special needs and the elderly cannot climb the steep stairway to the Bolling Home. To that end, a Historic Structures Report is imperative to the restoration of this historic site. By supporting a Historic Structures Report, the public can help address the funding of an elevator and other such necessities.
In addition, support is needed to grow the volunteer family for the museum. Volunteers are the heart of any non-profit, and attracting new volunteers to this museum will provide resources to develop new educational programs and improve the visitor experience to the museum and Bolling Home.
What advice would you give to local organizations or individuals trying to preserve historic places in their communities?
While undertaking the preservation of a historic place can be overwhelming, working with organizations such as Preservation Virginia can be a life-saver. These organizations provide guidance, educational tools, and many times funding to fulfill the mission of historic places. Preservation takes the combined efforts of visionaries, philanthropists, and governments. Networking provided by Preservation Virginia and other like organizations can be instrumental to the success of any endeavor of a historic place. It takes a village!
Your support makes programs like the Most Endangered Historic Places list possible. Be a voice for historic places and stand with Preservation Virginia as we advocate for these historic sites by making your best gift to the Annual Fund. Together, we can preserve Virginia’s shared history, promote new vitality in communities and protect the places that make Virginia unique.