Virginia's Most Endangered Historic Places List
Most Endangered Historic Places List 2023
Nine individual locations and two thematic nominations facing substantial threats were named to this year’s list.
RICHMOND, Va. (May 9, 2023) – Each May, National Historic Preservation Month, Preservation Virginia releases a list of historic places across the Commonwealth facing imminent or sustained threats. The list, which has brought attention to 170 sites in Virginia, encourages individuals, organizations and local and state governments to advocate for their preservation and find solutions that will save these unique locations for future generations. The program has a track record of success. Only 10% of the sites listed so far were lost to demolition or neglect.
This year’s program reflects some of the most pressing issues impacting historic places in Virginia and the nation, including threats from inequality, climate change and flooding, large-scale industrial development, lack of stewardship and changes in urban planning to accommodate increased housing needs. Partnerships are needed on local, state and federal levels to find adaptive, collaborative solutions for preserving unique historic sites for the benefit of Virginia communities.
“Historic places are at the forefront of debates about the environment, affordable housing, and smart growth,” said Elizabeth S. Kostelny, Preservation Virginia CEO. “We need to work together to address these issues while preserving locations that still have so much to teach us about our collective past and our present. Once a historic place is demolished, it’s gone forever.”
Click here to see a map of all of the sites on the list. More information, images, and updates on the individual listings can be found by zooming in on the map and clicking the icons.
Historic Resources Associated with African American Waterman of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay
The Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States which stretches from Virginia to as far north as New York, was first inhabited over 10,000 years ago by indigenous people drawn to its abundant wildlife and expansive waterways. The Chesapeake Bay is also a significant setting for African-American history. Before Emancipation, the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers were important pathways along the Underground Railroad. African Americans in the Chesapeake Bay have also been key contributors to Virginia’s seafood industry.
The bay today is inhabited by both the Native American and African American descendants of watermen; however, the physical presence of their oyster shucking house, marinas, landings, boat building facilities, blacksmith shops, institutional and community buildings, and houses are disappearing as sea levels rise and new development occurs.
Aside from sea level rise and development pressures, environmental damage caused by natural disasters, pollution and shellfish disease have been very detrimental to the bay, its fisheries, the places that hold the history and culture of the watermen and the people who live and work in its environs.
In 2021, the Department of Historic Resources announced the African American Watermen Project in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay, the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership, Commonwealth Preservation Group and R, K, and K Civil Engineering to complete this project. The project involves the African American Watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Survey and the creation of a Multi- Property Document, or MPD, to serve as a basis for evaluating the National Register eligibility of Watermen sites and communities.
The survey and subsequent MPD identified a variety of resources associated with, or potentially associated with, African American watermen in the Virginia Chesapeake Bay region, and allowed for the development of a much-needed historic context on the topic. It also shed light on the number of historic sites that have already been lost to time, many within the last five to ten years. Some Watermen sites are still active and in good condition, however many suffer from vacancy and neglect. The rural, coastal location of most waterman communities makes them increasingly vulnerable to redevelopment, and recurrent flooding and sea-level-rise puts many at even more risk. Very few have any zoning or other protections.
It is anticipated that listing sites associated with African American Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay to Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List will spark renewed interest in these culturally significant places, broaden engagement with the public and watermen communities and bring to light the real risks posed to the future of these resources and potential preservation strategies.
As a result of the completed African American Watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay survey and MPD project project, the consultants recommended that future phases of the project should continue to grow the list of identified and documented properties, and should also consider tracking vulnerable, at-risk properties and those that have been lost. Additionally, properties that have been or are at risk of being lost should be evaluated for their archaeological potential as below ground or submerged resources.
The rate at which these sites and resources are being lost highlights the urgent need to continue researching, engaging, and documenting the history and sites associated with African American watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay. Additionally, it is hoped that more individual sites or historic districts will be listed in the National Register of Historic Places under the MPD.
While recording these historic communities is a step in the right direction, it is also anticipated that listing these communities to Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List will help justify additional funding from public and private sources to conduct additional survey and oral history interviews, so that the legacy of African American watermen can be documented in perpetuity.
It is also important that the state continue to advocate for conservation of the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and fisheries so African American watermen who still live and work in the bay can continue to do so, and continue the cultural traditions and legacy of Black watermen and women for years to come.
More about African American Watermen Sites
Enslaved Black watermen and women caught and harvested seafood for the profit of White Virginians for more than two centuries. Black watermen were so prominent and important in the Chesapeake in the 1800’s, that they were often issued Seamen’s Protection Certificates, and classified as citizens years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
African American watermen, free and enslaved, were highly skilled. Their skills and traditions were passed down from generation to generation through kinship networks, and helped many develop a degree of autonomy and upward mobility.
During the late nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, African American men and women continued to make up a large majority of the workforce in the catching, harvesting, hauling and processing of various seafood industries in the Chesapeake Bay, especially for menhaden, oysters and crabs.
Even though Black watermen have had to adapt to years of the changing environment of the bay and its fisheries, their legacy is kept alive through the Black watermen still working the bay today who have made, and continue to make, significant contributions, not only to their local communities, but to Virginia and the nation’s history.
For more information, please contact Commonwealth Preservation Group, firstname.lastname@example.org, (757) 923-1900 and Gerald Boyd, Board Chairman and Curator of the Samuel D. Outlaw Blacksmith Shop Memorial Museum
1. Oystermen on the York River display catch and tongs, undated. Courtesy of Larry Chowning.
2. Locklies Landing Dock, Courtesy of Commonwealth Preservation Group and R, K and K Engineering for the Multiple Property Document Historic Resources Associated with African American Watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay
3. Shuckers from Savage & Mears Oyster and Clam House in Chincoteague break to pose for a photo, c. 1950. From Images of America: Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.
4. Cook’s Oyster & Seafood Company Oyster House and Processing Building, Courtesy of Commonwealth Preservation Group and R, K and K Engineering for the Multiple Property Document Historic Resources Associated with African American Watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay
5. Bayside United Methodist Church, Courtesy of Commonwealth Preservation Group and R, K and K Engineering for the Multiple Property Document Historic Resources Associated with African American Watermen of the Virginia Chesapeake Bay
Chapman-Beverly Mill, Broad Run
The Chapman-Beverley Mill, located on the Broad Run River at Thoroughfare Gap, was a prosperous 18th-19th century gristmill that is considered to be one of the tallest stacked stone buildings in the United States. Owned by Jonathan and Nathaniel Chapman, the imposing stone mill was first built in 1742 (rebuilt in 1858) most likely by enslaved African Americans who quarried the stone from the nearby Bull Run Mountains. The prosperity of the Chapman-Beverly Mill was enhanced in 1852 when the Manassas Gap Railroad was completed, passing beside the mill and reducing the travel time to Alexandria. The Mill produced grain and flour that fed generations of people in the Shenandoah Valley, as well as participants in seven wars, including the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War.
The Chapman-Beverly Mill occupies a strategic location. Thoroughfare Gap is a natural pass through the Bull Run Mountains that leads to the Shenandoah Valley. People from prehistoric times to the present day have traveled this route making it a critical commercial passage between agricultural lands to the west and ports to the east. During wartime, the Mill’s use became vital. In August of 1862, the mill played a central role in the Civil War Battle of Thoroughfare Gap as sharpshooters used the mill’s upper floor windows to defend the pass.
In the early 20th century many grist mills became obsolete as larger, more efficient grain processors were constructed, but some historic mills still produce flour and feed today. Throughout the latter part of the nineteenth century and into the mid-twentieth century, the Chapman-Beverley Mill served the local and regional communities until it was closed in the 1950s.
After surviving many threats over the years, the mill suffered heavy damage by arson in 1998. The mill’s ruins, however, remain a striking and important local landmark. But, as is the case with most ruins, stabilization and maintenance are needed to halt further deterioration.
In a step towards preserving the mill, the Turn The Mill Around Campaign obtained ownership of the property and began the steps necessary to stabilize the walls of the mill. The goals of the non-profit include: preserving the mill, restoring the wheel and the mill race, providing public access and developing interpretive programs on the significance of the mill and Thoroughfare Gap.
The public access plans call for pedestrian pathways around the mill and along the head race to provide views of the millpond, flume, sluice gate, forebay and the 29-foot wheel and tail race. Visitors will also be able to enter the mill and gain a greater appreciation of its enormity and the beauty of the stone work. Interpretive signs will explain the milling process and the impact of the industrial site on the evolving economy of the area. Plans also call for the restoration and reuse of the stone mill store as an information outpost.
Archaeological evidence recovered from the Chapman-Beverly Mill site indicates that several domestic and industrial structures existed near the mill during its many years of prosperity. Protecting and further investigating the archaeological deposits could provide more important information about developments in milling and the people who built and worked in the mill. More support and funding are needed to carry out these goals important to local residents as well as visitors.
Preservation of Historic Mills
Preserving historic mills is important to the public’s understanding of the synergies between communities and local industries. Stabilizing and opening the Chapman-Beverley Mill to the public would be an opportunity to share the mill’s rich local history, and be a companion to the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, a 2,486-acre regional recreational and environmental preserve that straddles Virginia’s Prince William and Fauquier counties.
More Information on Thoroughfare
The Community of Thoroughfare is also significant as a thriving, tight-knit free-black community that developed during and after the Civil War. A handful of the original families still live in Thoroughfare today. A local historical marker for Free People of Color at Thoroughfare reads: “Families of African-American, Native American, and mixed ancestry migrated here from Fauquier, Culpeper, Rappahannock and Warren Counties after the Civil War. The Allen, Berry, Fletcher, Nickens, and Peyton families, along with former slaves from this area acquired parts of former plantations, built homes, and established the farming community of Thoroughfare which prospered through the 1940s.”
For more information, contact Turn the Mill Around Campaign, www.chapmansmill.org, 540.253.5888
1: Chapman-Beverly Mill historic image, Courtesy of Turn the Mill Around Campaign
2: Chapman-Beverly Mill historic image, Courtesy of Turn the Mill Around Campaign
3: Chapman-Beverly Mill, Courtesy of Turn the Mill Around Campaign
4: Chapman-Beverly Mill County interpretive sign, Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
5: Thoroughfare Gap Historical Highway Marker, Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
Dwellings of the Enslaved, Statewide
While individual dwellings for enslaved African Americans have been nominated before to Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List, the 2023 nomination seeks a more comprehensive approach due to the large-scale nature of threats, and the diminishing status of these dwellings in general.
Dwellings for the enslaved, in many cases built by enslaved carpenters and masons, are critical and complex cultural sites that embody the history of slavery and its legacies of racism and divisive politics in the post-bellum world and today. Once a widespread form of American vernacular architecture throughout Virginia’s rural and urban communities, few examples of housing for the enslaved survive as compared to the thousands of cabins and quarters that formerly existed in Virginia’s counties, towns and cities. There are no standing examples from the 17th century and only a handful from the 18th century have survived. Those surviving from the 19th century largely date to the late antebellum era (ca. 1830-1860).
Dwellings for the enslaved are tangible places that not only embody suffering, trauma, oppression and survival, they also represent domestic spaces that helped sustain families, communities and African American cultural heritage. They can also reveal negotiation and power struggles between the enslaved and enslavers, and the enduring Black resistance that grew from oppression.
After the Civil War, quarters for enslaved children, women, and men often became housing for free African Americans, at times working for their former enslavers as sharecroppers. As such, many quarters have even deeper Black histories and mark regional, family and personal histories that deserve to be respected and told.
While written documents can provide information about the lives of enslaved African Americans, few were written by or from the perspective of the enslaved themselves, so they rarely provide unfiltered insight into the lives of these people. Studying buildings associated with the enslaved, as well as the material evidence recovered through archaeology, can provide a more holistic understanding of these peoples’ lives, and insight into individuals who were not included, and in some cases purposefully excluded, from the written record.
Dwellings of enslaved people face a variety of threats, ranging from long-term deterioration and neglect to development pressures. From the research conducted by the Virginia Slave Housing Project, it has been determined that the physical survival of these buildings does not guarantee or equate to preservation, but that stabilization, repair and ongoing maintenance is crucial. Many standing cabins and quarters in poor condition will likely not last another ten years.
Another threat stems from continued residential and commercial development, which often leads to the willful destruction of these historic buildings and the related loss of their rural, agricultural landscapes. Former quarters also have been put to incompatible and insensitive alternative uses, leading to the extensive alteration of their interiors and the wholesale replacement of doors, windows, and roofs. Insensitive renovations that convert the former housing of enslaved people to modern guest houses often result in the near complete loss of period materials and finishes.
Dwellings for the enslaved are threatened cultural resources that need careful documentation, repair and preservation. Many are owned privately by conscientious individuals, but they do not have sufficient funds to maintain them, let alone carry out more complex forms of preservation.
While experts and organizations including Jobi Hill and the Saving Slave Houses Project, Joseph McGill and the Slave Dwelling Project and the Virginia Slave Housing Project have worked tirelessly to record, preserve and interpret slave houses, more educational and financial resources are needed to help private individuals and nonprofits preserve these buildings, as well as other historic sites of historically marginalized and underrepresented communities.
Appropriately preserving and interpreting slave dwellings, with input and collaboration from descendant communities, could help honor enslaved African Americans, their major resistance efforts and their unending strength and spirit. Preservation of these buildings can contribute to restorative justice, while also providing a meaningful place for more truthfully educating the public on broader topics related to the difficult history of race and slavery, especially since there continues to be no consensus or uniform recommendations on the educational curriculum around slavery, and how it affected people in the past, and how it continues to negatively impact people of color in Virginia and the nation today. For more information see Program sponsored by Historic Richmond.
Preservation Efforts of Historic Sites of Virginia’s Black, Indigenous, and People of Color
The Virginia General Assembly has recently made commendable and long overdue efforts to raise awareness, record and fund African American historic places in Virginia. In 2000, the General Assembly passed the African American Cemetery & Graves Fund to provide grants to support the maintenance and care of cemeteries established on or before December 31, 1947. The General Assembly also recently established the Virginia Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Historic Preservation Fund (BIPOC) to financially support Virginia’s historically underserved and underrepresented communities, and the cultural and historical sites associated with them.
Earlier this year, House Bill 1968 directs the Department of Historic Resources to install signs at historic sites listed in Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book. Written during the Jim Crow era, the Negro Motorist Green Book was a list of hotels, service stations, businesses, parks and houses where African Americans could safely stop while travelling. The Green Book was essential for the survival of thousands of Black Americans in an era of segregation, cemented into the American legal system through Jim Crow laws.
Similar legislation to record, investigate, protect and fund dwellings for the enslaved would be a substantial step towards the preservation of these important buildings that have the capacity to teach history and culture, and to lay the groundwork for social change.
For more information please contact Dr. Douglas Sanford, email@example.com, (540) 604-3034
- Dwelling for enslaved, Sharswood, Pittsylvania County. Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
- Dwelling for enslaved, McCormick Farm, Pittsylvania County. Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
- Ivy Cliff Dwelling for enslaved, Bedford County.Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
Last Headquarters of the Virginia Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, Hampton
Built in 1925 as a dwelling, the building located on Pembroke Avenue in Hampton would go on to become the Last Headquarters of the Virginia Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. The Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation, Inc., formed by Dr. Mary T. Christian, obtained the house in the 1990s with the purpose of renovating it into a museum and cultural center and continuing the work of the Virginia Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs. Dr. Christian, the first African American woman to represent Virginia’s 92nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates since reconstruction, died in 2019. After her death, the Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation temporarily halted the rehabilitation work of the Headquarters.
Threat and Solution
The Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation has completed a partial rehabilitation of the house, and has successfully advocated for both a state highway marker and a City of Hampton heritage marker for the site, but the foundation is in desperate need of support and funding to complete the work on the headquarters.
By successfully funding the completed renovations, the Headquarters will serve as a center to educate the public about Janie Porter Barrett and African American women’s clubs. The Barrett-Peake Heritage Foundation is not only involved with the renovation of the headquarters property, it also serves as a custodian of three cemeteries in Hampton: Elmerton, Bassette and Thornton Cemeteries.
Black Women’s Clubs
The Virginia Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs, an affiliate of the influential National Association of Colored Women, was organized In 1907 by educator and social reformer Janie Porter Barrett to address the needs of African American women and children.
Despite the efforts of many Black female reformers, black women as a whole were often excluded from civic, charitable and social clubs and organizations. White suffragists, for example, ignored the challenges African American women faced, and chose not to integrate issues of race into their organizations and campaigns. In response, Black women reformers began organizing their own clubs to improve education, health care, and home life, and to help increase economic opportunities and civil liberties of African American women. In 1896, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) was founded, which became the largest federation of local black women’s clubs in America.
Janie Porter Barrett
Born in Athens, Georgia in 1865, Janie Porter Barrett, the daughter of a former slave, completed her formal education in 1884 at Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University). At her home in Hampton, Janie Porter Barrett began organizing public educational courses, which eventually grew into the Locust Street Social Settlement. Over the next twenty years the settlement reached into every part of the Hampton’s Black’s community by offering clubs and classes devoted to childcare, cooking, gardening and quilting.
Janie Porter Barrett forged important alliances with African American business leaders, including Richmond banker Maggie Lena Walker, as well as White women’s organizations that helped the Virginia Federation purchase a farm in Hanover County in 1915 and establish the Industrial Home School for Colored Girlsー a rehabilitation center to provide safe housing, medical care and job training to unmarried young black women and their children.
Porter Barrett managed the school until her retirement in 1940, by which time it had become part of the state system of schools for poor and needy girls. Barrett also served as the president of the Virginia State Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs for twenty-five years , chaired the executive board of the National Association of Colored Women for four years, and used her influential position to advocate for black voting and participation in government, years before the Civil Rights Movement. In 1950, Barrett’s training school was renamed the Janie Porter Barrett School for Girls.
For more information, or to support or donate to the foundation, please contact Dr. Colita N. Fairfax, firstname.lastname@example.org, https://www.barrett-peake.org/
- Interpretive Sign of the Last Headquarters and Janie Porter Barrett,Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
- Last Headquarters of the VA Federation Colored Women’s Club, Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
- Virginia Historical Highway Marker of the Last Headquarters of the VA Federation Colored Women’s Club, Courtesy of Preservation Virginia
Town of Potomac Historic District, Alexandria
The Town of Potomac was formed in 1908, south of Washington, D.C., from a group of late-19th to early-20th century planned subdivisions, including Del Ray, Del Ray II, St. Elmo, Abingdon, Hume and Mt. Vernon. Each of the subdivisions had been laid out in grids of long blocks and served by light rail and trolley lines for daily commuters to Washington, D.C. These new commuter neighborhoods remained popular during World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II as demand for federal jobs and housing remained high. In 1930, the City of Alexandria later annexed the Town of Potomac. The annexed territory went beyond the borders of the town, and became known as the Del Ray Neighborhood.
Supported and funded by the City of Alexandria, the Historic Alexandria Foundation and the Del Ray Citizens Association, the Town of Potomac Historic District, representing a significant example of a planned suburban community served by expanding transportation opportunities, was added to the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1991 and to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. In 2017, the Historic Alexandria Foundation and the Del Ray Citizens Association contributed funds to re-survey the district, which increased the number of contributing buildings.
Today, the 1,840-acre historic district includes a concentration of residences, including an eclectic collection of Foursquares, Bungalows (many Sears kit houses), Colonial Revival, Folk Victorian, Mediterranean Revival, modified Queen Anne and Tudor Revival houses, that are pleasantly arranged in a comfortable pedestrian and development scale.
As a way to help maintain the neighborhood’s character, in 2015 the City of Alexandria had the Del Ray Residential Pattern Book created to provide a voluntary guide and informational tool for homeowners, builders and developers who were undertaking new construction, additions and renovations in the neighborhood. The pattern book is a brilliant tool, but being voluntary, it is unclear how many residents and developers have utilized it.
The popularity of the neighborhood’s architecture, scale and walkability is jeopardizing the very characteristics that have attracted people to it for years. Many recent residents and developers in need of larger living space are demolishing the historic, mid-sized houses to build new, often outsized and out-of-character houses in their place. Approximately 75 houses in the Town of Potomac Historic District have been demolished in recent years, and the rate of loss is accelerating.
While the desire to build new, larger houses close to the nation’s capital is understandable, the demolition of the district’s historic houses is eliminating the multiple benefits of preservation, including environmental benefits. By adding less building debris and waste to landfills and reducing material consumption, rehabbing and reusing existing buildings almost always offers environmental and energy savings over demolition and new construction.
Even though the Town of Potomac Historic District is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places, there is no local process to review, slow down, or prevent the demolition of the district’ contributing buildings. Implementing a local overlay district with guidelines and review by an architectural review board, such as in Old Town Alexandria and the Parker-Gray Historic District, could be a way to help stem tear-downs in the Town of Potomac Historic District.
Implementing a local overlay district would create a process in which the public could participate. A review process would not necessarily preclude demolition of historic buildings, but it would provide a thorough, transparent, and public process.
The creation of an overlay district must be done with a collaborative approach with input and consensus of a majority of residents. Reasons and benefits of establishing a local overlay district need to be investigated and discussed to ensure that the overlay helps to manage change and protect the original scale and character of the neighborhood, but also be flexible enough to welcome growth and innovation.
Alexandria has always been a model for preservation. The Alexandria Historic District Ordinance was the third established in the nation, and Alexandria’s Archaeological Resource Protection Code, passed in 1989, was the first such code in the nation to protect significant archaeological sites in a jurisdiction. But establishing an overlay district will take dialogue among city officials, residents, newcomers, and the preservation community to adopt creative and measured solutions that will prevent the indiscriminate destruction of community character, value the benefits of preservation, and still provide the flexibility to grow.
Willa Cather Birthplace, Frederick County
Famed American fiction writer and Pulitzer Prize-winner Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in an early-19th century log and frame house near Gore in Frederick County. However, compared to the nearby Cather family home Willow Shade, or her home in Red Cloud, Nebraska, her birthplace has received little of the recognition it merits as a literary site.
Originally owned by Cather’s great-grandfather, Jacob Seibert, Cather’s birthplace is a typical example of Shenandoah Valley vernacular architecture. In 1869, Seibert’s heirs conveyed the house and 4.5 acres of land to Cather’s grandmother, Rachel E. Boak. Rachel Boak’s daughter, Virginia, and Charles Cather were married in the house in December 1872. One year later, their daughter Willa was born in the home. The Cather birthplace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and the Virginia Landmarks Register in 1976.
After attempts to acquire the house by the National Willa Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska, proved unsuccessful, the property was recently purchased. The house, however, having been empty for years, is in a state of severe neglect. Vegetation has breached the envelope of the house, and water infiltration has resulted in significant damage to floorboards and framing. Major support and funding will be necessary to stabilize and restore the house.
The house needs a full evaluation and immediate stabilization. A multi-year restoration effort would be necessary before the home could be open to the public. The National Willa Cather Center and Preservation Virginia have committed to offering technical assistance to stabilize, restore and maintain the house.
More on Willa Cather
While Willa Cather and her literary work is not as well known in Virginia as it is in Nebraska, and her novels set in the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! and My Ántonia, have received the most acclaim, Cather has deep ties to Virginia. She spent the first years of her life in Virginia, and her last novel Sapphira and the Slave Girl, is set entirely in Back Creek, near Winchester.
A prolific writer with many fans, Cather has also been the subject of controversy over the years. Sapphira and the Slave Girl opened Cather up to harsh criticism due to its depictions of enslaved people and the delusional, race-based identities of the white characters.
For more information contact Tracy Tucker, email@example.com, (402) 746-2653, firstname.lastname@example.org
1. Cather, Willa, 1873-1947, Rinehart-Marsden, Omaha, Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Educational Foundation
2. Willa Cather Birthplace Historical Highway Marker, Courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources
3. Willa Cather Birthplace, Courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources
4. Willa Cather Birthplace, Courtesy of National Willa Cather Center
Historic High Schools in Virginia Cities: Maury High School School in Norfolk, Moore Street School and Thirteen Acres School in Richmond, and Peabody-Williams School in Petersburg
Hundreds of unused and neglected historic school buildings, facing unknown futures, exist today throughout the Commonwealth. Since the Most Endangered Historic Places List began more than twenty years ago, school buildings of all types from across the state have been listed, indicating an ongoing issue that needs comprehensive examination by local school boards and the communities.
This year, four threatened historic high schools located in three cities made the list, illustrating the need to address the lack of maintenance and funding in many school districts in Virginia. It is anticipated that including these schools on Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List will continue to bring public attention to the schools, and spur school boards into action to save these important places and put them back into use in their communities.
Maury School, Norfolk
Located in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood, Maury High School, designed by Norfolk architects Thomas P. Thompson and Clarence A. Neff Sr. and completed in 1910, is the oldest public high school in the city. Its classic Greek architecture makes it one of the most impressive school buildings in Hampton Roads and, arguably, in Virginia. Additionally, it is one of the few historic architectural assets in the city that survived the wholesale demolition of historic buildings during the urban redevelopment programs in the 1950s, and the razing of East Ghent through the Model Cities Program in the 1970s.
Threats: Maury High School remains in active use as a school on its original site. However, it has been underfunded and poorly maintained for many years and has well documented deficiencies including leaks and other issues to be expected without proper maintenance. Nevertheless, an assessment by an architectural firm hired by the school board does not indicate any major problems that would preclude renovation.
Solution: The school board is considering several options for the school, including: demolishing Maury School and building a new school in its place, renovating the school with upgrades to support educational needs of the 21st century, or transferring the school to a third party for another use and building a new school elsewhere on the site.
Regardless of the exact outcome, Preservation Virginia highly advocates for not demolishing the Maury School, and putting it back to use as a school or a different purpose. There are many examples that the Norfolk School Board could turn to of historic schools that have been rehabbed and put back to use as schools, such as the Maggie Walker Governor’s School, or repurposed for other reasons. With a coordinated effort, creative solutions can be found to strike a balance between preserving the historic school, providing a modern educational facility and not disrupting the adjacent neighborhoods.
More on Maury High School: Maury High School’s historic significance is tied to the history of school desegregation. After the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregation in schools was unconstitutional, opponents to school integration in Virginia attempted to close schools in Virginia if they were forced to integrate by the federal government. Norfolk was one of six communities that was impacted by this event, which displaced 10,000 students and was considered the largest school closing in Virginia.
The Norfolk school board eventually relented and made a decision to admit African American students if they were able to pass an admissions exam and go through entrance interviews. However, the tests administered were purposely one to three grades above the students’ current levels. After the deceit was discovered, a judge demanded that some of the students be admitted to white schools, and in 1959 seventeen students were admitted into all-white Norfolk schools. Louis Cousins, one of the Norfolk 17, was admitted to Maury High School. Despite being met with hostility, Cousins and the rest of the Norfolk 17 endured the pain and did not miss one day of school, to ensure that desegregation would happen. For more information, see https://www.norfolkpreservationcollective.org/maury-high-school
Moore Street School, Richmond
Built in 1887 as a 16-classroom, two-story, Italianate “open air” school, the Moore Street School is the oldest surviving public school purpose-built for Black students in the City of Richmond. In the early-20th century, Europe and the U.S. saw the rise of “open air” schools intended to create healthy environments to combat tuberculosis using the principles of sanatoria. Sometimes purpose-built, and sometimes converted spaces, open air schools provided fresh air and extra nutrition for at-risk youth. In 1951, Moore Street School became Carver Elementary when an addition was built on Leigh Street to become the new front. (Carver Elementary is now at 1110 W. Leigh Street)
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the Virginia Landmarks Register, the Moore Street School not only reflects the larger story of public education in Richmond, but also is socially and culturally important to the Carver neighborhood.
Threat: The Moore Street School has been vacant for at least fifteen years. A plan was developed for the school building in 2005, but was not carried through. The school could be demolished if a suitable restoration plan is not developed soon.
Solution: The Moore Street School Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to saving the Moore Street School, is interested in acquiring the school for a community performing arts training center and event space. The foundation has raised over $200,000 toward that end. If the Richmond School Board has no plans or further use for the school, they should consider transferring ownership to the foundation to make the school a vibrant and useful building for the community once again.
Thirteen Acres School, Richmond
Thirteen Acres School is a contributing structure to the Hermitage Road Old and Historic District in Richmond, and is listed on both the National Register of Historic Places and in the Virginia Landmarks Register. Built in 1885, Thirteen Acres is one of the oldest surviving homes in Richmond’s Northside. Originally built as a family farmhouse on a larger tract of land, it once held one of the largest victory gardens in Richmond during the Second World War. It was later used as a facility by the Virginia Methodist Home for the Aged.
In 1967, the house and 13 acres were sold to the City of Richmond to serve the Richmond Public Schools in various capacities, including as a school for children with special needs, offices for the community relations department and as a residential school. In the late 1990s, Holton Elementary School was constructed on the site in front of the historic building.
Threat: The building is abandoned and rapidly deteriorating. It needs immediate attention and repairs to prevent further water damage. The building has been damaged by vandals and vagrants at various times in recent years. If a redevelopment plan acceptable to the City of Richmond and Richmond Public Schools and other stakeholders is not found, the building could be demolished.
Solution: The Historic Richmond Foundation has prepared a set of options for future uses of the school building. These include retention for school use, redevelopment as a community asset, redevelopment for single family use, and redevelopment as part of a multi-family residential parcel. The Richmond School Board needs to work with the City of Richmond to develop a preservation plan for the site.
Peabody School, Petersburg
The Peabody-Williams School opened in 1920 as the public high school for African American students in Petersburg. It was the third building in Petersburg to serve as a high school for African American students, and the first built exclusively as a high school. The twelve-room brick structure was named Peabody School in honor of the Massachusetts Philanthropist George Peabody. The Peabody Building housed the high school, while its twin, the Williams Building (destroyed by fire in 1967), housed the junior high school. In 1923, the Federal Street Elementary School (later named the Giles B. Cooke Elementary School) was built one block to the rear of the Peabody-Williams School, thus creating a complex of educational buildings that included an elementary, junior high, and high school. In 1951, the newest and largest part of the complex was built, which was first used as an elementary school, and later as a high school.
Despite the passing of Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954, Peabody High School was not officially desegregated until 1970. The Peabody-Williams School is significant for African American history as it exemplifies the progress and changes of African American education over the course of more than 100 years. The African American community holds strong ties to the building, are passionate about its role in their lives and hope to see it recognized as important.
Threat: The Peabody School has been neglected for years, is deteriorating and needs immediate attention to prevent further damage. The exterior of the old Peabody building appears sound, but interior conditions are unknown at this time.
Solution: The City of Petersburg recently applied for a planning grant to determine the best and highest use for the property, but is waiting to hear back from the grantor. A group of Peabody alumni are also interested in preserving the school and have been attempting to purchase the complex for several years to rehabilitate and reuse it for educational purposes.
Currently, only the 1920 Peabody Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, however the remaining buildings would likely qualify for the register as well. Listing all of the buildings would qualify them for rehabilitation tax credits to offset the high costs of rehabbing the buildings. The school is too important to allow it to languish much longer in its current state. A collaborative approach is needed by the city, the alumni group, and other interested parties to examine the buildings, complete any necessary immediate repairs, and create a preservation plan for the school complex. The buildings may require mothballing if plans for reuse will extend into the future.
For more information, please contact the following:
Maury High School: Karen Reynes, email@example.com, (757) 771-2764
Moore Street School: Jerome Legions, Jeromelegions1@gmail.com, (804) 439-1309
Thirteen Acres School: Robert Balster, firstname.lastname@example.org, (804) 263-2334
Peabody-Williams School: Morgan Wolfe, email@example.com, (804) 895-8278
Revisiting Bristoe Battlefield in Prince William County, and the Continued Threat of Industrial Development to Battlefields
Prior to the Civil War, Bristoe Station was an important stop along the Orange and Alexandria Railroad in western Prince William County. During the war, Bristoe Station was used for encampments and burial grounds by several Confederate units. It was also the location of two important Civil War Battles: the Battle of Kettle Run, which was the initial engagement of the Battle of 2nd Manassas, and the Battle of Bristoe Station.
The Battle of Bristoe Station fought in 1863, which resulted in hundreds of casualties, marked the route of the advance of Confederate General William Kirkland’s brigade against the Union battle line, which was concealed in the Orange and Alexandria Railroad cut. Following the Union victory, two brigades of the U.S. Colored Troops camped at the site to protect the railroad bridge over Broad Run. These brigades later suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg.
Much of the Bristoe Station Battlefield has been preserved as the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, but one part of the Bristoe Station Battlefield that is not protected, a privately-owned, 85-acre portion which is owned by an industrial development firm, is slated for the development of a huge warehouse distribution facility. As envisioned, the facility would consist of six buildings, associated parking, drive aisles, utilities and storm water management facilities.
The landscape of this threatened part of the battlefield retains a high degree of integrity with original roadways and railroad lines. An archeological survey of the parcel identified battle areas, encampments, earthworks, hut sites and military burials on the property, and concluded that it is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Should the development be approved, the damage to the wartime landscapes will be devastating to residents and visitors. Being immersed in a historic landscape allows visitors to make connections across time to help understand the significant events that occurred at the locations.
The foremost solution for the current threat to the Bristoe Station Battlefield is a compromise, perhaps with incentives to the owners, to modify the site plan to preserve a significant part of the battlefield and add it to the already preserved Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, for the education and enjoyment of the public.
Preserved battlefields can act as a living laboratory for the study of military strategy, and help current and future generations better understand the connection between military conflicts and important social and political changes in history. More recently, emphasis has been placed on using battlefields to expand the narrative to include socially balanced approaches about the causes of the conflict, the aftermath of the conflict and impacts on non-military groups and families.
For Civil War battlefields specifically, more comprehensive social, political and economical aspects, including the consequences of slavery, the role and sacrifices of United States Colored Troops and women soldiers, and the war’s fundamental contradictions of our most sacred national principles, are being explored. Battlefields also contain important stories of indigenous people, whether by recognizing participants in the military conflict, the centrality of Indigenous people throughout the span of American history, or the lasting connections of Indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands.
Many preserved battlefields, including the Bristoe Battlefield Battlefield Heritage Park, also function as popular local outdoor recreational areas. Bristoe Park has more than 2.7 miles of hiking and equestrian trails surrounded by healthy ecosystems that support plants and wildlife.
Continued Threats from Industrial Development
The Bristoe Station Battlefield was added to Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List in 2014 due to significant development pressures. The current threats to the battlefield from massive warehouse development, and the overall threat of industrial development to historic battlefields in general, has necessitated the need to revisit the Bristoe Battlefield this year.
Last year two battlefields, Manassas National Battlefield Park and Brandy Station Battlefield in Culpeper, were added to the Most Endangered Historic Places List due to the threat from massive data centers, which are large industrial complexes that house acres of computer systems for storing virtual information. Even though 3,000 acres of a Data Center Opportunity Zone Overlay District, an area minimally invasive to residents and the surrounding environment, has been set aside specifically for data centers in Prince William County, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve rezoning of the land adjacent to the Battlefield for the data center construction.
Recognizing that all communities need development to remain strong, Preservation Virginia and organizations such as the American Battlefield Trust strive to ensure that developments are planned in such a way as to protect irreplaceable historic battlefields whose historic significance is fixed permanently by events that happened at precise, unmoving places.
For more information please contact John DePue, firstname.lastname@example.org, (703) 994-9023