Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places List
Virginia’s long and diverse history is evident in the Commonwealth’s historic buildings, sites, and landscapes. However, far too many of these places are vulnerable to damage and demolition caused by neglect, insufficient resources, inappropriate development, and insensitive public policies.
For more than 20 years, Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places list has advocated for these places, and helped to find solutions for their preservation. The intent of the list is to bring attention to threatened historic places in the Commonwealth, and to encourage residents, localities, and organizations to support preservation and revitalization efforts.
Our communities have recently been confronted with sudden and unprecedented health, social, political, and economic challenges that continue to impact our daily lives. These challenges have also affected the preservation, museum and history fields. While these challenges will likely reverberate for years to come, they have also illuminated the incredible resiliency of historic places and how important they are to our communities.
This year, we received an unprecedented number of nominations to the Most Endangered Historic Places list. We believe this increase in nominations directly represents growing public awareness of how important historic preservation is in the Commonwealth, and how important historic places are as we meet today’s challenges.
While all of the nominations are important, the 2021 list of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places reflects immediate threats to historic places that represent the complexity of our history, issues of equity, climate change and environmental justice, and the meaningful and intrinsic value that places of history provide in our communities.
As we celebrate May as preservation month with the release of this list, we redouble our commitment to opportunities for collaboration, partnerships, and reconciliation, but we continue to need your help to save these places. In no particular order of significance, the 2021 Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places are:
- Association Drive Historic District
- Civil War Battlefields in which United States Colored Troops Fought
- Conner House
- Fort Wool
- Green Book Sites
- Turkey Run House
- Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex
- Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
- River Farm
- Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground
Click here to see a map of all of the sites on the list.
Association Drive Historic District
Significance: The Association Drive Historic District is a group of nine Modern and Postmodern office buildings built between 1972 and 1991 that represent the initial concept, planning, and implementation of the Reston Plan–a significant mid-twentieth century, planned community in the suburbs of Washington D.C.
Threat: The historic district is threatened by the Soapstone Connector, a major Fairfax County, Virginia Department of Transportation and Federal Highways Administration road project to help alleviate traffic congestion in Reston. If approved, this project will result in the demolition of one of the buildings in the Association Drive Historic District, and it will open the door for future demolition of the other buildings in the historic district to make way for residential development.
Solution: An alternative or altered route for the Soapstone Connector would be the best solution to protect Association Drive. If no alternative route is achievable, an appropriate level of documentation through the National Park Service’s Heritage Documentation Programs should be completed as part of the mitigation requirements of the current Section 106 review required by the National Historic Preservation Act. Documentation would provide a permanent record of the Association Drive buildings, and help widen recognition and appreciation of modernist architecture and landscapes. The threats to the Association Drive Historic District highlight the fact that Virginia’s significant post World War-era, mid-century modern architecture is at great risk, and much more needs to be done to record, preserve and interpret these resources. For more information on Association Drive see The Soapstone Connector Supplemental Phase I Architectural Survey. For more information on recent history and architecture in Virginia see the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ New Dominion Virginia, Architectural Style Guide.
Jordan Tannenbaum at firstname.lastname@example.org
Civil War Battlefields in which United States Colored Troops (USCT) Fought
Significance: One hundred seventy-nine thousand men – many who were formerly enslaved – volunteered to fight as United States Colored Troops (USCT), a branch of the United States Army, and nearly 37,000 gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Many of the battlefields, including the St. Mary’s/Samaria Church Battlefield in Charles City County and the New Market Heights Battlefield in Henrico County, are steeped in history, but are also vulnerable to threats.
Threats: The St. Mary’s/Samaria Church Battlefield is directly threatened by the proposed expansion of an existing waste disposal site. The current landfill, as well as the area being considered for expansion, falls within the battlefield’s core area as defined by the American Battlefield Protection Program, an arm of the National Park Service. While parts of the New Market Heights Battlefield have been preserved, residential development and road projects remain threats for sizable areas of core battlefield areas.
For both battlefields, as well as others in which United States Colored Troops (USCT) fought, one of the underlying threats is the limited public understanding and appreciation of their significance.
Solutions: The proposed landfill expansion threatening St. Mary’s/Samaria Church Battlefield is currently undergoing environmental review under the Section 106 process of the National Historic Preservation Act. During this review, it is expected that the significance of the USCT involvement will be fully examined. The review and mitigation plans that result should include the participation of concerned local citizens, and consider the withdrawal of the landfill expansion plans, as well as procedures to protect and interpret the battlefield.
Parts of the New Market Heights Battlefield have been preserved by Henrico County, the Capital Region Land Conservancy and the American Battlefield Trust; however, significant preservation work remains to be done so that a true battlefield park can be established. Educating the public about these battlefields and the contributions of the USCT, and investments at the federal, state and local levels is necessary to help illuminate these diverse stories of resilience, bravery, and empowerment that have been excluded from the traditional Civil War narrative. For more information on USCT see the African American Civil War Museum, The United States Colored Troops, Encyclopedia Virginia and United States Colored Troops and the Defenses of Washington, National Park Service.
St. Mary’s/Samaria Church Battlefield:
La’Veehsha Allen Rollins
New Market Heights Battlefield:
Significance: The Conner House, a 19th-century stone house in Manassas Park, is the last known extant historic building in the Manassas Park city limits. The house, important to the history of Manassas Park, Prince William County, and Virginia, was almost certainly built by enslaved people using locally quarried stone. The Conner House also played a significant role during the Civil War as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops, and as the site of a field hospital.
Threat: The house is currently planned for demolition due to a project to build a new city hall, and residential and commercial buildings.
Solution: Integrating the Conner House within the new development would be the preferred option, however the Conner House may need to be relocated in order to save it. Even though moving historic buildings causes loss to their integrity of setting, if other preservation options have been exhausted, moving is the preferred option. The Bull Run Civil War Round Table is working to have the house relocated to a nearby parcel where it can be preserved, and all of its history fully interpreted, but final approvals from the local government are needed as well as major funding, to complete the relocation. For more information see the National Register of Historic Places form for the Conner House at the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
John De Pue
Significance: Fort Wool, a 15-acre human-made fortified island, located near the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, was constructed and modified over time between 1819 and 1945. Both Fort Monroe and Fort Wool were built in the aftermath of the War of 1812 to protect Hampton Roads from naval attack. Fort Wool was held and used extensively by the Union during the Civil War, notably during the attack on Norfolk, and the sea battle between the CSS Virginia (the Merrimack) and the USS Monitor. The sea fort also played a role in the Spanish-American War, World War 1, and World War 2. Aside from its military history, Fort Wool was also used as a retreat by several US Presidents, and it has significant history as a waypoint for enslaved people seeking freedom. The island was transferred to Commonwealth ownership in 1967 under the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
Threat: Deferred maintenance and rising sea levels threaten this already fragile fort island. resulting in this Virginia Landmark to be closed to the public and halting efforts to stabilize the key 3rd System casemates and unique WW2 tower. Recently, due to the construction of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel Expansion Project, Fort Wool has been converted into a temporary seasonal nesting habitat for seabirds. The successful conservation effort of relocating the seabird’s nesting habitat has gained recognition for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, but it has at the same time, illuminated significant needs to preserve the historic resources on Fort Wool for future generations.
Solution: The significance of Fort Wool is recognized by the Commonwealth; the City of Hampton; and the newly formed Coalition for Historic Fort Wool, a group of historically- focused private nonprofits. Working together, creative solutions are needed to find a permanent home for the nesting seabirds, develop and fund a plan for the preservation of Fort Wool, and reopen the site for public access and interpretation. For more information see the Virginia Department of Historic Resources National Register nomination for Fort Wool.
Terry McGovern, Coalition for Historic Fort Wool
Green Book Sites, Statewide
Significance: Over three-hundred places were listed in the Negro Motorist Green Book in Virginia –a traveler’s guide for African Americans created by Victor Green between 1936 and 1967. These places, mostly Black-owned homes, hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, grocery stores, gas stations, and other establishments and businesses, often located within traditionally African American neighborhoods, were essential for the safety and survival of Black Americans travelling during the Jim Crow Era.
Threat: One estimate shows at least two-thirds of the Green Book sites in Virginia may have already disappeared, and many of the remaining Green Book sites in Virginia are currently threatened by demolition due to neglect and development pressures. Some of the documented Green Book sites in Virginia that remain include the Dumas Hotel and the Morocco Nightclub in Roanoke, two houses in the Holbrook-Ross Historic District in Danville, the Mark Haven Beach Hotel and Midway Auto Repair in eastern Virginia, and the Manhattan Hotel, King’s Tavern and Selma’s Beauty Parlor in Lynchburg.
Solution: While some Green Book sites in Virginia have been identified and preserved, and a mapping project of Green Book sites in Virginia has been started; a comprehensive, statewide survey and documentation project to build on what has already been done, would help to expand awareness and preservation efforts of Green Book sites and their associated history. For information on the current project to map Green Book sites in Virginia see Virginia Green Book, a Work in Progress, and for information on a nationwide project to map Green Book sites see Navigating the Green Book. To learn more about Green Book sites see Mapping the Green Book and The National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Susan Hellman at email@example.com
Karice Luck, Virginia Humanities at firstname.lastname@example.org
Significance: River Farm, a 27-acre property on the Potomac River in Alexandria, is a significant cultural landscape consisting of formal gardens and an 18th century house later renovated in the Colonial Revival style. Originally owned by George Washington, the property also has the opportunity to provide important information regarding indigenous people who lived in the area more than 8,000 years ago, as well as of enslaved people who lived and worked in the area during the Washington-era. As one of the few remaining large riverfront properties, River Farm has been a fixture in the local community with its publicly accessible gardens and nature trails since 1973.
Threat: Since 1973, the property has served as the headquarters for the American Horticultural Society (AHS). In the fall of 2020, AHS announced plans to market River Farm for sale and use the resulting funds to provide greater financial sustainability to its operations and mission-related work. AHS has made no meaningful provisions to apply permanent protections to ensure the preservation of the cultural landscape or its buildings. The $32.9 million asking price presents a major challenge for public entities organizing to protect River Farm for its significant educational, environmental and tourism benefits.
Solution: We encourage the American Horticultural Society to work with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to develop a timeline and agreement for the purchase of the property to preserve River Farm as a community asset for public education and enjoyment, especially as the rise of outdoor activities a result of pandemic For more information on River Farm see Save River Farm.
Alan Rowsome, Northern Virginia Conservation Trust
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
Significance: Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was established in 1877 in the Post-Emancipation community known as the Settlement. The current Church, which dates to 1928, has been a spiritual hub for the community for over 140 years; however, in 2012 the church suffered significant damage due to arson. The church is also home to one of the earliest known African-American cemeteries in Prince William County, and contains an estimated 230 graves.
Threat: Mount Pleasant has been able to raise substantial funds to rebuild; however, an additional $1 million is still needed in order to complete all phases of construction and bring the church back to its former glory.
Solution: Mount Pleasant has a committed group of congregants who need more assistance in raising the significant funds necessary to completely rebuild the church. A GoFundMe page was started for the church for anyone who wishes to make online donations.
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church
15008 Lee Highway, Gainesville, VA 20155
Trustee Henry Peterson, Chairperson
Trustee Janet Robinson, Vice Chairperson
Turkey Run House
Significance: Built in 1836 for the Spears family, Turkey Run House is a rare example of 1830s transitional Federal/Greek Revival architecture in Chesterfield County. The house is comprised of a variety of fine brick bond work, including a late example of Flemish bond, and the interior contains Greek Revival-style trim and woodwork. The bricks and wood were manufactured on-site or nearby, and the house would have been crafted by enslaved workers. More research may reveal the names of the workers, though we know that many of the enslaved individuals were hired out to the nearby Mid-Lothian Mines and killed in a mining accident in the 1850s.
In 1959, beloved local school teacher Virginia Justis purchased and restored Turkey Run Farm, living there until her death in 2015.
Threat: The house and surrounding 82 acres were purchased by Chesterfield County in 2017 for the purpose of building a new elementary school and middle school on the property. Following the completion of the elementary school, the County expressed concerns about the vacant historic house, and plans were made for its demolition.
Solution: A passionate and committed local group, the Save Turkey Run House committee, quickly banded together to find alternatives. The County granted a stay of demolition to allow time for the committee to present a plan and raise funds for preserving the house. With approval from the County, the Turkey Run House committee can arrange for the house to be carefully dismantled and moved, rebuilt and preserved as a tangible connection to the social and economic history of Chesterfield County.
Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex
Significance: One of Portsmouth’s oldest African American cemeteries, the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex is a group of four historic African American cemeteries (Potter’s Field, Mt. Olive, Fisher’s Hill and Mt. Calvary) that adjoin and overlap on approximately fourteen acres in Portsmouth. At least 8,000, and possibly closer to 15,000, individuals are buried in the cemetery complex. American Veterans, including United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War, are buried in the Mount Calvary Cemetery Complex, as well as many notable African American politicians, educators and artists from Portsmouth.
Threat: Poor drainage, standing water, and flooding due to adjacent Interstate 264 and other nearby highway projects have caused many gravestones to become eroded, sunken and cracked. The greatest and most recent threats stem from new drainage issues due to a planned sound barrier for I-264 by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Solution: Short term work by VDOT is needed to resolve issues that result from the recently installed sound barrier and other transportation projects. In the long-term, the African American Historical Society of Portsmouth and the City of Portsmouth are tasked to address issues and preservation needs, and the cemetery complex should be included in the area’s comprehensive plan for appropriate heritage tourism.
Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground
Significance: Established in 1816, the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground, also known as the Second African Burial Ground, located near 5th Street and Hospital Street, was the second municipal burial ground for free people of color and enslaved people in the City of Richmond. The Burying Ground was used as a resting place for people of African descent for decades, and eventually contained more than 22,000 burials until its closure due to overcrowding in 1879. For many years, grave robbers were hired by local medical colleges to obtain bodies from the Burying Ground for anatomy classes.
Threat: The Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground has suffered considerable damage over the years, including heavy re-grading, and road, bridge, and railway projects; so much so that it disappeared from the visible landscape years ago. Two current transportation projects, upgrades as part of the DC2RVA passenger rail project and the expansion of Interstate 64 have the potential to further erode the integrity of the site. Though invisible on the surface, the burying ground likely still holds the remains of thousands of people.
Due to the work of Lenora McQueen, a researcher and descendant of people interred in the burying ground, and several archaeologists and historians from Richmond, the preliminary proposal to create a new historic district that includes the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground was unanimously endorsed last year by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Solution: Some measures are now in place to atone for the past desecration, including the recent purchase of part of the burying ground by the City of Richmond. Going forward, careful deliberation with all stakeholders on the best and most respectful treatment of the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground will be needed as the Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act reopens for the DC2RVA project and as work on I-64 is considered. Other solutions to raise awareness and preserve the Shockoe Hill African Burying Ground include full recognition of the entire site’s boundaries, and continued public education on the history of this sacred place and the people buried within.
Lenora McQueen at email@example.com
Looking back on previous listings of historic schools
Since the Most Endangered Historic Sites program began more than a decade ago, school buildings of all types from across the state have been listed, indicating an ongoing issue with how localities, nonprofit organizations, and private owners deal with—or are failing to deal with—historic schools. With continued disuse, abandonment, neglect and development pressures, many historic schools continue to face an unknown future. As with many historic preservation projects, the most pressing need is securing funding for rehabilitation and reuse.
This year three nominations for historic schools were submitted–the Mary E. Branch Community Center in Farmville, which was the original Robert R Moton High School; the Old Dawn School in Hanover, which was part of the historic African American Community of Duval; and the Ralph Bunche School in King George, named for the African American educator, diplomat and Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Ralph Bunche.
The large demand for housing and community or educational centers, along with availability of historic rehabilitation tax credits, provides strong incentives for the successful reuse of historic schools. Preserving the three schools nominated this year, as well as many others across the Commonwealth, would also serve as an important reminder of the history of Civil Rights in education and of the continual struggle for equal justice, as well as illuminating the rich history of historic African American communities.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Old Dawn School)
(Ralph Bunche High School)
email@example.com (Mary E. Branch Community Center)