May 13, 2013
Endangered Sites 2013
For the ninth consecutive year, Preservation Virginia presents a list of places across the Commonwealth that face serious threats because of neglect, insufficient funding, inappropriate development or public policies and procedures. We issue our annual list to raise awareness of at-risk historic sites, to focus attention on specific threats and to encourage Virginians to advocate for and develop reasonable solutions for these and other endangered properties.
In no particular order of significance or severity of threat, we name the following Virginia places to our 2013 List of Endangered Sites:
The Arlington National Cemetery Cultural Landscape, one of our nation’s most solemn and iconic places, is the final resting place for thousands who performed military service.
The current design for Arlington Cemetery’s 27-acre Millennium Project expansion would destroy a 12-acre section of Arlington House Woods, its old growth hardwood forest, and a section of its historic boundary wall. Preservation Virginia is concerned about this design scheme because of the amount of soil being moved, the extent of the proposed retaining walls, and the road to be built across a stream that is likely to irreparably alter the topography and run counter to the objectives of Congress. When it transferred those twelve acres to the Secretary of the Army in 2001, Congress adopted legislation to ensure that the contours of the natural woodland would endure as the contextual setting for both Arlington House and Arlington National Cemetery. (Public Law 107-107, Section 2863).
Preservation Virginia respects the military interment mission of Arlington National Cemetery, and along with other preservation organizations urges the Army Corps of Engineers to revisit the Environmental Assessment and to seek an expansion alternative that will create additional burial space while also respecting the historic significance of Arlington House Woods and the existing, historic boundary wall that defines the edge of this sacred place.
The Luray Graded and High School with its square ornamental bell tower and weathervane has been a prominent fixture of downtown Luray and its skyline since 1881. The school has housed Page County government and General District Court offices since 1931 when a replacement high school was built. With a new county office complex now under construction on an adjacent lot, Page County plans to demolish this two-story brick landmark to make way for a paved parking lot.
Luray residents have organized to ask Page County to delay final demolition decisions until a feasibility study can determine possible re-use alternatives. The residents group believes the school building to be structurally sound but in need of maintenance and rehabilitation that they hope could be accomplished using innovative financing tools such tax credits to re-establish the school as an educational resource in Luray’s downtown historic district. By serving new uses, this local landmark can continue the regeneration of Luray, a National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street Community.
In endorsing the objectives of the Luray residents’ group, Preservation Virginia asks Page County to join them in exploring re-use alternatives rather than demolition, and in seeking alternative parking locations for its new office building.
The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation & Museum in the downtown Wytheville historic district commemorates the birthplace of Edith Bolling, who was born in this modest mixed-use commercial building in 1872. As the wife of President Woodrow Wilson, also a native Virginian, Edith Bolling Wilson was one of the most important, popular, and influential First Ladies of the early twentieth century. The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation struggles to become self-sustaining and to secure funding to address moisture intrusion and repair deteriorated masonry.
Preservation Virginia commends the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Foundation for undertaking the stewardship of this historic building. We encourage the foundation’s efforts to replace the leaking roof, stabilize the building’s foundation, and undertake interior repairs. We appreciate local governments, historians, numerous civic organizations, and friends of the Museum for their interest in the Foundation’s efforts to establish this museum as an educational and economic asset to the region.
The Compton-Bateman House in Roanoke, known locally as the Villa Heights Recreation Center, was badly damaged by fire in 2011. Still salvageable, the distinctive Greek Revival building will not survive much longer without immediate attention. The City has been seeking a suitable buyer or tenant for the building, thus far without success and has set a deadline of the end of May 2013 to determine the property’s future. An insurance settlement—only available for a limited time—could help fund rehabilitation and return the building to its previous use.
The City has used the 1835 Compton-Bateman House, one of Roanoke’s few antebellum houses, and its surrounding 3 and 1/2 acres as a public park and recreation center since receiving the property as a donation in the late 1950s.
Preservation Virginia urges the City of Roanoke to re-double its efforts to save this building by proceeding with immediate stabilization efforts to mitigate the damage resulting from the fire and vacancy. The Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation stands ready to assist the City in saving this site and will promote collaborative, community- wide efforts to achieve this goal. Grassroots endeavors may help stabilize and keep the house active while the city decides whether to return the structure to its previous use or continues to seek a private buyer with a suitable preservation plan.
The Fearn Site in Danville is situated on the Dan River on a wooded tract of land that the City of Danville recently purchased for the development of an industrial complex. Current plans include relocating a historic cemetery and demolishing intact foundations and associated archaeological sites that are important to Danville’s early history.
The site was owned first by William Wynne, a Danville founder, who sold it to another founder, Thomas Fearn. The site contains archaeological deposits as well as the ruins of the Fearn-Walters residence surrounded by a formal courtyard, a well, and a slave dwelling (with a stone foundation and surviving chimney), all of which date from the late 18th – early 19th centuries. The property also contains a historic cemetery marked by a tablet tombstone inscribed “Fearn’s Burying Ground.”
Local historians, preservation groups, and family descendents have expressed concern about the site’s proposed fate. While in support of economic development in the Danville area, Preservation Virginia urges the City to consider an alternate design for the industrial park that would preserve and incorporate the historic resources at the periphery. Other local groups have expressed interest in interpreting and maintaining the site for the education and enjoyment of Danville’s citizens.
The Jesse Scott Sammons Farmstead site in Albemarle County near Charlottesville includes the Sammons family cemetery and the 19th-century Jesse Scott Sammons house. The resources occupy locations within or very near the proposed path of the Charlottesville Western Bypass. The Commonwealth of Virginia purchased both parcels in 1998 to secure a VDOT Right of Way Section for the purpose of building the bypass.
The Jesse Scott Sammons Farmstead was originally a house on approximately 27 acres that Jesse Scott Sammons purchased in 1885. The Sammons family sold the property in 1940 and since that time the original parcel has been subdivided, resold, and gifted. By 1998 the parcels containing the cemetery and house, located about 600 feet apart, were separated. The cemetery contains the graves of two notable Albemarle County residents, Dr. George Rutherford Ferguson, Sr., and Jesse Scott Sammons, who helped make the Hydraulic Mills area a center of African-American educational advancement. The farmstead and the greater Hydraulic Mills area are important as the few remaining sites in Charlottesville and Albemarle County associated with rural communities established after the Civil War by newly-freed African Americans. The farmstead and cemetery are likely to reveal additional information about this largely undocumented and under-represented resource type in central Virginia.
Descendants of the Sammons family, local historians, and local, state, and national preservation groups have spoken out for the need to properly assess the archaeological site and built remains of the Jesse Scott Sammons Farmstead. VDOT has announced its intent to adjust the path of the proposed bypass around the Sammons cemetery rather than reinter those buried there, but the details of the highway design and the ultimate fate of the Sammons house remain unclear. Preservation Virginia urges all concerned parties to work together to ensure that what remains of this history is properly and adequately studied, assessed, acknowledged and preserved.
Rosenwald Schools in Virginia are often threatened with demolition by neglect. The Rosenwald rural school building program was a major effort by Julius Rosenwald to improve the quality of public education for African Americans across the South. During the early 20th century, a total of 381 Rosenwald schools were built in rural areas across Virginia. Sites like the Clover Rosenwald School (“Clover Black School”) in Halifax County, the Union Hurst Rosenwald School (“Switchback School”) in Bath County, and the Cape Charles Rosenwald School (“Cape Charles Colored School”) in Northampton County are examples of the schools that remain but in various states of disrepair.
Awarded National Treasure status in 2011 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and recognized by regional and local historic preservation groups, surviving Rosenwald Schools often are overlooked as symbols of the 20th century advancements in African American education that they poignantly represent. Despite their historic significance, few outside of the fields of historic preservation and African American history are familiar with the readily-identifiable structures and their significance in American history.
The level of awareness and condition of these resources varies from community to community. Rosenwald School alumni and their descendants, along with local historical and preservation organizations, recognize their significance and advocate for their adaptive re-use. There are also many examples of successful Rosenwald school restorations in Virginia that can serve as models for localities with threatened schools. Preservation Virginia plans to launch a program that will provide community groups and individual owners with the preservation tools, models, and case studies to preserve these schools that played such vital roles in their communities. By helping localities identify new uses for the schools and by advising on the creation of economically viable preservation plans, the legacy of these community centers will thrive once more.
The Manassas Battlefield Historic District (MBHD) Region
Since 1940, the Manassas Battlefield National Park has protected the site of the First and Second battles of Manassas of 1861 and 1862. Both battles are considered to be among the most important of the American Civil War. The first battle was the foremost major engagement of the Civil War and the second marked the progress of General Lee’s army into Maryland, culminating with the Battle of Antietam. The American Battlefields Protection Program recognizes them as Class A Battlefields.
The plan to construct a highway known as the Tri-County Parkway along the park’s western border has led many in the preservation community to believe that the “Bull Run Battlefield” is at risk. The Tri-County Parkway would run directly past the August 28, 1862 position of the right flank of Confederate troops led by Stonewall Jackson and the left flank of the Union General Pope’s troops, taking up to 20-35 acres of land from the national park and historic district.
Opponents of the highway—including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Parks Conservation Association, Piedmont Environmental Council, Coalition for Smarter Growth, and Southern Environmental Law Center—believe that it would negatively impact the national park and historic district and predict that the parkway and connecting roads will open up rural land in Prince William County’s Rural Crescent and Loudoun County’s lower density Transition Zone to more sprawl and development.
The state agencies promoting the highway believe that it will spur economic development by linking growing areas of northern Virginia and expediting the flow of cargo to and from Dulles Airport. Some proponents of the highway also believe that the Tri-County Parkway would help lay the groundwork to eliminate commuter traffic from the park. If all goes according to plan, the section of Route 234 that currently bisects the park will be closed when the Tri-County Parkway is complete. Later, a second highway known as the Manassas Battlefield Bypass would be built around the northern border of the park so that both Route 29 and Route 234 within the battlefield would close permanently. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which has responded to the parkway plan without major objection, has urged that the commitments to close the roads to commuter traffic be legally “airtight” to overcome possible objections and future backsliding.
With the Section 106 process underway, Preservation Virginia encourages that this review fully and fairly consider all alternative routes and pursue broader preservation and landscape conservation efforts to protect nearby rural landscapes as well as the battlefield. Additionally, if the Tri-County Parkway is built, Preservation Virginia agrees that the closure of Route 234 to commuter traffic through the park must be definitive and indisputable. These steps can yield an outcome that instills confidence that traffic will be eliminated from the park with as little negative impact on historic resources as possible.
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