Saturday, July 12, 2014

Time For a Real Compromise: The View from Libby Hill

The Richmond City Council purchased Libby Hill Park in 1851 for the then unusually large sum of $5,000.  The land was set aside by the city leaders specifically for its views of the entire City, “because it affords a commanding and picturesque view of the lower portions of the City, the river, the falls, the railroad bridges.”                   

It seems like a miracle that we can still enjoy that extraordinary view today, but it’s not.  For more than 150 years Richmond’s leaders have been guarding the City’s birthright.  Surely we can’t let it be destroyed on our watch.  

Of course developers see the profit potential of building in this historic viewshed.  The high-rise condo being proposed by Salomonsky and White would take this spectacular view from the people and sell it to wealthy residents.  All they need to do is convince City Council to ignore the Downtown Master Plan, to ignore the will of the people, and to ignore inherent responsibility.   Then they could have it all to themselves.

But City Council members know that tourism, second only to agriculture, is the industry in Virginia that brings in more money than any other business – than any other business.  Libby Hill Park and its famous view of the James River is the top visual destination in our Capital City.  The trolley and Segway tours, large bus groups, wedding parties, romantic dates, family reunions, birthdays and traditions for large gatherings at the Libby Hill view all reflect the value people place on the park and its panoramic views.   And they all bring money to the City.

In early May, Edwin Slipek wrote an insightful article in Style exposing this proposed structure as a massive intrusion on the park and on Tobacco Row, and advancing the idea that this land should be left open to facilitate the flow of nature from the river to the park above.  That vision is reminiscent of urban park connectivity as pioneered by Frederick Olmsted, designer of Central Park, and is shared by many who want it to remain in its natural state. 

The Downtown Master Plan, adopted in 2008 by City Council after two years of research, planning, and extensive public involvement (a process that cost close to half a million dollars in tax payer money) reflected many compromises.  It identified the parcel in question not for a park, but for building up to five stories in keeping with its historic surroundings.  

Salomonsky and White want more.  They are asking for a Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow them to construct a 16 story building, and to change the zoning from light industrial to residential, and for the City to sell them a right-of-way at what appears to be a discounted price.

Voting on this decision has been postponed twice by City Council member Newbille, who has been meeting one-on-one with the developers.  The result is a false compromise.  The developers are willing to drop the penthouse one and a half stories down.  Unfortunately, shaving off one + floors solves nothing.  And presenting it to the public as a solution is disingenuous.

Our elected representatives on City Council are smarter than that.   They understand the economic value of this public asset.  They hear their constituents and they see the growing strength of its supporters.  Just within the last few months, over 1600 citizens have signed a petition supporting the Downtown Master Plan’s vision for this property, which is the true compromise.  It is a waste of time and money to revisit a decision that already has an overwhelming public stamp of approval.

So this is the compromise: It’s a 5-story building. All of the units would have wonderful views - for some the river, for others historic Tobacco Row, and for others, beautiful Libby Hill Park. To further this compromise, it should include the City’s sale of the Cary Street right-of-way needed to develop the land, but at an assessed market price.

A park would be lovely, but that’s not the Downtown Master Plan.  The plan is a structure of up to five stories that would protect the view, while allowing the builders to profit.

Eugenia Anderson–Ellis:  On behalf of all concerned Richmonders 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Old Barns Get Face-Lifts!

Preservation Virginia/JTI Tobacco Barns Mini-Grants Project Update

Two barns have been repaired and at least thirteen others are on the way to being repaired under Preservation Virginia/JTI’s Tobacco Barns Mini-Grants Project.  Funded by a grant from JTI Leaf Services, the Mini-Grants Project was formed to provide small grants to help stabilize and repair tobacco barns in a three-county area:  Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties in Virginia and Caswell County, North Carolina. 
Over 300 applications to repair tobacco barns were submitted for the 2014 grant cycle. The project is expected to continue for two more years.  

One of the barns recently repaired was William (W.K.) Pearson’s curing barn in the Climax community of Pittsylvania County. This barn has an unusual overhang that is not supported by posts.   Mr. Pearson has been a tobacco farmer all of his life and plans to pass down his land and barns to his son.  M and M Construction from Blairs did the work.  See link for more information.

Barn owner, W.K. Pearson, and William McNichols of M and M Construction at the barn to be repaired
Miles McNichols of M and M Construction preparing to re-daub and chink the logs 
Digging for the correct type of soil to use for the daubing

Daubing and chinking repairs completed

Painting the roof

The first barn to receive repairs in Caswell County is Doris and Richard White’s curing barn in Yanceyville. The White’s barn was stuccoed sometime in the 20th century to help preserve the logs.  This addition of stucco over logs exists in North Carolina but is relatively unusual in Virginia.  Broadleaf Timber and Masonry Reclaiming LLC completed the repairs to the White’s barn.

Doris White, barn owner and Sallie Smith, Caswell County Historical Association at the White's barn

Roof work

Broadleaf Timber and Masonry Reclaiming, LLC

For more information on the tobacco barns project, please see link or contact Sonja Ingram at

Monday, March 24, 2014

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 Tourism Director 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 Toleware collection. 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

Friday, December 27, 2013

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).

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

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

Friday, July 26, 2013

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.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

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: