Preventing Virginia's History from Fading Away

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- There's no doubt Virginia has played a key role in America's history. The commonwealth is home to countless historic sites.

Some are well known, while others are in danger of falling into disrepair and becoming history. Virginia's historic sites draw in tens of thousands of visitors each year. Places like Monticello or Montpelier are preserved for future generations to enjoy; however, other pieces of the past are in danger of going away.

That's why the group Preservation Virginia develops an annual list of endangered Virginia historical sites.

"It's not to point fingers or cast blame or things like that. It's really to be a positive thing to draw attention, interest and ideally encourage the resolution of historic preservation issues, solutions. Compromise solutions," said Preservation Virginia's Director of Preservation Initiatives & Engagement Justin Serafin.

At the end of a wooded road in Culpeper County sits one of the endangered sites, the Waterloo Bridge. Parts of the structure date back to the Civil War. The Virginia Department of Transportation closed the bridge and its future is in doubt.

Just a few miles north, another Civil War site is in jeopardy. Prince William County preserves the battlefield at Bristoe Station as a park, but the concern preservationists have is the location of that park. It's right next to an area where subdivisions are popping up.

Preservation Virginia put the battlefield on the list because of it's on the edge of suburban development in Northern Virginia.

"The listing is about trying to make people aware of this type of historic, cultural landscape and what it means for heritage tourism in the state of Virginia. There is economic value in preserving these types of sites," said Serafin.

One group working to keep the Valley's history from winding up on the list is Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

The organization is based in the Hardesty-Higgins House on South Main Street, a restored building that predates the Civil War.

"We have noticed over the last 11 years since HDR has been in existence a rather dramatic change in the preservation ethic of our community, of city leaders, of property owners and downtown businesses. Now one of the most desired places to locate a business is a renovated historic building. Years ago, historic buildings were either vacant or at risk of demolition," said Eddie Bumbaugh, the executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance.

One of those at-risk historic buildings was the Visulite Cinema in Staunton. It dates back to 1937 and closed during the 1980s as the years caught up with the building.

Adam Greenbaum bought the movie house in 2004 and took more than a year to fix it up.

"We ended up pulling everything out. The roof had fallen in. It was leaking. It was really in bad shape," said Greenbaum.

Today, it retains much of its original appearance on the outside; however, Greenbaum adapted the inside to match up with more modern theaters.

"We updated it and created, I think, a hybrid of a theater that has that feeling of a great, old sense of movie-going magic, but also has the creature comforts of a modern theater," said Greenbaum, "There is a lot of pride in it. It's a beautiful space. There's nowhere else I would rather see a movie."

He said the process helped him appreciate preservation.

"Without that, much of Staunton would have been knocked down over the years. Without that interest in preserving some of the great architecture," said Greenbaum.

It's that architecture, Serafin says, that gives communities their identities.

"It's all about a sense of place. Why do people come to Virginia? Why do people come to Chancellorsville, the Shenandoah Valley? Why are people drawn to these places?" asked Serafin.

He said the Charlottesville Downtown Mall is a good example of modern-day preservation as it gives new uses to places from the past.

"This is historic preservation in the 21st century. It's reuse of historic fabric and the draw that that creates and the economic viability that results," said Serafin.

The people behind the list hope these historic locations remain a draw for generations to come.

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