Virginia's Historic Resources
Whether it’s making an arrowhead or constructing a Capitol, much of what people create lasts long after they’ve departed. In this way, their creations become today’s historic resources.
When it comes to the environment, we are so accustomed to thinking about the things we derive from nature—from minerals, forests, rivers, the land and the ocean— that we too easily overlook our historic resources. The things we derive from history. Our history.
The Department of Historic Resources, however, keeps an eye on these things, since it is the agency charged with documenting, preserving, conserving, and protecting Virginia’s 15,000 years of accumulated historic treasures.
The Commonwealth has long been recognized for its rich heritage. Visitors from all over the nation and the world flock to Virginia to see Jamestown, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and a wealth of Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields and sites. The homes of eight U.S. presidents are found in Virginia; so, too, is the site of one of the oldest known dwellings in the western hemisphere.
Equally important, and increasingly sought after by residents and visitors, are the thousands of lesser known, authentic historic resources found in every community in the Commonwealth. These often-fragile historic places—houses, stores, warehouses, train stations, iron furnaces, canals, barns, landscapes and bridges—are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. They are part of what defines the character and spirit of this place we call Virginia. When properly preserved and cared for these resources enhance the quality of life in Virginia’s communities and make Virginia a great place in which to live, work, and play.
For these reasons and more, as is the case with its natural resources, much of the Commonwealth’s income and future prosperity depends upon conserving, protecting, and preserving its historic resources, both as a tool for ongoing and sustainable economic and community revitalization and as a basis for tourism.
Working toward this goal of protection and preservation of our historic places, the Department of Historic Resources and its staff of architects, architectural historians, archaeologists, historians and other specialists partner with local governments, private preservation organizations, and individuals to provide planning information, management tools and guidance.
Department’s Network of Educational Resources
The Department of Historic Resources offers a number of educational resources, gauged to a wide range of ages, professional and general audiences and interests, and serving the diverse needs of Virginians. A great place to start learning about the Commonwealth’s historic resources and the Department’s many preservation programs is through its Website (www.dhr.virginia.gov).
The Department’s onsite archives at 2801 Kensington Avenue in Richmond provide another rich source of information.
The archives house a treasure-trove of information for the researcher seeking descriptive and narrative reports that detail the significance of historic resources and properties in Virginia .
Organized by city and county, the archives’ collection of data is contained in files and reports, and on maps. Site-specific photographs, drawings, correspondences, newspaper clippings, and published and unpublished materials are also available in most of the files. In addition, the files for landmarks and historic districts on the Virginia or national registers contain copies of each one’s nomination form. The Department archives are also the principal repository for Virginia historic survey and archaeological reports. Databases and mapping for the files and reports are only available in the archives, and most of these materials may be photocopied for a small fee.
The Department also has an excellent collection of photographic negatives and slides, and can reproduce pictures for a nominal fee. A search service is available for organizations seeking information on the presence of previously identified cultural resources within a project area.
The archives’ research library includes a specialized selection of books, theses, and dissertations associated with Virginia history, county histories, historic preservation, architecture, and archaeology. Professional periodicals on history, archaeology, and architecture are also housed in the archives, as are copies of historic maps.
In addition to the Department’s website and archives, there are other media and venues providing educational and reference information.
The Department’s print publications (www.dhr.virginia.gov/homepage_general/publications.htm) cover a variety of topics, and include the following:
- Notes on Virginia is the Department’s annual journal. It provides a listing of recent additions to the Virginia Landmarks Register, new historical highway markers, and the latest preservation easements granted the Department. Notes also features stories that focus on Virginia’s historic places and related preservation matters. The journal is free to the public.
- The Virginia Landmarks Register, Fourth Edition, edited by Calder Loth (1999, University of Virginia Press), provides a fully illustrated compilation of nearly 1,800 buildings, structures, sites, and historic districts that had been entered as of 1999 on the Virginia Landmarks Register, which is administered by the Department of Historic Resources. It is worth noting that the number of registered properties has grown by nearly 800 since publication of the fourth edition of the VLR book, and an updated edition of the book is planned for release in 2009.
- A Guidebook to Virginia ’s Historical Markers (1994, University of Virginia Press) brings together the text of the more than 1,600 official state historical markers as of 1994 that have been placed along Virginia’s highways since 1927. The Department of Historic Resources administers the highway marker program. A new, updated edition of the marker book will be available in fall of 2006.
- First People: The Early Indians of Virginia, by Keith Egloff and Deborah Woodward (1992, University of Virginia Press), provides an accurate and accessible account of Virginia Indians, from the earliest times to the present day. A revised and updated edition of First People will be available in the fall of 2006.
- Virginia Landmarks of Black History: Sites on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places, edited by Calder Loth (1995, University of Virginia Press), covers sixty-four sites, as of 1995, that attest to the vital contribution African-Americans have made to the richness Virginia’s history. An updated edition of this title is now planned for 2008.
- The Official Virginia Battlefield Guide, by John S. Salmon (2001, Stackpole), is a comprehensive guidebook to the 127 Civil War battles and numerous military campaigns that occurred in Virginia.
- Lost Virginia: Vanished Architecture of the Old Dominion, edited by Bryan Clark Green, Calder Loth, and William S. Rasmussen (2001, Howell Press), chronicles many of the hundreds of domestic, civic, religious, and commercial buildings that have been demolished in Virginia through the years. These are historic resources we can no longer recover, and this book attempts to recreate how the built environment of the Commonwealth appeared in bygone eras.
- Archaeological Research Report Series is a long-running series that now boasts 16 titles. These professionally prepared reports detail the archaeological investigations conducted at important sites around the Commonwealth. The most recent additions to the series are The Buzzard Rock Site: A Late Woodland Dispersed Village (in present day Roanoke) and The Bonham Site: A Late Woodland Village Complex in Smyth County, Virginia. For a complete listing of other archaeological reports, as well as titles in the Department’s Technical Report Series and Survey and Planning Report Series visit: www.dhr.virginia.gov/homepage_general/pubs_archaeology.htm
In addition to recent issues of Notes on Virginia, other publications of the Department are available online as PDFs, with more to be added (www.dhr.virginia.gov/homepage_general/pubs_archaeology.htm):
- Tourism Handbook: Putting Virginia’s History to Work. This handy desktop reference and guide to heritage tourism was developed for local and regional partners. Winner of the 2002 National Press Women’s award, it is indispensable for communities planning events for 2007, 400 th Anniversary of Jamestown.
- Solving History’s Mysteries: The History Discovery Lab is the complementary classroom Teacher Guide and Activity Book to the Department’s permanent exhibit, “Solving History’s Mysteries,” at the Virginia Historical Society (see below for more information).
The Department routinely lends organizations and institutions select artifacts from its five million-plus collection for special exhibits and educational displays. In addition, the Department has a permanent exhibit:
- Solving History’s Mysteries: The History Discovery Lab, at the Virginia Historical Society, (and a companion traveling exhibit) is an interactive exhibition that focuses on the process of discovery and involves visitors in what we can learn through historic architecture and archaeology. Teachers can contact the Department about arranging a guided visit with their students.
The Department offers a number of educational packages, including those developed in partnership with other agencies:
- Teaching with Historic Places. This program (http://www.cr.nps.gov/nr/twhp/) developed by the National Park Service uses buildings and places listed on the National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects. Teaching with Historic Places provides a variety of products and activities that help teachers bring historic places into the classroom. This website includes lesson plans for six historic sites in Virginia, as well as guidance in creating lesson plans.
- Time Travelers. In partnership with the Virginia Association of Museums, the Department participates in a popular and exciting travel and learning program that appeals to students and families. More than 301 museums and historic sites partake in the Time Travelers program, and students who visit at least six of these places and send in a stamped Time Travelers passport receive a free t-shirt and signed letter from the Governor.
Archaeological digs and surveys are an important part of the mandated work of the Department in documenting, recording and conserving Virginia ’s historic resources. In addition to the professionally targeted Archaeological Report Series, the Department offers other opportunities for teachers, students, and the general public to learn about the diversity of state’s archaeological wonders.
- “Virginia Archaeology Month” (www.dhr.virginia.gov/arch_DHR/archaeo_index.htm) is a program coordinated by the Department of Historic Resources. One of the first such programs in the nation, it occurs in the Commonwealth every October, when Virginia archaeology is celebrated through exhibits, lectures, site tours, and special hands-on events for children at libraries, museums, historical organizations, clubs, and active archaeological sites around the state.
- ARKs, the Department’s Archaeology Resource Kits (ARKs), are great teaching packages for educators. Two different kits are now available. One deals with Native Americans and the other with African-Americans. The kits, which the Department loans and delivers to schools and educational organizations at no cost, contain artifacts and replicas of items found at digs in Virginia as well as a variety of games, maps and plans, books, videos, and other materials designed to show how archaeology reveals Virginia’s past.
- The Paintings of John White is an interactive online education module (www.dhr.virginia.gov/John_White/JohnWhite.html) that allows visitors to learn about the clothing, shelter, and food of the Indians of the mid-Atlantic coast whom Europeans, such as John White, first encountered when they arrived in North America.
State Organizations Involved with Preserving Virginia’s Historic Resources
- Archeological Society of Virginia: http://asv-archeology.org/. Through 16 local chapters, ASV volunteers have been conducting research and educational work in Virginia for over half a century.
- Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities: www.apva.org/apva/index.php. APVA is a resource for public education and advocate for historic preservation in Virginia.
- Council of Virginia Archaeologists, Inc.: http://cova-inc.org/index.html. COVA members are professional archaeologists who publish The Virginia Archaeologist and arededicated to the preservation and study of Virginia’s archaeological resources.
- Jamestown 1607-2007: www.jamestown2007.org. The focus is on celebrating the quadricentennial of the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
- The Virginia Council on Indians: www.indians.vipnet.org. As an advisory board, the Council studies and provides information on issues regarding Virginia Indians.
- Virginia Foundation for the Humanities www.virginia.edu/vfh/. The interpretation and understanding of cultural traditions are enhanced through resources such as events, seminars and special programs on Virginia folklife and African American heritage.
- Virginia Historical Society: www.vahistorical.org/. VHS collects, preserves, and interprets the commonwealth's past for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations through exhibits, tours, outreach programs, and other means.
- The Virginia Museum of Natural History: www.vmnh.net. This institution in Martinsville uses exhibits, outreach programs, and publications to interpret the results of scientific research on our natural history and cultural heritage.
National Organizations Involved in Historic Preservation
- National Park Service Cultural Resources Programs: www.cr.nps.gov Explore people, places, objects and events through NPS’s Links to the Past.
- Society for American Archaeology: www.saa.org
Classroom materials are available from SAA’s Public Education Committee.