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Posted June 7, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

District could protect Warren County's rural history

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Parts of Warren County may trace back their history hundreds of years, but they still lack historic districts.

That could change thanks to efforts by some residents seeking to establish part of the county as a national historic district. The initiative seeks to expand the Greenway Historic District in Clarke County into Warren County. Residents may learn more about the proposed expansion at a public information meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Rockland Church, 2921 Rockland Road, Front Royal.

A group of interested residents and property owners formed to pursue the possible designation and, through a grant, retained the services of Maral Kalbian, an architectural historian in Berryville.

The area of the proposed district currently spans 12 square miles, covering approximately 10,500 acres and includes 250 structures, according to Kalbian. The area is generally located south of the Clarke County line, west of the Shenandoah River and east of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, Kalbian said. However, the area also could include some properties on the east side of the river as well as across the railroad tracks and off U.S. 340.

Kalbian conducted a preliminary information form on the area in Warren County and submitted the document to the state Department of Historic Resources. The agency responded to say they saw the area in question as eligible for designation as a historic district.

"The idea was that boundary had arbitrarily stopped at the county line when, in fact, historically that part of Warren County is very much the same in character and also in the early history as what's in Clarke County's rural historic district, because that boundary was just put in in 1836," Kalbian said. "So there'd been some interest in that area to try to recognize this area as a national register historic district."

A national or state historic district does not impose restrictions on properties, such as rehabilitation efforts or construction, as do some local designations, according to Kalbian.

Establishing a national historic district involves documenting the history of the area, Kalbian said. Also, property owners seeking to rehabilitate a "contributing" structure in the district may avail themselves of historic tax credits. Receiving state and national tax credits requires the respective agents review the rehabilitative work, Kalbian explained.

"So it's a nice way to encourage people to preserve their property," Kalbian said. "You get some financial benefit back and it's also easier for owners to put their buildings into conservation easement if they're on the national register."

Warren County notified by letter approximately 100 property owners possibly affected by the creation of a historic district, according to County Administrator Douglas Stanley. The official noted the county is assisting Kalbian and the interested parties with the endeavor.

Warren and Clarke counties came from what then was Frederick County in 1836, part of the larger Northern Neck land grant held by Thomas Lord Fairfax. But as Kalbian explained, the extension of the Greenway Historic District to include the portion of Fairfax's original holdings that sits in Warren County would enhance the significance of the original nominated district.

The expanded area contains historic properties covering the history of the region from the mid-18th century to present, according to Kalbian. In the expanded area 64 properties have been surveyed including three already listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- Mt. Zion, considered the oldest house in Warren County; Fairview; and Erin, built in the 1840s and illustrative of the Greek Revival style, according to Kalbian.

"The similarities between the two areas are reflected in the types of dwellings, the size of the parcels, the geographic topography, and the remarkable integrity of the holdings strengthen that argument," Kalbian stated in an e-mail. "The proposed expansion of the district is recommended as eligible at the local level under Criterion C for the remarkable collection of architecturally significant and representative dwellings and farm buildings and under Criterion A for its proven ability to substantiate the rich agricultural heritage of this region and as indicative of the prominent role played by these agricultural areas in the economies of their respective counties."

The next phase likely would begin this summer with Kalbian approaching property owners to survey more buildings, taking photos and describing the structures. Kalbian explained that a historic district's boundaries must be based on collected data and information about the structures in a given area.

"You have to be able to say 'OK this is the highest concentration of historic buildings that tell the story of the growth and development of this area based on the following themes," Kalbian said. "You have to cut out as many of the non-historic buildings and areas but it has to be a contiguous area. You can't have doughnut holes in it."

What: Public information meeting on proposed boundary expansion of the Greenway Historic District into Warren County

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Rockland Church, 2921 Rockland Road, Front Royal

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